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.

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.

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.

Diana Desiderio: Night Swim

Portrait of Diana Desiderio by Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

Text by Diana Desiderio, Copyright 2021

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Photography by Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

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2006 is feeling closer and further from me everyday. I was wrestling professionally on PPV, a guest on the Howard Stern show and I had finally done an amazing shoot with Tony Ward for Hustlers Taboo magazine. Things for a then 24 years old me were happening. I didn’t have a set career or any clue as to what direction I was going to go. That’s what you do in your 20’s. Aimlessly going on with life as it was coming, just riding the wave. July of that year had made everything stop when my older sister had passed away that summer in a car wreck. The devastation hit me harder than one could ever imagine. I wiped out off of that wave I was riding and found myself over the next five years slowly sinking to the bottom of the abyss that was called life. Self destruction quickly set in. I had left wrestling; was being over medicated with psych drugs, which led me to my journey of self medicating which led to a full blown narcotic addiction. 

Rock bottom is a lonely place, but a perfect place when your down, hopeless and out. I had managed to push everyone and anyone that ever gave a damn away. Undoing all that I was working for or towards. That’s how quickly you can rise and fall. When your young, things are there for the taking and you just take it all for granted. Why not, it’s all right there being handed to you hand over fist. And I took it all, but when my life was hit by tragedy I was 100% accountable for letting it all go to ruin. I don’t regret facing those bad times. Talking about it and doing what it took to get through them. Putting in the work and getting help so that I can get the real me back to myself. It’s not easy and for everyone. I had to realize I was meant for so much more; that I deserved way better than what I was encountering. By this time, December 2011; I was 29. And I signed myself in at a rehab facility voluntarily and got the long awaited help I needed. I chose life. Coming back into the world after being down so damn long is surreal.  You are not only relearning who you are organically; but releasing the demon that carried you through the darkness and didn’t want to let you go. Life feels like a night swim; alone and bare allowing the universe to see every bit of you. Raw, exposed and unapologetic. 

I worked really hard through the years trying to figure out what direction I wanted to take in my life. Not many people who go where I’ve gone get to live to fight another day. I also had faced a new struggle with body image issues. I was no longer a 20 something thin model type. I was healthy, but I let my physicality go as I was more focused on staying the course of the straight and narrow instead of looking at all of me and keeping on top of myself. I needed to find a purpose again. I needed to continue the work. It was time to manifest change across the board.

In 2015, a lifelong film producer friend of mine offered to host me for a visit to her L.A. home. At that point life went stagnant and I needed a reset. While visiting, she had gotten a quick commercial gig for a popular money app we are all familiar with today and asked if I wanted to make a few bucks being a Production Assistant. Going on runs, being on set, supporting the big wigs. In the freelance film industry; you take the work when it comes but on your own terms. This had my attention right away. Take as much work as you want, make your own schedule, and gain a career without having to drop 100k on film school?! SIGN ME UP. I saw if you worked hard and put the time in this could blossom into the career for me.

I came home from my trip to SoCal and decided that this was an opportunity that I could not turn down. 33 years old, I packed up and drove across country with hopes that this could be my shot. It was. I’ve worked with recognizable names; commercials, short films, still work and music videos. I had worked hard and made my way up from a PA, grabbing Directors coffee and running errands to a Production Supervisor. Being a Production Manager/Supervisor you are the center of the universe of a shoot. You prep the job by getting everything all the crews need in order to support the Directors creativity so that we can make the project come to life, while hiring the crew and vendors as well.

It is all a chaotic world until we actually get up to the day of shoot; that’s where I can focus on the accounting aspects for the company and start pulling all the behind the scenes elements together.  There’s no business like show business. It’s 24/7, and thankless at times. It would be a lie to tell you something was missing for me out there in LaLaLand. I’m East Coast born and raised. Home was calling. 

