Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #20
Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018
AMERICAN JUSTICE SYSTEM
In 1923 the great American journalist H. L. Mencken wrote:
You will find as many intelligent and honest men in the average prison as you will find in the average club, and when it comes to courage, enterprise, and determination — in brief the special virtues which mark the superior man — you will probably find many more.
Here is Menckin’s description of a trial:
With a crowd of poltroons in the jury box venting their envious hatred of enterprise and daring upon a man who, at worst, is at least as decent as they are: with a scoundrel in the bench lording over a scoundrel in the dock because the latter is less clever than he is.
Menckin pretty much nailed the “American Justice System,” which has never really been about justice, if we’re honest about it. A real justice system would provide the accused with resources equal to those of the prosecution. A person should not be forced to bankrupt himself to defend against false charges. When you are accused of a crime. the state martials all its resources against you, and unless you are rich, you most likely can’t come up with equivalent resources. Criminal investigators, expert witnesses, paralegals, and good criminal lawyers are very expensive. When I was charged I contacted the best criminal lawyer I knew of. He listened to my story and asked if I could raise several million dollars, and when I said no, he said that I couldn’t afford him. As actor Robert Blake said, “In America today you are presumed innocent until you are found broke.”.
And think about that presumption of innocence. In the USA you are “presumed innocent until proven guilty.”. Note the use of the word “until” which carries the implication that you WILL be proven guilty. The word should be “unless.”. But in most cases you will be found guilty because most people think “they wouldn’t have charged him if he didn’t do it.”
Just how did I end up in prison at the age of 60 with a 32 1/2 year sentence? I’d had my studio in Radford, Virginia since the end of the 1970s. I had been working for Shutterbug magazine for years, first in the 70s as a columnist, then as Technical Editor, and in 1991 I became Editor in Chief, and held that position until I “retired” in 2001, staying on as Editor At Large. Actually, “retired” was a euphemism for ” forced out in a palace coup.”. I first had my studio in Radford starting in 1981, when I took over an existing business that was studio/photo shop. I had been working for Gentry Studios in Blacksburg. Gentry also had a location in Radford and had decided to close it. I took the risk and took it over. At first I made hardly any money there, but in time it picked up and by the time Shutterbug offered me the Editor’s job it was doing well enough that I was able to sell the business. We were living on a small farm at the time, so we sold the farm and bought a house in Radford. (Oddly enough, we sold the farm back to the man we’d bought it from fifteen years earlier. It was his wife’s old home place and she was homesick for it.)
My original Radford studio was in downtown just a block off main street. Once I was living in town, I went looking for a new studio and found it at 239 West Main Street, just a couple of blocks from the police station.
Let me make something clear, during all those years I worked for Patch Communications, publisher of Shutterbug, PhotoPRO, Outdoor and Nature Photography, and other magazines I was never an employee. My company, Bob Shell Ltd., contracted with Patch for my services. This arrangement allowed me to work from my home office and set my own hours, for a flat monthly fee. It saved Patch money, too, since they didn’t have to provide me benefits. I took care of my own medical insurance and dealt with the IRS myself. I valued my freedom and my right to take time off whenever I wanted without being tied down to an office.
In 1991 I found the ideal studio location in a storefront between a drugstore and an antique shop. The space was about 40 X 80. I wanted a big space because I wanted it to be a teaching studio where I could hold my studio lighting and posing workshops. With the help of a friend I built a wall across the front for a small office, and built a dressing room in back, with big mirrors for the models. There was already a storage room and restroom in the back. The same friend and I remodeled the restroom. The floor was covered with old wall-to-wall carpet, which was in terrible shape. I hired a couple of strong young college men to take up the carpet, which had to be scraped up with shovels, and to use a big commercial sander to sand the wood floor smooth. Then I painted all the walls and floor with white pigmented shellac, which I’d used before and is very durable. I then approached photo equipment companies to loan me equipment and props, which they were all too glad to do because they knew my students would buy equipment they had used in my workshops. It was a win-win for them and me. I soon had s studio bulging with equipment and props. The studio was big enough that I could have three sets going at once. To keep the flash units on one set from interfering with another I used Wein Products infrared flash triggers, and later radio slaves. My studio workshops were held three or four days a year, each for two days on a weekend.
In the late 80s I’d bought a tract of forest land and had a road built into it and began conducting outdoor workshops there. It was beautiful forest, and my plan was (and still is) to put a house or cabin there at some point.
On June 3, 2003, I returned to my studio in the evening and found my girlfriend, Marion Franklin, passed out. When I could not awaken her I called 911 and then my nightmare began. I was accused of killing her based on false testimony of an incompetent medical examiner, and I sit here today because the man is too stubborn to admit that he was wrong. That’s today’s American Justice System.
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. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348. Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonyward.com/2018/08/bob-shell-warning-environmentalist-rant/