Bob Shell: Censorship

Portrait of topless woman covering breast due to the censorship rules on social media
Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021




Very few things humans do rise to the level of true evil. True evil perverts the soul, keeps persons from thriving physically or mentally. 

Censorship, attempted mind control, rises to that level of evil. No one is truly free mentally if someone else controls what she/he is allowed to see, hear, or think. 

The Virginia Department of Corrections controls what we prison inmates may see or hear. It does so primarily by maintaining an extensive ‘disapproved publications list.’ 

That list is over one hundred pages long with fifty or more publications per page. Thousands of books and magazines are banned because some VDOC staffer was offended by them. 

Anything in a language other than English or Spanish is banned, including some versions of the Bible that contain sections in the original Greek. Books on learning any language other than English or Spanish are banned. Books for popular role playing games are banned for being ‘written in code.’ 

I tried to order a book once on basic forensics. It was denied because they don’t want us knowing things that might undermine our convictions. 

But the thing that really puts these people into hysterics is nudity. ‘People ain’t supposed ta be nekkid.’ This sexual hysteria has led to the banning of a magazine that contained a very famous painting of Adam and Eve because Eve’s breasts were bare. Any depiction that shows a female nipple or areola will be banned and confiscated. 

Pointing out that the Virginia State Seal shows a goddess with one breast bared has accomplished nothing. The very paper we receive announcing the confiscation of a publication for nudity bears this seal! I have a collection of these because they were always confiscating my photography magazines and my Rolling Stone, and, of course, a number of issues of National Geographic are on that disapproved list. I used to subscribe to Vogue, but stopped because I’d get maybe four or five of the twelve issues, the rest confiscated. 

The VDOC has a paid Publication Review Board that meets regularly to examine confiscated publications. Occasionally they will overturn the local decision and give us the publication months later, but it’s rare for them to do this. This happened with an issue of Rolling Stone that has a picture story by renowned photographer Sebastiao Salgado about an Amazonian tribe that doesn’t wear clothing. Months later I got the magazine with an approval letter from the PRC. This surprised me because the article’s photos depict full frontal nudity, male and female. I suppose it was approved for its anthropological value. These photos show more than Playboy, but we’re no longer allowed to subscribe to Playboy, due to the bare female breasts. Bare male breasts are just fine, of course, even Vladimir Putin’s. That’s discrimination on the basis of sex! Isn’t that illegal? My First Amendment lawsuit against the DOC, filed five years ago, still hasn’t been fully resolved, but with our law library closed since last March due to COVID, I haven’t been able to work on it.


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:

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 Here’s the link:

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