Mistakenly released inmate’s brief taste of freedom: Trade school
By Stefano Esposito Staff Reporter October 1, 2013 6:10PM
Walter Redawn Dixon
Updated: November 3, 2013 6:26AM
Last December, Walter Redawn Dixon was fully expecting to exchange the gloomy walls of Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet for those of a federal prison.
But then something extraordinary happened: He was allowed to walk out of Stateville — a free man.
After the initial shock, the Chicago native simply got on with his life.
“He’s been trying to find a career, he’s been going to school,” said a Dixon relative, who wouldn’t give her name.
Dixon, 33, got another shock last week, when federal agents — finally realizing he’d been mistakenly released from Stateville — swooped in and arrested him outside the vocational school on the Near West Side, where he was learning about plumbing, carpentry and air conditioning systems.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that a paperwork snafu led to Dixon being released from Stateville, when he should have instead been transferred to federal custody to begin a 16-year federal term in connection with an Iowa drug conspiracy case.
Tom Shaer, the spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said last week that Dixon was released because the agency never received a federal order to keep him after he had served his one-year sentence for aggravated driving under the influence.
The Cook County sheriff’s office — the agency that had custody of Dixon just before he was sent to Joliet — disputes that, saying their records suggest the federal order was known to state prison officials.
But whatever the truth, Dixon was not too hard to find after his release. When he left Stateville, he was required to visit a state parole officer monthly, which he did, Shaer said.
“He was not a problem parolee,” Shaer said. “He never presented any distressed condition or demeanor, and he did what IDOC asked him to do to the best of his ability.”
Dixon also never told officials he was supposed to be in federal prison, Shaer said.
“He kept his mouth shut,” Shaer said. “He didn’t say anything, and no officials told us.”
It was unclear if Dixon faces any additional charges for not reporting to federal officials. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
The family member who wouldn’t give her name said Dixon’s family called his attorney shortly after his release, wanting to know why he’d been let go.
The lawyer said he’d look into it, but “he never called us back,” the family member said.
Mark Meyer, the Iowa attorney, declined to talk about the issue with a Sun-Times reporter Tuesday. Last week, Meyer said he’d heard Dixon was in Chicago, “but I didn’t put much stock in that information.”
So Dixon began thinking about the future. He enrolled at Center for Employment Training on the Near West Side, where he was learning about building maintenance — with the eventual hope of becoming a home remodeler.
“He was really doing exceptionally well,” said one of Dixon’s instructors, who asked that his name not be published.
The instructor said he knew Dixon had some criminal history, but he said he never knew his student was supposed to be in prison.
“He was here every day, Monday through Friday,” the instructor said.
And he was there last Friday, when U.S. Marshals arrived to arrest him shortly before class was set to begin.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids notified the U.S. Marshals Service last month that it appeared Dixon wasn’t where he was supposed to be, said a federal source in Iowa.
“They said they thought this guy was out and that’s when we started checking to find out he was released,” the source said.
Dixon was inside another cell Tuesday — at the Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown — awaiting his prison assignment, said Belkis Sandoval, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Marshals Service in Chicago.