Category Archives: Blog

Bob Shell: Covid-19 is Holding Me Hostage

Covid-19

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020
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Covid-19 is Holding Me Hostage
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Our law library here is shut down, except for allowing us to order copies of court cases. But, to know what cases to order we need to use the research computers, and our access to them is blocked until the law library reopens, and before it was closed we’d been restricted to using it only two days a week! These things have blocked any hope for me to get my actions before a court with jurisdiction to hear them any time soon.
COVID-19 is holding me hostage. This is terribly frustrating. I have a more than good chance to have my convictions overturned and regain my freedom, and to get my precious forest land back, if I can just get into court. I’d hoped to be free this year, but the ‘Wuhan Virus’ has nixed any possibility of that.

On another topic, much has been said lately about removing the qualified immunity that police have to lawsuits. I agree that this is a good idea, in fact I believe no one should be above the law, so long as any legislation includes protection from frivolous lawsuits. I know from observing men here in prison that many, if not most, of the lawsuits they file are frivolous — most downright silly. But there is a minority of lawsuits that aren’t frivolous, and legislation must protect and enable those.

I strongly believe that prosecutorial immunity should be removed. The immunity to lawsuits that prosecutors now enjoy in our present system, is a threat to the whole system and our personal freedom.
Contrary to what you may think, prosecutorial immunity is not an old part of our system. Lack of access to research computers has prevented me from determining exactly when it infected our judicial system, but one case states that it was established “long after” the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

Under current prosecutorial immunity, there is absolutely no protection from false prosecution. I’m a victim, and I’ve met others. Currently, there’s nothing to stop a prosecutor from going after you because she/he doesn’t like your politics, religious beliefs, or just your lifestyle.

I was prosecuted for living my life in a way the prosecution didn’t approve of, although my lifestyle was in no way illegal. As one courtroom observer said after my trial, “But he didn’t do anything illegal!” After my convictions, an attorney present in the courtroom loudly observed, “And who says there’s no railroad service in Radford!”
California Federal Judge Kinser has written, “There is an epidemic of false prosecution abroad in the land today.”

How do we stop this epidemic? The answer is simple, make prosecutors accountable.
Most of you have heard the story of the Duke University lacrosse team, who were falsely charged with sex crimes by an unscrupulous prosecutor named Mike Nifong. Yes, they were eventually cleared, but by that time these young men had seen promising careers evaporate. There is no way to regain those lost years.

I’ve been in prison for over thirteen lost years now, based on events the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia says never happened. I was ‘Nifonged,’ falsely charged and convicted by an unprincipled prosecutor with political ambitions who knew the evidence he produced to convict me was nonsense.
Why am I still in prison? Because the system is weighted against the innocent person.

Courts routinely block attempts to overturn bad convictions, as they’ve blocked me repeatedly. They’ve even denied my attempts to depose the Chief Medical Examiner and get his testimony on the record. In law, anything not on the record doesn’t exist.

So I sit here in a prison cell, counting the days, unable to get the truth before a court that will free me. They say, “The truth will set you free,” but not if you can’t get that truth in front of the right people.

In the Virginia Department of Corrections we’ve been living under a ‘modified lockdown’ since March. We spend twenty or more hours in our cells every day, even eating our meals in our cells. The library, law library, and school are closed. There’s no visitation other than video visitation, which is expensive and frustrating. The video visitation station is in the same room as the law library, and I heard, “can you hear me now?” all the time from people trying to use the system. The VDOC video visitation system is not compatible with Apple phones.

Both the quality and quantity of our food has declined dramatically, and if kind people on the outside didn’t send me money for commissary, I’d go hungry a lot. Even that’s problematic, since commissary has been out of many items lately. For a long time they were out of Ramen noodles, the prison staple, because one of the Maruchan factories was shut down.

The VDOC currently has about 29,000 inmates and an annual budget of one billion dollars. That’s about $ 35,500 per inmate per year. I can’t help wondering where all that money goes. Certainly not into inmate meals!

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. 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 Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonyward.com/bob-shell-things-i-dont-have-to-worry-about/

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.

