Bob Shell: Marijuana Legal in Virginia

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

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Marijuana Legal in Virginia

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Much to the surprise of many, recreational marijuana became legal in Virginia on July 1. I never thought I’d see something so progressive in stodgy old Virginia.
There are limits, of course. You can have up to an ounce for personal use or grow up to four plants. Possession of more than an ounce up to a pound will get you a $ 25 fine.
If you want all the details you can read the story in the Galax Gazette, an excellent regional newspaper here in southwest Virginia. (www.galaxgazette.com).
The reason this resonates so strongly with me goes back to the summer of 1969.
I was living in Richmond, Virginia, in a nice, three-bedroom, apartment on Grace Street. I shared the apartment with four other people. One weekend we had a friend from Washington, D.C., visiting with us.
Saturday morning, the Richmond narcotics police raided the apartment. They did not knock or identify themselves. I was standing in the kitchen at the back of the apartment when a man strode down the hall and pointed a gun in my face. I had no idea who the hell he was. I was twenty-two at the time, never been in any trouble. This was the first time in my life that I’d looked down the barrel of a gun pointed at my face. It scared me so badly that I almost passed out.
As it turned out, the police searched the place and found nothing. But, in the pocket of the man visiting from D.C. was one ‘joint’, one marijuana cigarette.
We were all arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, a felony at that time, facing possible thirty year sentences!
Now, let me repeat, only one person possessed marijuana, and he didn’t even live there! But, that was how police treated ‘hippies’ in the ’60s.
We all hired lawyers, but were denied bail and spent three months in the old Richmond City Jail.
In court it came out that the search warrant was for a different address. Our lawyers tried to get the case thrown out on those grounds, but the judge refused.
We went to trial, and in a great show of ‘judicial mercy’ were only sentenced to three years each. That’s a cumulative fifteen years for one silly joint.
Thankfully, our lawyers pleaded with the judge and got the sentences suspended. But we were forbidden to associate with each other even though we were best friends. So we were split up, and I went back to Roanoke, where I’m from, and went to work for a local TV station and theater.
My dear friend Mark couldn’t take the stress and killed himself, a promising young life ended for nothing.
The first time I was to meet with my probation officer I showed up and was taken to his office.
He read my file, and said, “Possession of marijuana, eh?”
When I said, “Yes,” he got up from behind his desk, locked his office door, sat back behind his desk, and pulled a joint from a drawer. We shared it. I never had any trouble with my probation officer!
So, after my three years of probation was over, I petitioned the governor to expunge my conviction and restore my rights. He and my father were friends, and my petition was quickly granted. I could vote, own guns, whatever I wanted to do. I took my voting rights seriously, and voted in every election from 1972 until 2007. Then I was convicted on the current absurd charges and lost my rights all over again.
But, back to marijuana. When I was arrested for possession back in ’69, I didn’t have any. But I’d been smoking it since 1965 when I went off to college at Virginia Tech and found it abundant on campus and cheap. I smoked it pretty regularly through the sixties, seventies and early eighties, and then just tapered off.
When my late girlfriend convinced me to try some of hers in 2003, I hadn’t had any in years. The stuff she got from a student at Radford University was by far more potent than anything we had in the ’60s and ’70s! I couldn’t handle it. One hit and I was ‘One Toke Over the Line,’ as Brewer and Shipley sang.
The law legalizing marijuana in Virginia has penalties for giving any to young people under the age of twenty-one, but that’s unrealistic. Once it’s legal, young people and kids are going to get it, just as they already get alcohol.
Now, even though marijuana possession becomes legal on July 1 of this year, selling any amount is still illegal, and the state’s legal dispensaries won’t open until 2024! So you can legally have it, but there’s no legal way to get it!
Also, when marijuana becomes legal on July 1, everyone in jail or prison for possession will be released, right? Wrong! There’s no provision in the law to resentence people serving time for possession of a legal substance!
The legal theory is that they broke the law as it existed at the time, so they won’t be released. The Governor wanted to include a provision in the law that would have automatically resentenced those people, but opposition in our legislature told him if he insisted on including that provision, the bill would die. So he took what he could get.
That’s Virginia politics!

