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Golf Saved My Life

Drawings From Prison

Continued (page 2 of 6)

I now see LaMarr regularly. One year after I was convicted, LaMarr shot a teenager in the face after an armed robbery and made him a quadriplegic. I choose not to hold a grudge against LaMarr because psychologically, it would kill my spirit. LaMarr's eligible for parole in 2018; I'm not up until 2030.

Valentino Dixon

Valentino Dixon in an Attica Correctional Facility visitation room.


For the past 12 years I've lived in "honor block," which holds 145 inmates with the cleanest disciplinary records. We can shower every day, use the telephone, and our cells are mostly open so we can socialize and play cards and chess. There are hotplates we share to cook our food, and I buy a lot of rice, beans and pack-dried chicken from the commissary. Still, tension can brew in here. A guy will tell another guy to take it to the back, but mostly people want to stay here so they avoid trouble.

Every two months I get to visit my family for two days in a trailer. My mom lives an hour away, and I have three daughters (my youngest can thank her existence to the family-reunion program) and a wife, Louise, who was recently deported to her native Australia. Louise encountered my drawings on the Internet and moved to the United States to help with my appeals. We were married in a brief ceremony in the visitation room.

valentino dixon illustrations

Wall full of Dixon's illustrations.


The light in my cell isn't great for drawing, but I do have an outlet to plug in my Walkman. When I draw I listen to cassettes to block out the noise of the other prisoners, which can get relentless, even in honor block. I also work as a barber, do push-ups, run in place and read. One of my favorites is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl about his experiences in a concentration camp. You have to find meaning in your suffering, Frankl said. To that, I say I think God put me here to draw golf courses. Maybe one day I'll play.

Some days I feel like giving up, it's true. I just want to turn nasty and bitter, but in a few hours, or maybe a few days, I'm reaching for the pencils again.

It's possible I wouldn't have lived to this age if I'd stayed on the outside. When I was a young man I wasn't useful to society -- this I don't argue. But I'm not a murderer. That's the worst thing somebody can be, and I'm not that. I hope all you need to do is look at my drawings to know that.

IS VALENTINO DIXON INNOCENT?

It might be impossible to know exactly what happened in a beery east Buffalo parking lot on the early morning of Aug. 10, 1991, but it's worth trying to figure out: Someone's freedom is at stake.

As many as 70 people were present when what started as a fistfight ended with gunfire. Four young black males were shot, and one, Torriano Jackson, was killed.

Valentino Dixon is at Attica (N.Y.) Correctional Facility, having served 21 years of a life sentence, and still protests his innocence. Another Attica inmate, LaMarr Scott, has confessed to being the killer, but his words are not taken seriously.

It's an extremely complex case. Across two decades, 15 eyewitnesses have testified in court or signed sworn statements. These witnesses pretty much shake out 7 to 3 in favor of Valentino Dixon's innocence, with the others saying everything happened too fast or their vantage wasn't clear. Nearly everyone there was a teenager, and many of the key participants didn't know, barely knew, just met, or claimed not to know other key participants.

Clearly, some are telling the truth and some are not. Depending on how you mix, accept or deny the conflicting accounts, two versions emerge: (1) Known drug dealer Valentino Dixon, 21, stood over Torriano Jackson, 17, and emptied the clip of a 9-millimeter automatic. (2) LaMarr Scott, 18, struggled with the same automatic, and when he finally got the barrel under control, he settled its aim on Torriano Jackson, who had shot first.

Minutes before the 1:30 a.m. shooting, a yellow Geo Storm pulled up and parked at the corner of Bailey and East Delavan avenues. From this car emerged Torriano Jackson and his older brother Aaron Jackson, 20, intent on confronting Mario Jarmon, 19, over an earlier dispute. They exchanged angry words. A crowd circled. Then, at the sound of gunshots, the crowd dispersed.

The police arrived shortly. From the bloody pavement officers recovered a .32-caliber handgun with a single spent bullet in its cylinder, a .22-caliber bullet casing, and 27 spent 9-millimeter bullet casings -- same as what riddled Torriano Jackson. (This is significant because the prosecution would present Valentino Dixon as responsible for shooting all four people.) The murder weapon was never recovered.

Christopher J. Belling, who prosecuted the case and is now the senior trial counsel of the Erie County District Attorney's Office, says the extra gun and bullet casings don't cause him to doubt that Dixon was the only gunman responsible. "Given the neighborhood and the chaos of the scene, they could've come from anywhere," Belling told Golf Digest in April 2012. "Whoever had the .32 probably decided they didn't want to have it in their hand anymore. They wanted it on the ground."

As the wounded were taken to hospitals, the police interviewed people who lingered at the scene. Some of these records haven't survived, but the police did speak to the driver of the yellow Geo, Travis Powell, 22, who said he didn't recognize the shooter.

Emil Adams, 18, made a sworn statement at the police station. He described two guys with guns; he knew neither. He said the smaller guy had a handgun and the "heavyset" guy had the automatic. That afternoon, Valentino Dixon, 5-foot-9 and 145 pounds, was arrested. His car and clothes were confiscated so they could be tested for gunpowder residue and blood.

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July 28, 2014

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