Also posted in Affiliates, commentary, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, Health Care, lifestyle, Men, News, Politics, Popular Culture

Bob Shell: Things I Don’t Have to Worry About

Pocahontas State Correctional Institution

 

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Things I Don’t Have to Worry About

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You folks on the outside don’t know how lucky we are to be in prison. We’ve been on lockdown since March 20, staying in our cells twenty or more hours every day. There’s so many things I don’t have to worry about in prison. Here’s a.partial list:

— When to get up in the morning. I never have to worry about oversleeping, because at 5:30 each and every morning the bright lights come on and an officer screams over the intercom, “Wake up call. Wake up call. Get up and get properly dressed!” We have to do it, because at 6:00 there’s a standing count, where we stand up in our cells and officers count us to make sure no one was abducted from his locked cell by aliens during the night.

— What to wear. I never have to.worry about deciding what to wear. It’s always the same, light blue button-up shirt and bluejeans, plus state issued socks, underwear, and boots. We also have one lightweight jacket for cold weather. Gloves, knit caps, heavy jackets, shoes, we have to buy if we want them.

— Replacing clothes — If anything wears out, I fill out a form and they give me new clothes, and they replace everything automatically once a year. I’m allowed to have four shirts, four pairs of jeans, and four sets of underwear and socks.

— Doing my laundry. I put all my dirty clothes in a mesh laundry bag and they’re picked up Monday and Thursday mornings, washed and sorta dried, and returned in the afternoon.

– What kind of soap to buy — Once a week they give me a brand new little bar of bath soap and a roll of toilet paper. It’s up to me to make both last a week.

— Finding the bathroom at night. If I have to urinate in the night, the toilet is less than six feet from my bunk, three steps away. Of course, that means I’m living in a toilet.

— Picking up my mail. Mail is brought to me and pushed under my door, Monday through Friday, often late at night after lights out when I have to wait until the next day to read it.

— Turning lights on and off. The lights come on at five thirty every morning, are turned on and off all day at purely arbitrary times, then turned off between nine thirty and ten every night. The first prison I was in, from 2008 until 2010, was an old facility that actually had light switches, but none of the newer prisons have them. I’ve learned to keep a bookmark handy to put in whatever I’m reading when the lights go off and pick up again the next day. Prison teaches you patience and accommodation to arbitrary actions by those in authority.

— Turning the water off in the sink. We don’t have knobs or handles, we have push buttons. I push the button for hot water and it runs for ten seconds or so, then shuts off. To wash my hands I have to push it four or five times. Our sink doesn’t have a faucet. It has an upward-pointing nozzle like a water fountain and often overshoots the sink, leaving a puddle of water on the concrete floor.

— What to eat. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are planned for us by a ‘dietitian’ and a menu is issued once a week. However, we often don’t get what the menu says, especially if it’s something good. Portions are small, like they’re feeding children instead of grown men. Due to some prisoners with dietary restrictions, they don’t season the food, so most is bland. What isn’t bland often just tastes bad.

In a rare moment of honesty, the kitchen manager here told me one time, “You know, Mr. Shell, we don’t get anything here unless there’s something wrong with it.” When we see a food recall announced on TV, we know what we’ll be getting in the near future. We can’t expect much when they feed us for less than a dollar a day. Much of the food is donated.

— Paying medical bills. Starting the first of the year, 2020, visits to the doctor are free. Before that we had to pay $ 5 to see a doctor. That may not sound like much, but most jobs here pay around $ 12 a month, so for most men here it was a substantial expense.

— Paying for medications. As with doctor visits, prior to the first of the year medications cost $ 3 for a 30 day supply. Now they’re free. I don’t know if this has anything to do with it, but they’ve signed us all up for Medicare. I know that now pays for many medical costs.

— Getting COVID. Since March 20, we’ve been on modified lockdown. That means we never leave our pod or building except for things like doctor’s appointments. We spend around twenty hours a day in our cells, get out in the pod a few hours each day, but we have no contact with other pods, which are three to a building. This isolation has kept the virus at bay, and we’ve had no cases among inmates, and only two staff catching it. There are just over one thousand men here at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, where I’m housed. They don’t call them prisons anymore. Same thing, different, more PC, name.

I won’t catch COVID from another inmate. Our lockdown has worked in that aspect. We have zero cases of COVID among the isolated inmates and only two among staff who come and go from the facility, when the surrounding counties have many cases.

— When I finally get out of this nightmare, I’ll have to learn to do all the things the DOC has done for me all this time all over again.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. 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 Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob_shell_science_morality/

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.