I had arrived back home to Philadelphia on New Years Eve 2018. Humbled, harmonious and able to continue everything I had worked so very hard for in my career, I was welcomed with open arms in the city of brotherly love. It’s been a crazy journey to say the least, life’s been give and take; times are up and down. Whenever I feel like I start to lose myself again; I try to remember who I am during that night swim; raw, exposed and unapologetic. And keep going.

About The Author: Diana Desiderio  is a motion picture production manager based in Philadelphia.

Bob Shell: Hidden Truth About the Pentagon’s UFO Report

UFO citing by Military Aircraft

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

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Hidden Truth About the Pentagon’s UFO Report

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Like most UFO investigators, my first reaction to the Pentagon’s UFO report released in late June, was disappointment. I suspect the report was carefully crafted to produce that response in people knowledgeable about the UFO phenomenon at first reading. The Pentagon would like for us to just go away. 

But deeper digging shows the report actually is a very important contribution to our knowledge of what the Pentagon calls UAPs, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Importantly, it could be summed up as ‘Yes, they’re real, but we don’t know what the hell they are.’ 

The study was restricted to 144 credible reports by military personnel. In those 144 encounters the report rules out four categories; one, a secret technology from one of our adversaries, two, our own classified technology, three, airborne clutter such as balloons, and natural atmospheric phenomena. This leaves a fourth category they call ‘Other.’ That’s where the meat of the report lies. 

Very importantly, 80 of the encounters classified as ‘Other’ ‘involved observation with multiple sensors,’ in other words, they could not be observer error by human observers. The report concludes those 80 encounters were with actual physical objects. That’s the grains of wheat among all the chaff in the report. More than half of the encounters were with real physical objects. Unknown real physical objects. 

Of those 80 encounters with actual physical objects, 18 manifested seriously anomalous behavior. This includes instant changes in direction, moving at speeds impossible for aircraft of any sort, and no observable means of propulsion. So these are actual physical objects using technology we don’t have, and we’re sure no other country on Earth has.

As usual the ‘scientific’ brigade came out to debunk. Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb said the encounters probably have ‘mundane explanations.’ ‘Mundane explanations?’ What ‘mundane explanations?’ Are we back to swamp gas, swarms of fireflies, and other imbecilic explanations thrown at us in the past? I hope not. 

Someone named David Axe wrote in TheDailyBeast.com that we may not know what these objects are, but ‘we can say with reasonable certainty what they’re not.’ That’s space aliens, he says, and asks why extraterrestrials would travel ‘galactic distances’ just to fool around with military pilots and make no effort to communicate. 

Remember in Star Trek they had a ‘Prime Directive’ not to interfere in developing civilizations? Maybe the beings visiting us have such a rule. It’s quite logical to let civilizations develop on their own, each going in a different direction. Our own cultural anthropologists try to interfere as little as possible with the primitive cultures they study. 

Maybe, from their perspective, communicating with would have as much use as us communicating with beavers! 

Besides that, Mr. Axe’s argument has a fatal flaw. He assumes aliens would have to travel ‘galactic distances’ to get here. That’s an obviously false assumption. They’re already here and have been here a long time. 

Anyone who has studied the subject deeply, as I have, knows that whatever UFOs are, they’ve been here a very long time. There are reports from ancient Rome, medieval reports, reports from every period in written history. The Biblical report of Ezekiel’s encounter, if converted to modern language, is a classic ‘Close Encounter of the Third Kind.’ 

When I interviewed an elderly member of an isolated indigenous tribe in New Mexico in 1996, I learned from her that her people had a very old oral tradition of encounters, and considered seeing a UFO to be a very bad omen. This was not something they normally talked to white men about, but a relative who’d left the reservation to work construction in big cities heard me interviewed on Art Bell’s radio program, contacted me, and convinced her to talk to me by telling her that my great grandmother was Cherokee (true). 

Human encounters with this ‘Other’ is not a recent phenomenon! 

In the 70s Jefferson Starship, that great old band, asked, “What I would really like to know … what are they watching us for?’ We don’t have an answer to Paul Kantner’s question — yet. The truth is still out there somewhere.

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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/nudes-in-state-parks/

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.