If you’ve ever read the Biblical book of Acts, you know that the last quarter of the account is taken up with the Apostle Paul’s legal struggles. At one point, he finds himself pleading for his innocence with a Roman magistrate named Felix.
The section is one long theological argument that ends with Paul simply sitting in jail for two years — two whole years. I found myself pondering his patience the last time that I read it.
But I recently read about another man whose long-suffering proved no less impressive than that of the apostle. Forty-eight-year-old Valentino Dixon spent 27 years in New York’s Attica Correctional Facility for a murder that he didn’t commit.
His troubles started on August 10, 1991, in Buffalo, New York. According to The New York Times, a gunfight erupted on a street corner, wounding three and killing a 17-year-old.
Dixon, who was 21 at the time, was there when the shooting happened, and police soon arrested him for the murder. Yet Dixon insisted that he was innocent, even when a conviction sent him to jail for 39 years to life.
And almost nobody listened. The Buffalo News was essentially the only news source that followed his case.
Dixon could’ve easily sunk into a sump of self-pity or had his shocked disappointment fester into a violent rage. Plenty of people in the Attica Correctional Facility, a supermax prison, did.
When The Golf Channel (more on that seemingly odd source later) interviewed him in 2013, reporter Ryan Griffiths noted that the facility had a shank wall. Basically, it contained all of the improvised weapons the guards had taken from inmates.
But Dixon didn’t become violent. Rather he cozied up to the warden and, learning that his captor liked golf, started sketching scenes for him from pictures he saw in “Golf Digest.”
Well, sketching isn’t quite the right word. He drew meticulously detailed portraits with colored pencils, working with them until they were mere nubs.
As one drawing became another and then became over 100, Dixon found something strange happening: He began to feel a connection to the game even though he had never played it.
“The guys can’t understand,” Dixon said. “I know it makes no sense, but for some reason, my spirit is attuned to this game.”
Then something amazing happened: “Golf Digest” saw the pictures and came to interview him in 2012.
The story got noticed, and people began to turn their attention to his case, including a group of Georgetown University students. They also noticed the inconsistencies in the case against him.
After reviewing the evidence, the Erie County District Court vacated his conviction. Dixon was free.
“I felt like I was in some type of dream,” he said afterward. And the first thing he did upon his release? Go to Red Lobster for a seafood dinner.
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