Michelle Obama gave Barack an unforgettable Christmas gift this year. On Wednesday, the former president shared a peek at the priceless present from his wife on Instagram. Michelle commissioned an artist named Valentino Dixon to draw a massive piece for Barack of the 12th hole at Augusta National in Georgia. For Barack, “it’s an incredible piece, but the story behind it is even better.”
Valentino was wrongfully convicted of a crime at age 21, and sentenced to serve 38 and a half years to life in prison. During this time, he reconnected with his love for art and began drawing for six to ten hours every day. Despite never having set foot on a golf course, a warden asked Valentino to draw the 12th hole of the legendary Augusta National Golf Club. He used magazines as inspiration and created golf pieces during his two decades behind bars.
Valentino’s art was recognized by golf publications, and through magazine profiles (and his family’s efforts), his case garnered more attention. However, it wasn’t until 2018 when three Georgetown undergraduate students uncovered evidence proving Valentino’s innocence that he was exonerated. He was wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years.
Although Valentino’s incarceration could’ve left him incredibly angry and jaded, he has devoted the last few years to advocacy and public speaking. He speaks out in favor of prison reform and uses his story in the hopes of making a positive change to the criminal justice system. Valentino also continued drawing, eventually connecting with Michelle when she purchased the piece for Barack. “Thankfully, for me and for so many others, he continues to draw,” Barack wrote. “I’m so proud to have one of his works to display.”