Bob Shell: Covid-19 is Holding Me Hostage


Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

Covid-19 is Holding Me Hostage

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!


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:

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 . 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

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