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/behind-bars/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.  Here’s the link: 

Bob Shell: Behind Bars

the image is designed to create a metaphor for life behind bars
Behind Bars. Photo Illustration: Tony Ward. Copyright 2021

Bob Shell: Behind Bars, Copyright 2021

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The Latest Update

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I’ve been writing these updates for years and sending them to a long list of friends and people who have expressed an interest. 

But many people never respond and I have no way of knowing if they’re even getting my updates, or reading them. It costs me 25¢ each to send out these updates, and I just cannot keep it up, since the only income I have is what friends send me, and I’m ever grateful for that. But I need to put my scarce money to better use. 

Now that I have a Facebook page,, courtesy of a very generous old friend, www.facebook.com/ BobShellTruth, I will post my updates there and in my blog, www.tonywardstudio.com/blog. If anyone wants to receive my updates and can’t view my Facebook page or blog, let me know and I’ll send the updates directly to you. 

The latest on my legal situation: Apparently the Virginia Supreme Court’s Declared Judicial Emergency expired on May 8, although I’ve been unable to confirm that. During that state of emergency most deadlines were suspended and courts were only conducting emergency hearings. Now that the emergency has ended, the clock has begun ticking again on my deadlines. But the Virginia Department of Corrections has not reopened our law libraries, and no one knows when they will, so I have no access to the research computers to conduct the necessary research to write my briefs. 

I have two briefs due in the Virginia Supreme Court, and may be able to get deadline extensions if the law libraries remain closed. 

On my actions to regain ownership of my forest, which was illegally sold, I’m back in court dealing with procedural matters, but hopeful that I’ll prevail. 

Virginia has imposed a new sentencing structure that reduces from 85% to 65% the amount of our sentences we actually serve. That should help me get released before I’m too old for it to matter, even if I don’t succeed in vacating my false convictions. 

Many in the legislatures are pushing for sentencing reform, and this is the first of multiple bills to make it into law. Some neighboring states have 50% rules on sentences. Virginia is stodgy and slow to change, but who would have believed in the past that Virginia would be the first southern state to legalize recreational marijuana use? We just did. So there’s hope. 

Life in here has gotten much worse during the year-plus long COVID lockdown. The food here at Pocahontas used to be the best in the system, but it has declined seriously in both quality and quantity during the lockdown. It’s all carbohydrates, not good for me and the many others with diabetes. Due to the awful diet my A1C has gone from 6.1 in 2019, to 8.2 when it was checked this month. That’s no small matter. 

We used to be able to supplement the awful food with real food from our commissary, but they’ve been out of most things all year. Money does us no good when there’s nothing to buy. The doctor here says, “Eat lots of oatmeal.” Commissary has been out of oatmeal all year! 

There are companies like Walkenhorst’s (www.walkenhorsts.com) that specialize in selling to prisoners, but the VDOC won’t let us order from them. A company called Keefe in St Louis has a contract with the VDOC to supply commissaries, and has a monopoly because they give a kickback to the VDOC. That multimillion dollar annual kickback results in high prices to us, and a very limited selection of items we can buy. A cheap 14″ TV available from Wal-Mart for under $ 50 costs us over $ 200, just as one example. 

Enough said, wholesale reform of our justice system, top to bottom, is badly needed, but action has been agonizingly slow so far. Police reform is a good step so police stop having an ‘us and them’ mentality and become part of the community. Now we need to take the next step and go after corrupt judges and prosecutors, who put harmless people in prison for ridiculously long times. I had one cellmate who had a 520 year sentence! I’ve known others with sentences over a hundred years, and one friend in here got an 80 year sentence! If the purpose of prison, as is stated, is to reform ‘errants’ so they may rejoin society, such sentences are just absurd. The man with the 520 year sentence never hurt anyone. But he had 52 images on his computer that were judged to be child porn. He didn’t create the images and was never accused of harming anyone, child or adult, but was given ten years for each image. Even his local newspaper called that absurd in editorials, but he remains in prison, costing Virginia taxpayers many thousands of dollars a year. I’m sorry, but I call it as I see it, extra long sentences are ridiculous, particularly for people who never hurt anyone else. They ought to be outlawed as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. 

I’ll step down off my soapbox now. See you on Facebook or my blog.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/covid-19-again/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.  Here’s the link: 

Studio News: Water Main Break

Water Main Break: 6th & Bainbridge Streets. Philadelphia


Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

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Water Main Break

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In the early hours of Sunday, July 25th a 100+ year old cast iron thirty inch water main broke at the intersection of 6th & Bainbridge Streets in Philadelphia, causing a massive flood of epic proportions. Water department  officials on the ground at the epicenter claimed that it was the largest main break they had ever seen.

