It’s been two months since Valentino Dixon was freed from prison after serving 27 years for a murder he didn’t commit. Now he’s looking forward to spending his first Thanksgiving as a free man. WBFO’s Nick Lippa sat down with Dixon discussing family, adjusting to life outside of prison, and future plans.
“I’m enjoying my freedom. It’s been amazing. It’s been of interest. Very unpredictable, but I’m loving every moment of it.”
Valentino Dixon has kept busy since leaving prison, but he’s still keeping to a similar routine.
“I’m up at 6 AM in the morning. I’m praying. I went down in my mother’s basement. I got a couple weights down there and did my workout,” said Dixon. “And usually I’m drawing around this time. But I don’t have anything to draw right now because I have over 1,500 originals and I have two art shows that’s going to be coming up in New York City. So, I’m really taking a break from the drawing. First time in twenty years I’m taking a break from the drawing.”
Dixon, who was considered an up and coming drug dealer nearly three decades ago, was found innocent of the shooting and murder, but still brought the gun to the fight in 1991 that killed Torriano Jackson. While serving his time, he found himself drawing every day for the first time since his childhood.
Taking a break from his artwork now leaves time to spend with loved ones. But in the years away from home, Dixon said he was the one who took care of his fellow inmates.
“We was able to order turkeys but they had to be fully cooked. So I would order a turkey and feed about ten guys. And I did that for many years. I know this year is going to be different for them,” he said.
Dixon said he gets calls from them on his new phone, which is currently the biggest challenge after decades in prison.
“They’re going to call me because I got money on my phone. I can receive collect calls on my cellphone. And I spoke to a guy this morning,” he laughed.
The phone rings all day now for Dixon whose artwork will appear in multiple art galleries around the world in the coming months. He can send pictures. He has Facebook. Knows how to use google. He still doesn’t know how to download music, but he recently got Spotify.
He also said he’s forgotten his password at least 1,000 times.
“My daughter bought me this iPhone 7. And I just want to take this thing and throw it on the ground some days,” he said. “I’m getting used to it. Everyday I’m learning something new about it. Late at night I’m playing around with it.”
Dixon can even Uber now, although how he learned how to do that is a seperate, entertaining story.
Spending time with his daughter and extended family in Western New York is something on his mind for the holiday season, but it’s not where he’ll be for Thanksgiving.
His first Thanksgiving out of prison as a grown adult will be spent in Mexico, where Golf Digest is flying him down to see his wife, Louise, who he met in 2001.
“She stayed over here and she helped me out for four years. But then her visa expired and she ended up leaving because they told her she had to leave the country. When she went back to Australia they hit her with a 10-year ban,” Dixon said.
It’s the first time Dixon will see her in 11 years and as a free man. He said they spoke everyday while he was in prison.
“We were able to keep our relationship strong and meet the 10-year thing. And then when she bought her tickets and she tried to come back, they said no, no, no, you’ve been hit with a lifetime ban. They just changed the rules on her.”
The next step for them is finding an immigration lawyer. In the meantime, Dixon is adjusting to a home that’s seen decades of change.
“The neighbor is devastating. Certain parts of the East Side of Buffalo… I didn’t recognize my neighborhood. That’s how bad it was,” said Dixon. “Most of the houses are gone. I have to really pay attention to look at the street signs to know where I’m at. Before, I didn’t have to do none of that. I’m looking forward to doing my part to help rebuild the neighborhood.”
Dixon takes responsibility for the choices he made in his teenage years, but said just because he made bad decisions doesn’t mean he was a bad kid.
“Growing up in the inner-city of Buffalo, I was always a good kid. Honor roll student. And the elements around me, is something I always knew was bad. When you grow up with a certain element or certain type of people, even if you’re not involved, sooner or later you find yourself pulled in. You look and say, ‘How did I get here?’ he said. “This is what happened with me. I knew that in that life it was a bad thing and it was a wrong thing. You look at my criminal record, I don’t have any juvenile issues or anything like that. No burglaries or stolen car. None of those things like that.”
For Dixon, it was the materialistic things that drew him in to a life of crime at a young age. Flashy cars. Jewelry. He doesn’t shy away from his troubled past.
“That right there, can attest to me making a bad decision,” Dixon said reflecting on why he ended up in a prison cell.
“This is why I put, for 20 years straight, 6 to 10 hours a day non-stop, 365 days a year… even when I had the flu I would still draw sick. And that’s because I wanted to make people proud. I wanted to be accomplished. And now I feel like, it’s not how you start, it is how you finish. I’ve made it here. I’ve done something with myself and the future is bright.”
But Dixon is still concerned good kids will fall in to a bad life after a few poor decisions.
“A large number of inner-city kids getting in to trouble, career records, (and) stuff like that. We have to ask ourselves, why is this happening? All of these kids can’t be bad. What’s going on here that all of these kids are getting in to trouble? It’s because there’s nothing for them to keep them out of trouble,” he said.
With hopes of using his art to make a living, Dixon plans to give back.
“I would like this upcoming summer to start a program for kids to learn how to golf in the inner-city. Where I would rent buses, pay for them. Get a golf course to play a part of this project. So I have an idea of how I’m going to help these kids in some type of meaningful way,” he said.
The future is bright for Dixon. KeyBank and Wells Fargo have asked him to be a keynote speaker for multiple events. So has Georgetown University, who even helped make a website for him and his art. But he’s still focused on Western New York. He wants to create work for the Albright-Knox, work with the WNY Urban Arts Collective, and serve as an example for younger generations.
“I have opportunities all over the world right now. However, my roots are important, and not forgetting that this is a city that I was born in. I’m definitively going to always give back and participate in some type of way to enhance the city.”