For nearly 30 years Valentino Dixon sat in prison, having been found guilty of a murder he did not commit. He had his conviction overturned and was granted release in September of 2018. While in prison, Dixon gained renown for his art, most notably his depictions of famous golf courses.
Having spent time traveling the world, Dixon returned to Buffalo Thursday evening to preview his artwork at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride. I’ve been traveling all over the world, sharing my artwork, sharing my story, meeting as many people as possible,” Dixon said. “Trying to just reach anybody that I can reach so that we can get enough support in regards to this prison reform issue.”
More specifically, Dixon is pushing for sentencing reform. He has started a foundation to help in that endeavor.
“Sentencing reform is the main issue as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Based on our numbers, [there are] 2.3 million people in prison and the sentencing guidelines are too harsh and excessive.”
Spending 27 years in prison unjustly could turn a person bitter, but that's not the case with Dixon. Burchfield Penney Public Programming Associate Director Don Metz was struck by Dixon’s dignity in the face of everything he has been through.
“For a guy that went through everything he went through, and how everything emerged for him,” Metz said. “He’s a very sweet, intelligent, soulful, spirited person with a ton of grace.”
Partnering with Burchfield Penney for the event was the Buffalo Jewish Community Relations Council, a social justice-minded group. Council co-chair Nina Lukin said Dixon’s post-release focus on criminal justice reform was appealing to the council.
“He really brought to my attention, clearer than maybe articles and books and speakers I’ve seen, the inequalities that people of color suffer at the hands of the justice system,” Lukin said. “And how it really constitutes one of the most pressing civil rights issues in the U.S. today.”
Lukin says Dixon taught her that the system isn’t broken, but rather was intentionally set up to jail people of color at disproportionate levels. She said the Jewish Community Relations Council is also looking at ways to reform the criminal justice system.
Away from his battle for prison reform, Dixon, through his foundation, is making sure inner-city kids have places to go to expand their artistic abilities.
“They don’t have much to do, and I come from the inner-city,” he said. “So it’s very important for us to raise money and funds for these kids so they can have something to do after school.”
With a schedule full of speaking engagements across the globe, Dixon accepts his new position as a voice for further prison reform. It’s a job he takes seriously.
“What do we need to do to make the system more fair?” he said. “How can Congress act? What do the Supreme Court need to do? What do the president need to do? And what can we get it down now and not five or 10 years from now.”
Dixon’s art exhibit will officially be open to the public Friday for M&T Bank’s Second Friday. The exhibit will run through March of 2020.