Bob Shell: Letters From Prison

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

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The Politics of Incarceration

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Back in September of 2020, a federal court ruled that the IRS could not deny any U.S. citizen the CARES Act stimulus money simply because she/he was incarcerated. In early October the Virginia Department of Corrections provided each of us with a 1040 form and instructions on how to apply for the $ 1,200 checks. We all filled out the forms and mailed them to the IRS immediately. So far as I can tell, no one who applied by mail has gotten a penny yet. Those who had friends or family apply for them on the Internet got their first checks long ago, and some have gotten their second ones. That’s about five months since we mailed in our forms! That’s pretty ridiculous, in my opinion. I can always use money!

I wrote on behalf of myself and others to the law firm that sued the IRS, asking for their help. In response they sent me a letter saying to go on the IRS website, call the IRS’s 800 number, or call them for information. Who do they think they’re dealing with? We can’t go on the Internet, we can’t call 800 numbers, and we can’t call them! Their advice is useless to us, all members of the class they sued on behalf of! Like many people on the outside, they don’t understand the restrictions we labor under. 

Yes, we have so-called email, but I can’t enter someone’s email address into the system. They must do it from their end. My email ‘address book’ doesn’t even show the address, just the person’s name! 

What we have is not real email. 

So, because we lack Internet access we wait months for our money! The Business Office here says the IRS is releasing the checks in a slow trickle, five or so per week. There are over 1,000 men here, the majority of whom had to apply by mail. At five checks a week, it’ll take years! If I sound angry, I am. I’m in prison, yes, but I’m still a citizen, with as much right to that money as any other citizen! If I owe the IRS money, they make me pay interest for every day I’m late, but they’re sure not paying us interest for their delay.

People keep asking me how I’m progressing on the legal front. The answer is that I’m not, at least right now. Our law library is closed, so I can’t get on a computer to do my research, and the Virginia courts are operating under a declaration of judicial emergency, meaning they’re only performing basic functions. All my court deadlines are on hold until the Virginia Supreme Court ends the emergency. I’ll have 90 days then to file my briefs. My two suits to get my convictions overturned are stalled because of this, as is my suit to get my forest back. This last has been made all the more poignant by a book I’m reading. 

‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ is the name of a wonderful book by Peter Wohlleben, German forester, who has his own forest.

We don’t think of trees feeling and acting. Wohlleben tells us that’s largely because trees live at a different speed from us. Our nerve impulses move along our neural pathways very fast, in milliseconds. But similar impulses in trees crawl along, taking seconds to move an inch. Time is stretched for trees, compressed for us. To us, it seems that trees act in slow motion, because their lives are unhurried. But they do feel, and they do communicate. A mother tree reckognizes her offspring and favors them by supplying nourishment the younger trees need. The forest community provides nourishment to sick trees, even keeping stumps alive until they can grow into trees again. 

A forest is a community, with the complex conversation taking place underground between roots, where we can’t see it. A symbiosis between tree roots and fungi takes place right under our noses — or feet. 

This book has made me appreciate my forest even more and made me even more determined to get it back. As a famous person once said, “I have not yet begun to fight!” 

Meanwhile, life here continues in lockdown. We get out of our cells into our common area a few hours each day, which is why I can send/receive emails, but we’re fed in our cells, and only leave the building to go to the medical department, or to go to the gym, where they’re vaccinating us. 

We’ve all gotten the first of two injections of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. I’m due for number two on the 18th. The vaccine hit me hard. My whole left side was painful for days. My cellmate spent the day after in bed, with chills, fever, nausea, the whole gamut of side effects. Some people had no reaction at all. The nurses told us the harder it hits you, the better, since that means your immune system has been triggered to produce antibodies. 

Some medical authorities are saying that because this damnable virus is mutating rapidly, we may need annual booster shots for each new strain. Guess maybe they could give it to us along with our annual flu shot. 

We’ve had quite a few people here, inmates and staff, catch the disease. Some have had to be hospitalized, and some have died, including a friend of mine I’d known for eight years. 

In here we deal with a man based on how he comports himself. We really don’t pay attention to what he’s in for, and usually don’t even know. Of course, there are those who delight in knowing, and in spreading rumors. A prison is a community. I’ve been the victim of rumermongers, based on a totally false rumor started by some lowlifes years ago. It goes away, and periodically pops its ugly head up again. I just ignore it, and carry on being myself. Life’s too short to worry about stupid people telling stupid tales. 

The COVID lockdown has also delayed completion of my next book. I’m calling it COSMIC DANCE II as a working title, but may publish it under another title. I’ll let everyone know when it’s published.

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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: https://tonywarderotica.com/bob-shell-in-praise-of-ecdysiasts/

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 Amazon.com . 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 Amazon.com.

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