At approximately 2:00AM a resident of The Ward Studio was awakened by a large crash of water breaking glass on a floor below her bedroom prompted her to get up to see what was going on.  The resident, a close friend of the Ward family, had the presence of mind to immediately begin videotaping the wall of water descending onto the property. 

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LIWEI VIDEO

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Within minutes all of the below grade rooms including; lounge area, kitchen, dressing room, darkroom suite, editing room, workshop and bathroom were all under approximately 24 inches of water.

There was extensive damage done to the property, including  thousands of vintage black and white and color negatives that I was preparing to review in anticipation of an upcoming exhibition in the fall.  

The city of Philadelphia has stepped in to mitigate the damage while my family sorts out the damage and loss.  Mitigation efforts are currently underway to save as many negatives as possible. All activities including studio and darkroom rentals have been suspended until further notice.

Bob Shell: Covid Again

Covid-19

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

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Covid Again

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The expected fall surge in COVID-19 cases seems to have come early, hitting many states. Here in Southwest Virginia, we’re surrounded by surges in Tennessee and North Carolina. 

Statistically, the news media are telling us, 95% of the new cases are people not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated. 

But, hold on just a minute, and think about what that really means. That means that 5% of these new cases are in fully vaccinated people! Now, 5% seems like a small number, but on the scale of this new surge, it’s one hell of a lot of people! Fifty out of every thousand.

Pfizer is saying that people who’ve gotten both shots will need a booster shot to protect against the Delta Variant. Other vaccine manufacturers haven’t suggested this — yet. And here comes the Lambda Variant, just entering the USA. Here we go again! 

This current surge will likely become an explosion when cooler weather comes. 

And don’t forget the millions of young people only now becoming eligible for vaccination. They now have no protection at all. 

The Los Angeles Times reports on an ongoing study in the UK that has shown that COVID causes ‘significant brain shrinkage’ in people who’ve had it, even when they had only mild cases or were asymptomatic. This probably explains the ‘brain fog’ often reported by people who ‘recovered,’ often long after their ‘recovery.’ 

The brain areas most affected are those related to smell and taste, senses often reported lost or diminished in COVID sufferers. Those brain regions are also involved in memory, particularly memory of experiences that evoked an emotional response. Perhaps ‘full recovery’ from COVID is an illusion.

As Theunis Bates said in an editorial in The Week, “A happy ending to our national Covid horror remains a long way off.” To that I’ll add that there may never be a happy ending.

In my book ‘Cosmic Dance,’ written largely in 2018 and published in April of 2019, long before anyone heard of COVID-19, I said: 

“We’re only now starting to understand the language of the DNA code, yet we’re already tinkering with it to ‘improve’ our crops and livestock, or do silly things like make cats that glow in the dark.” 

“We must be very careful in playing with a code, a language, that we’re just beginning to understand, or our foolish fingers may get burned. I’m very concerned with the willy-nilly introduction of genetically modified organisms into the world’s ecology. We could unintentionally unleash a plague that destroys us or the crops that sustain us. 

Voices have been raised in alarm, but their cries are falling on plugged ears.” 

I usually like it when my predictions prove true, but this time I wish I’d been wrong. 

And I singled out China as the likely culprit, too! Right now, it seems that Australia is the only country to have the guts to point the finger at China. In an editorial in ‘The Age,’ Peter Hatcher says, Australia won’t be bullied by China. Relations between the two countries became hostile last year when the Australian government called for a probe into the origins of COVID-19, and banned the Chinese company Huwei from Australia’s 5G network. China decided to make an example of Australia, levying high tariffs on Aussie wine and beef, then cutting off economic dialogue completely. 

Now China is blocking $ 20 billion worth of Australian exports and holding two Australian journalists in prison on political charges. 

The Australians are not scared of the Chinese bully. Two thirds of Australians surveyed say the country should stick to its values and speak up about Chinese abuses, even if it hurts their economy. “China’s efforts to break Australia’s will has only solidified it.” 