Also posted in Affiliates, commentary, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, lifestyle, News, Popular Culture

Anthony Colagreco: Of Things Lost From Pleasures Past

Poetry by Anthony Colagreco

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Poetry by Anthony Colagreco, Copyright 2020

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Portrait of Anthony Colagreco by Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

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About The Author: Anthony Colagreco is a master massage therapist with over 40 years of servicing a variety of clients in Philadelphia and vicinity.  In recent years, Mr. Colagreco has focused his attention on private investigative work as an understudy to Kitty Hailey, a nationally renowned private investigator who is also headquartered in Philadelphia.

Also posted in Affiliates, Friends of TWS, Poetry, Popular Culture

Artur Meyster: How to Know if You and Your Career Aren’t Meant to Be

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Artur Meyster, Copyright 2020

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How To Know If You And Your Career Aren’t Meant To Be

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Sometimes, job offers are way more attractive on paper than in real life. Nowadays, during interviews, employers are saying whatever crosses their minds to catch qualified aspirants’ attention. As a result, you may land a job that seems like your dream job, but it isn’t. Still, you don’t have to feel bad if your current career isn’t a good fit. What matters at the end of the day is identifying when it’s the right time to leave. If you’re wondering about quitting or making a career change, these signs will help you decide and move in the right direction.

Your Duties Make You Feel Frustrated

Sometimes, the job you have always wanted is not what you thought. For that reason, if your dream job makes you feel frustrated, don’t be of two minds about quitting. Doing the same tasks repeatedly without using your strengths is not good for your mental health or career. Look for a job that makes you feel motivated. Nowadays, companies are investing in new technologies like AI to help workers during repetitive processes.

Talking to your boss is always a good alternative to solve the problem. Ask them if you can collaborate on projects where you ca use your best skills. If you have machine learning skills, don’t hesitate to give an extra hand to data scientists or data analysts. This will help you to stay motivated and feel comfortable. However, if your boss disagrees, don’t stay in a place where your best skills aren’t appreciated. 

You Don’t Enjoy What You Do

Enjoying what you do is crucial to feel comfortable and achieve happiness in life. Hence, if you dislike what you do and you think you should look for another job, don’t let your fear of being jobless stop you. Embrace changes and start a new job searching path. 

In 2020, companies in the healthcare sector and the online retail industry are actively looking for new hirings. If making a career change is necessary to land a job you may like, don’t be afraid of making your decision. After all, most people spend between 40 and 50 hours per week at work, and enjoying what you do will be key to improving your wellbeing. 

Your Feel Overloaded

If your responsibilities make you feel you’re starting to crumble, you should ask for help. Talking to your boss may be a good option to fix the issue. But, if you receive no support, this is a big sign that quitting is the best decision you can make. Feeling overloaded is not healthy. Since overwork can have adverse effects on employees’ health, relaxing is a must. Don’t accept a job offer that makes your work-life balance awful. 

Developing Your Skills Is an Uphill Battle

In 2020, the competition is getting more challenging day after day. For that reason, you need a job that provides you with professional development opportunities. If developing your skills is an uphill battle at your current job, you should think about leaving. Having no professional development might take you out of the game and will make getting employed hard. Look for vacancies that provide you with tuition reimbursement benefits.

Top-notch companies like Netflix and Nintendo are concerned about skills training. Therefore, they provide employees with tuition reimbursement benefits to help them stay competitive. Many employees have enrolled in coding bootcamps to get equipped with in-demand programming tools. 

Coding Dojo, for example, offers online programs that allow students to become self-sufficient developers in a few weeks. Their programs cover in-demand tools like JavaScript, AWS, Python, and React. Coding Dojo also offers career services to help students achieve their short-term and long-term career goals. 

General Assembly, on the other hand, helps students to develop their skills with ease. By providing them with schedule flexibility, students can decide whether to take full- or part-time courses. And by allowing them to learn from experts in the field, students can stand out from the competition. 

In Summary

Never keep a job that affects your personality or causes you to be in a bad mood the whole day. To move forward, you must enjoy what you do. Keep in mind that when people feel motivated, they keep a positive attitude and find solutions instead of problems. If you recognize these signs at your current work, don’t be scared of leaving. To get a meaningful job, you may need to go out of your safe zone, but I can guarantee that you won’t regret it.

