Golf Saved My Life

Drawings From Prison

Creating golf holes with pencils is how I pass the time. Maybe one day I'll get to play the game I've only imagined

July 2012

I've never hit a golf ball. I've never set foot on a golf course. Everything I draw is from inside a 6-by-10 prison cell. The first course I ever drew was for warden James Conway. He would often stop by my cell to ask how my appeal was going and to see my drawings. Before he retired, the warden brought me a photograph of the 12th hole at Augusta National and asked if I could draw it for him.

I spent 15 hours on it. The warden loved it, and it was gratifying to know my art would hang in his house. Something about the grass and sky was rejuvenating. I'd been getting bored with drawing animals and people and whatever I'd get out of National Geographic. After 19 years in Attica (N.Y.) Correctional Facility, the look of a golf hole spoke to me. It seemed peaceful. I imagine playing it would be a lot like fishing.

There's an inmate here who subscribes to Golf Digest. He crosses his name out and loans me the issues, because you get a ticket if you're caught with something that has somebody else's name on it, just like you get tickets for draping sheets across your bars, or fighting. Some guys in here break the rules anyway, but life's better when you stay invisible.

Except for that one drawing for the warden, I never copy holes exactly. I use a photograph as a starting point and then morph the image in my own way. Sometimes I'll find a tiny piece of reference material, like a tree on a stamp or mountains on a calendar, and then imagine my own golf course with it. I find the challenge of integrating these visions very rewarding.

The past two years I've drawn more than 130 golf pictures with colored pencils and 6-by-8-inch sheets of paper I order through the mail. We're not allowed to have brushes and paints, but that's all right; I like pencils. When I was little, my mom and grandma used to slap my hand because of the unconventional way I gripped the pencil, until one day my aunt Gwen told them to stop and look at the comics I'd done from the newspaper. My mom didn't believe I'd done it without tracing, so she made me draw them again freehand as she watched.

Growing up on the east side of Buffalo, my only sports were football and basketball. Talk about golf in our neighborhood and you'd probably get shot. Because of my art ability, I attended the performing-arts high school and stayed pretty clean until I graduated. Then I started dating a girl whose brothers were drug dealers, and before long I was in it, too. It's no excuse. It was what you did in my neighborhood if you wanted to make money. I became a mid-level cocaine dealer and pulled in enough to drive flashy cars and cover friends, but not much else. I rode with a weapon, same as everybody. I was out on bail for possession charges the night my life changed forever. I was 21 then. I'm 42 now.

No one likes to hear how you're innocent. I get that, and I don't talk about my case to inmates or guards. Everyone's innocent, right? Truth is, there are a lot of bad folk in Attica who deserve to be locked up. They were animals even before they were treated as animals. Violent people who want to rape and cut you, and society is safer because they're in here. But there are also people who'd never hurt anybody, who deserve a second chance. And out of 2,200 inmates, you'd better believe there are a few innocents who got railroaded by the system. When you're young and black, it can happen, and it happened to me.

It was 1:30 in the morning, and we were hanging out at a popular street corner. There were probably 70 people there when word came that the Jackson brothers were looking to get my friend Mario. It was over a girl. You never knew how seriously to take these threats in our neighborhood, but sure enough, I was in a store buying beer when I heard the shots: pow pow. I ran outside the store and grabbed my half-brother to flee. I didn't want any involvement. I was out on bail, and of all things, I wasn't going to let some romance drama among younger kids land me in prison.

I drove home and went to bed. From what I saw, I didn't think anybody had died. The next day the cops pulled me over, and within minutes a tow truck was there to haul away my car. It wasn't until I got to the station that they said I was being charged with second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder and third-degree assault.

I wasn't nervous because so many people had witnessed the shooting. But soon there I was, being paraded before television cameras in a white paper suit on my way to county lockup. Two days later, LaMarr Scott, a guy I knew but wasn't close to, gave a statement to WGRZ television confessing to be the shooter and turned himself in to the police. Because my dad drove LaMarr downtown, much was made that he had coerced LaMarr into confessing. For murder? Please. My half-brother had brought LaMarr to our dad to set everything straight, and LaMarr owned only a bicycle.

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