Valentino Dixon has a lot to be grateful for these days.
Not only did he finally get his freedom back in 2018 after wrongfully serving 27 years for a crime he didn’t commit, but thanks to a recent HBO special recounting his life’s story, the gifted golf artist now has some new fans—the Obamas.
Per Cleveland’s WKYC Studios 3, after viewing the aforementioned special, former first lady Michelle Obama reached out to Dixon to see about purchasing one of his paintings of a golf course for her husband. (You know, that one guy who just wrote a book about A Promised Land.) “She’s not too big to reach out to somebody on my level, who is really nobody in comparison [to her], so that’s just a great feeling,” Dixon said.
But referring to Dixon as a “nobody” would be a clear and immense understatement.
According to his official website, Dixon was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Torriano Jackson at a nightclub in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1991 based off shaky witness testimony and pressure from the NYPD to convict (even though the real shooter had already confessed just two days after the incident). He was consequently sentenced to 38 years-to-life in prison at Attica Correctional Facility. But it was during his time in prison that Dixon was able to tap into a skill he’d once had a passion for: creating art. And it’s that art, particularly that of the 12th hole at the legendary Augusta National Golf Club, that would ultimately help him in his quest for justice and freedom.
More from his official website:
At one point, the warden at Attica Correctional Facility asked Valentino to draw the 12th hole of the legendary Augusta National Golf Club. Valentino, who had never set foot on a golf course and knew nothing about the sport, starting drawing images inspired by photos in the magazine Golf Digest. Eventually, Valentino even drew his own golf creations and said that golf art became his escape from the harsh reality of prison.
In 2012, Golf Digest editorial director Max Adler featured Valentino and his stunning artwork in his “golf saved my my life” column. Adler also researched Valentino’s case, and came to the conclusion that Valentino was truly innocent of the murder for which he had been wrongfully convicted. The next year, The Golf Channel ran a segment about Valentino’s case as well, gaining him — and his artistic talent — national attention.
It would be six years later that Dixon finally obtained his freedom, due largely in part to three college students at Georgetown University who decided to reinvestigate his case. All the while, Dixon has continued to perfect his craft. And now that same painting he once did inside of a jail cell in Attica, N.Y., will be hanging inside the home of the 44th President of the United States.
“The drawing is going to be sitting in Barack’s office, that alone is enough for me,” Dixon expressed to WKYC Studios 3. Adding in a video accompanying the painting to the former president: “I hope that you love your gift, and maybe one day you and the family can come draw and talk with me.”