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Artur Meyster: Founder of Career Karma

About the Author: Artur Meyster is the founder of Career Karmahttps://careerkarma.com

Also posted in Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, lifestyle, Media, News, Popular Culture, Science, Student Life

Bob Shell: Morality & Science

Photo: Tony Ward

 

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The Honorable Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current member of the United Nations Global Commission on Drug Policy recently said, “We need to accept that behaviors and actions of others that are not aligned with our own moral perspectives do not need to be turned into criminal offenses.”. That’s a remarkably perceptive observation.

I’ve always believed that my body and soul belong to me alone, and the government has no business sticking its long nose (or arm) into my affairs. As long as I’m harming no one else I should have the unimpeachable right to do as I please. Government today wants to be our daddy and dictate what we can do. One of my favorite people in history is Woodrow Wilson. He once said:

“I do not want a government that takes care of me. I want a government that keeps other men’s hands off of me so that I can take care of myself.”

My sentiments exactly.

The same applies to my photography. Just because some people were offended by my erotic nudes is no reason to demonize and imprison me. Nudity and sex are both natural and normal parts of the human experience, but they scare the bejaysus out of a certain portion of humanity. Perhaps because both show that were animals, in spite of our exalted ideas of ourselves. It doesn’t bother me to be an animal, even to be “The Third Chimpanzee,” as Jared Diamond has called us in his book of that title. Are we more than mere animals? It used to be said that humans alone had self awareness, and that made us different. But recent research with animals has shown that some animals are self aware, specifically the great apes, bottlenose dolphins, orcas, magpies, and Asian elephants. Most recently, a fish called the cleaner wrasse has passed the “mirror” test for self awareness. This is a simple test. Put a mirror in front of an animal and see if it realizes “Wow, that’s me!”

Scientists in Germany put a black mark on the fish in a place where it could only be seen in a mirror. The fish was confused by the mirror at first, but then caught on and, after checking its reflection in the mirror, tried to remove the mark by rubbing the area of the mark against a hard surface. The mental ability of distinguishing “me” from “the rest of the world” is a very important step up the ladder of intelligence.

Another very simple test uses a three-sided box made of wire mesh. An animal is put inside with a treat clearly visible on the other side of the mesh. The animal is blocked from the treat in front and on both sides. To get the treat it has to master the idea of going away from the treat, out the open back of the box, and around to the treat. Most animals fail this test, futility trying to reach through the wire mesh, which is impossible. Most dogs fail this test, as do most cats. A minority of dogs figure it out, and a larger percentage of cats. Both fail the mirror test, although many years ago I had a cat who figured out mirrors, and also figured out how doorknobs work.

In 1929 a scientist named Constantine von Economo discovered a special kind of brain neuron, that has been named after him. Most brain neurons are blobs with the single axon and multiple dendrites extending in all directions. The von Economo neurons are long and thin with axon and dendrites only at the ends. So far these special neurons have been found only in humans, great apes, whales and dolphins, and elephants. I call them “the neurons of consciousness.”

Humans have about 1.5 times as many von Economo neurons as elephants. Are these special neurons what makes us human? Could a simple mutation that produced these neurons be what elevated us above all other earthly life in sentience? I tend to think that the answer is yes.

It’s purely an untested personal theory, but I think that ingestion of certain substances may spark the production of more von Economo neurons in our brains. Silicon valley has recently discovered the benefits of microdosing with LSD and other psychotropic substances, and has found that it increases productivity in jobs where conceptual thinking is important. Where does any government get off telling people not to use natural substances that improve their mental acuity? The fact that these substances are currently illegal has not significantly reduced their popularity. There must be a good reason for that.

I feel blessed that I came of age when these substances were legal and “magic mushrooms” and peyote buttons could be ordered by mail from magazine ads. Pure pharmaceutical LSD made by Sandoz in Switzerland, where Albert Hoffman discovered it by accident, was readily available. Then in 1969 the government made everything they could think of illegal, shutting down research into therapeutic use of psychotropics. Only recently has very limited research been restarted, often with strong positive results. We’ve been held back from important research for fifty years! And all because of misinformed, ignorant fear. Governments worldwide need to learn that they do not own their citizens, that the citizens own the governments.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. 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 Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonyward.com/bob-shell-do-you-believe-in-ghosts/

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.

Also posted in Affiliates, Documentary, Friends of TWS, History, Men, Politics, Popular Culture, Science