Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #22
Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018
One of the cruelist things about being incarcerated is that friends and family die while you’re unable to see them. I’ve lost count of how many have gone in the last ten years.
Last October I was sitting at a table in the pod with three friends on a Saturday evening. We’d just fixed and eaten an elaborate meal, and were feeling well fed and relaxed, talking about things of interest. An announcement came over the PA system, “Shell, go to the sergeant’s office.”. Now, being called to the sergeant’s office is rarely good news, particularly on a weekend evening, so I went out there in an apprehensive state of mind. When I got there a young lieutenant and several officers were there. I asked what was up, and the lieutenant told me to sit down. He said that someone named Headie had called and asked them to let me know that my sister had died. I nearly passed out from the shock. (Headie is my nephew’s wife.)
My only sister, Karen, was six years younger than me. Since I was six she was always there for me, and since I’ve been locked up she had been writing to me at least once a month. She knew that I was incapable of doing the awful things I was accused of. I knew she had been diagnosed with cancer, and had surgery, chemo, and radiation treatments. Her last letter was from the beach and she was happy and in remission, so her sudden death was a complete shock. Now, I could have gone to her funeral, but in a prison jumpsuit, with handcuffs, leg shackles, and shock belt, with two armed guards. I thought I’d just be a distraction if I went like that, so I made the painful decision not to go. I was the only family member absent.
The DOC used to grant compassionate furloughs, but too many abused that privilege by not coming back, so they no longer do this. Once you’re inside, you stay inside. Hell, just to transport me from one prison to another they put more chains on me than an organ grinder’s monkey. Those escapes during transport that you see in movies are purely fairytales.
One of the most fiendish devices ever invented is “the box”, a device that fits over the chain connecting handcuffs. and attaches to a waist chain. Once it’s in place you have almost no mobility of your hands and arms. You might just be able to scratch your nose, maybe. When I got here to River North both my wrists were bloody from this contraption.
Unfortunately the men who wrote our Constitution prohibited “cruel and unusual punishment,” and our literal-minded Supreme Court has held that it’s OK for punishment to be cruel so long as it isn’t unusual. “The box” is definitely cruel, but since it’s used almost everywhere now it’s not unusual. If every state used iron maidens the Court would probably say that was OK! Sometimes courts are just plain silly.
But, back to my original topic. Last night I received the June issue of Shutterbug and turned to Dan Havlik’s Editor’s Notes. I learned there of the death in March of Chuck Wesrfall, one of my oldest and best friends in the photo industry. Chuck was a genius, the top technical expert at Canon USA. When I needed an expert in digital imaging to testify at my trial, Chuck came down from New York and gave detailed technical testimony for me at my trial. Unfortunately his testimony sailed right over the heads of the jurors, the judge, and over the head of the reporter from the Roanoke Times, which published a totally garbled version of Chuck’s testimony the next morning. The issue was simple: could the police have accidentally or intentionally changed the time codes on my photographs? Chuck demonstrated how this could have happened accidentally and explained it in great detail. The newspaper reported that he’d said the times were correct, exactly the opposite of what he’d actually said! Even though the jury had been instructed not to read the newspapers or watch TV news, they were not sequestered and I know that some of them probably disregarded this instruction.
Anyway, I’d first met Chuck in the 80s when I was writing my first book, on the Canon EOS system. We “clicked” because we were both tech heads. Over the years I took advantage of every opportunity to spend time with Chuck because he knew how everything worked and could explain so even I could understand. Plus, he was just one of the nicest people you could ever meet, a true gentleman in the old meaning of the term. He had relatives in Roanoke, and would often pop up to Radford to spend a day with me when he was in the area, always bringing a satchel of Canon’s latest goodies to play with. We were friends, not just business friends. He told me how he met his wife on an airplane flight to Japan, and later proudly showed me pictures of their son as he grew up. Chuck will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
Among other good friends who have died while I’ve been in prison are: Derek Grossmark, owner of Hove Foto Books, publisher of my first books; Henry Froehlich, Chairman of Mamiya America, and the first man to import Japanese cameras into the USA after WW II; Steve Sint, longtime Popular Photography columnist; Lino Manfrotto, maker of high quality tripods and other photo gear; Don Sutherland, writer for Shutterbug, Playboy, and many other magazines; Bill Hurter, Editor of Rangefinder, who gave me work when I lost my Shutterbug job; Hilary Araujo, long-time industry executive; and probably many more I don’t yet know about. News reaches me slowly in here.
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: https://tonyward.com/2018/08/bob-shell-we-all-steal-ideas/