By Max Adler
This coloured-pencil drawing measures 20 by 30 inches, which was the largest size paperboard the artist could steady on his lap, seated in his prison cell, which measured six by eight feet. He guesses he created it in 2015 because he remembers being recently transferred within Attica (N.Y.) Correctional Facility. He’d occupied his previous cell for 13 years, but shortly after two convicts dug a tunnel out of the Clinton facility—events that provided the basis for the Ben Stiller TV mini-series “Escape at Dannemora”—“We started getting rotated more frequently to prevent us from growing too familiar with our surroundings,” Valentino Dixon says.
Of course, Dixon (above) was innocent of the murder for which he’d been serving time since 1991. Also distinguishing him from much of the prison population: He’d never decorated his cell. His art, his books, his imagination were his home—never the physical reality of his surroundings. “All those years, my mind was on the outside,” he says. “That’s how I survived.”
In September 2018, the unlikely story of how golf saved a man who’d never played the sport dominated a news cycle. The basic arc: A golf-loving warden brings a photo of Augusta National’s 12th hole for the talented inmate to draw as a favour, which begets a letter to Golf Digest and an investigation, and with the help of many supporters ends with an exoneration in a Buffalo courtroom.
This drawing, titled Amen Corner, is not an exact representation but a vision pieced together from disparate images. (I used to mail Inmate 91-B-1615 magazines heavy on course photography.) Dixon will see this place in person for the first time in April as a credentialed illustrator for Golf Digest at the Masters. Stay tuned for what he creates next.