Andy Dixon says little about the kidnap-for-ransom conviction that put him in prison for most of his adult life.
“It wasn’t pretty,” the 60-year-old says softly with a rural Tennessee twang.
Dixon was 22 when he, his brother and a friend, using a gun, kidnapped an 18-year-old woman and shackled her to a bed in a concrete-block cabin in a wooded area of Henry County, authorities told the Lawrence Journal-World.
The woman escaped three days later, and her attackers were captured shortly after that.
“It was an ugly case,” he said. “One of those things you’ll never live down.”
Dixon served most of his life sentence at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, an hour east of Knoxville. It’s closed now, but became famous when Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray, served time there.
Read more and watch the video here: http://www.tennessean.com/story/entertainment/2016/10/13/mark-collies-unlikely-friendship-ex-con/91272918/
At Brushy Mountain, Dixon said he found faith, found a wife (who was a social worker there) and found a friendship with Mark Collie.
Collie is best known these days as Deacon’s relapsing AA sponsor, Frankie, on the TV show “Nashville.” He went to Brushy Mountain in 2001 to make a prison concert album, just like his hero and friend Johnny Cash did at Folsom Prison in 1968 and San Quentin in 1969.
Unlike Cash, Collie went to prison months before the show to meet and jam with some inmates who themselves were musicians.
And unlike Cash, Collie needed 15 years to release his live prison album.
“Alive at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary” comes out Friday. Collie will celebrate with a performance at the Grand Ole Opry. Dixon and a few other ex-Brushy Mountain inmates plan to be there with him.
Dixon couldn’t be happier. “It makes you feel valued, makes you feel welcomed,” he said.
It’s one of several ways Collie has embraced and encouraged Dixon since the two met and started their unlikely friendship.
Collie notes that Dixon was released in 2008, and since then, has gotten married, started his own company and stayed out of trouble.
“He’s doing very well, and I’m very proud of that,” Collie said. “He can be a beacon of hope for others.”
‘I come from a rough family’
Dixon started his life as a beacon of anger and despair.
“I come from a rough family, and when I say rough, I mean, three generations back, my family was always involved in criminal activity — stealing cars, bootlegging, I grew up in that,” he said.
“We were a bunch of rogues and thieves.”
Dixon was angry when he went to prison. He spent the next five years fighting and stabbing other inmates, taking drugs, being “mean and ornery as I ever was.”
He mellowed about 1983 after meeting a prison volunteer who gave Dixon a stack of books written by peace activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
Dixon also found a guitar in the prison chapel, and he learned how to play by ear.
Then this country artist named Mark Collie walked into Brushy Mountain with film cameras in tow, and wanted to meet with inmates who performed or wrote music.
“Everybody’s excited but also a little skeptical,” Dixon said. “Maybe he’s using us to forward his career.”
That skepticism evaporated after a few minutes when Collie got personal, sharing his own stories of loss, redemption and how music saved him.
Collie and the inmates swapped songs, and soon, many got a sense that Collie really was one of them.
That day, Dixon played an original song, “She Hit the Ground Flying,” about another inmate’s sister who found recovery after nearly ruining her life with drugs and alcohol.
Collie looked Dixon in the eye and told him the song was good enough to be on any country star’s album.
Then it was Dixon who was flying. He felt a great swell of pride and validation, then didn’t feel worthy of such praise.
“Nah,” he told Collie. “I’m not good enough.”
Collie persisted, saying the only thing Dixon lacked was confidence.
Dixon was deeply moved: “Hearing that from him changed my life.”
Collie visited Dixon and other inmates several more times before his fall 2001 concert at Brushy Mountain. Dixon and several other felons couldn’t go to the concert because of security concerns.
The concert happened just after 9/11, and the warden decided to bar some of the most violent offenders from going.
“The day of the concert, we’re all there in our best-pressed blues,” Dixon said in the documentary “The Mountain,” which accompanies the live album.
” ‘Y’all can’t go.’ I said, ‘Well why not?’ ‘Well you guys are security risks. Y’all have life sentences.’ ”
Dixon was crushed.
Collie said he felt horrible about that because he had promised the men they could all go to the show. But Collie and Dixon stayed in touch.
Dixon was released in 2008, and he married Linda, a social worker he’d met while in prison, and they live in Joelton. The two advocate for prison reform, and Dixon started a small trucking company.
Collie found him a couple of years later, and the two spent time together in Joelton and at a Collie family gathering in Alabama.
They have remained friends, and Dixon is excited about the release of the live album.
He’s even more grateful for the friendship that started at Brushy Mountain.
“Before Mark came in, it was a dark time in there. It’s trying on the soul,” Dixon said.
“But he came in at a great time and drew in a lot of light and sunshine.”
Reach Brad Schmitt at 615-259-8384 and on Twitter @bradschmitt.
Collie album release and Opry appearance Friday
What: Mark Collie & His Reckless Companions release “Alive at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary,” featuring Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Shawn Camp and Kelly Willis. Collie and several Brushy Mountain inmates are set to appear at the Grand Ole Opry to celebrate
Where: Opry House, 2804 Opryland Drive
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 14
Tickets: $64 to $119 at grandoleopryhouse.ticketoffices.com
‘You’ve gotta stop being so mean to Deacon!’
Mark Collie regularly gets accosted by fans of the TV show “Nashville,” the show that features him as Frankie, a bar owner and AA sponsor to popular character Deacon.
Frankie and Deacon got into a fistfight at the end of the last season after Frankie relapsed and started drinking again.
“I get a lot of old women who come up to me in Wal-Mart and say, ‘You’ve gotta stop being so mean to Deacon!’ ” Collie said, smiling.
“Nashville” is moving from ABC to CMT, which airs its first episode Jan. 5.
The show’s new time slot will be 8 p.m. Thursdays.