I say ‘Bravo Australia!’ and urge everyone reading this to go out and buy Australian wine and anything else made in Australia! If only the American public had the strength of will of the Aussies! It is time to lay the blame for COVID-19 where it belongs, squarely on China’s shoulders.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/photography-2/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Bob Shell: On Photography

Photo by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

Photography and Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

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On Photography

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Someone asked me recently why I wasn’t posting much about photography anymore. Before my conviction in August of 2007, I was ‘a renowned photographer with a long-established reputation,’ to quote Federal Judge Glenn Conrad. I’d been doing photography/cinematography since my teens in the early 1960s, following in the footsteps of my father, who was an avid photographer/cinematographer. He had numerous cameras and lenses, still and 16 mm movie cameras, and a nice darkroom in the basement of our house in Roanoke, Virginia. 

The first time I saw an image I’d photographed magically appear on a blank sheet of photo paper when I dunked it into the developer, I was hooked. 

People today who grow up using digital photography on smartphones never experience that magic moment. I find that sad. 

Over the years I’ve been in prison I’ve watched traditional photography die. First one, then another, then one by one, all of the photography magazines have died. At its peak, there were dozens of photography magazines. I’d get seven or eight a month. Popular Photography had over a million subscribers at its peak. 

Today, I get two photography magazines, Nature Photographer (www.naturephotographermag.com) and Professional Photographer, the magazine of the Professional Photographers of America, to which I belonged for many years. If others have survived as print magazines, I’m not aware of them. 

Even Digital Camera, the magazine I worked for after Shutterbug, is now gone. My favorite of all, and one I wrote many articles for, Rangefinder, is history. 

I also get Digital Imaging Reporter, today’s incarnation of Photo Industry Reporter, a trade publication I used to write for, but it’s published erratically these days. 

Of course, there are some Internet photography magazines, but, so far as I know, nobody has been able to make any real money from an Internet photography magazine, and if a magazine can’t make real money, it can’t attract, pay, and keep good editors and writers, who have to support themselves and their families. 

The once-popular hobby of photography has seriously declined. Any hobbyist who wants to own the finest film cameras ever made can do so for pennies on the dollar, although if they need service, finding someone who can repair them may not be easy. Friends of mine have bought Hasselblad, Mamiya, Bronica, Rollei, Contax, Leica, Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax, etc., outfits very cheaply. Darkroom equipment is even cheaper. 

Although the selection is limited, film is still readily available, but you may be unable to buy it locally. In fact, increased demand has even induced Kodak to put one version of Ektachrome back into production. 

I’ve tried to keep up with photographic technology, despite the fact that I haven’t so much as touched a camera in over fourteen years, and have yet to even see one of the mirrorless cameras that are fast taking over for SLRs. 

My cameras, lenses, and other photographic equipment is all in storage, and will remain until my release. Hopefully I won’t be too decrepit by then to rebuild my studio and life as a photographer. 

I used many different cameras over my years in photography. During two different periods I owned camera shops, first for several years in the 1970s, then from 1980 until 1990. The cameras that were my workhorses in 35 mm were Canon, and continued to be until my career was ended in 2007. I wrote several books about Canon, including ‘Canon Compendium,’ the official history of the Canon Camera Company. 

In medium format, I used Bronica S2a cameras with their superb Nikkor lenses before switching to Rollei SL66 in the mid-1970s. I continued with Rollei, using their advanced 6000 series up to my last Rollei, the 6008i, an amazingly capable camera. 

In large format I used a Toyo 4 X 5 monorail view camera with several Schneider-Kreuznach lenses in my studio, and a Zone VI field camera outdoors with those same lenses. 

In the rare instances when a client wanted 8 X 10, I had an old Eastman 2D camera made in 1918 that I used. It still worked fine. I fitted it with a Voigtlander Apo-Lanthar 300 mm lens in a Compur Electronic shutter, matching old to new. 

When Polaroid made 8 X 10 film, I shot quite a bit of it in that camera using a borrowed Polaroid processor. 

I was an early adopter of digital photography, though, and was doing most of my work with Canon and Nikon digital SLRs by 2002, but the speed at which traditional photography collapsed was a total surprise, and shock, to me and most of the industry. Luckily, I was able to sell most of my medium format pro cameras before the bottom completely dropped out of the market, using the money to pay lawyers, several of whom said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll never spend a day in prison.’ Here I sit, fourteen years later, still in prison for something that never happened. It is ridiculously difficult to get a false conviction overturned in today’s American legal system.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/hidden-truth_ufos-pentagon/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.