Bob Shell: Virginia Giveth, Virginia Taketh Away

portrait of inmate Bob Shell Pocahontas state correctional facility
Inmate Bob Shell. Pocahantos State Correctional Facility 2022

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022


Virginia Giveth, Virginia Taketh Away


Last year our Virginia General Assembly passed into law a bill modifying how the Department of Corrections allocates ‘Good Time,’ time subtracted from your sentence for good behavior. Under the new law, my sentence would be shortened considerably. The administration was made up of Democrats when the law was enacted and signed by the Governor.
Last year in November the voters in Virginia put in a Republican administration, which has systematically undone many of the progressive laws and programs put in place by the Democrats, changing Virginia from a blue state to a very red state.

An amendment to the law that recently went into effect modified the original ‘Good Time Law’ by adding multiple pages of exclusions. Now, anyone convicted of multiple offenses does not qualify if they have a single one of those convictions for a ‘violent crime.’

My most serious conviction was for involuntary manslaughter, which is arbitrarily defined as a ‘violent crime,’ even though no violence whatsoever was alleged in my case. Result: I now do not qualify for sentence reduction under the law.

That is very depressing and makes me angry. Around five hundred men here at this one facility lost their expected sentence reductions under the new amendment. Many were only weeks or days away from going home to families who had prepared for their return. Children have to now be told daddy (or mommy) isn’t coming home. These prisoners now have to serve their original sentences, meaning some have months or years yet to remain incarcerated. One man I’ve known for years is from out west. He was supposed to go home this month. His family had already bought his air ticket. Now he won’t be coming.

Since this change in law applies to about half the men at this prison, the prison administration will have to scramble to have beds to accommodate these men for much longer. The Virginia prison system is overcrowded as it is. Early release of several thousand prisoners was intended to help ease that situation. Our new Governor’s solution: Ask the legislature for more than fifty million dollars to expand the prison system! Politically, I am neither Republican nor Democrat, since neither party has acted in the best interests of the country for many years, overspending money we just don’t have.
The Virginia Department of Corrections, as the prison system is euphemistically called, has a yearly budget of one billion dollars. That’s not a typo, it’s billion, not million. The entire budget for Virginia is four billion dollars. Prisons are allocated one fourth of the entire state budget! Why don’t the taxpayers realize how absurd that is? Twenty-five cents of every dollar they pay in taxes goes to keeping people in prison.

In the USA we lock up more people per capita than any developed country. Doesn’t that tell you something is radically wrong? Not only do we lock up more people, we give them much longer sentences. Anywhere else in the civilized world, I’d have been released years ago. Many states other than Virginia would have given me far less time for relatively minor offenses. (The Virginia Sentencing Guidelines recommended my sentence to be 1 -1/2 to 3 years. I was given 32- 1/2 more than ten times the maximum sentence recommended by the guidelines! In Virginia, the guidelines are suggestions that judges routinely ignore. In many states the guidelines are mandatory.)
Now, if I am not exonerated, I’m likely to remain in here far longer than I would have under the new law as originally enacted.


 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:

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