Bob Shell: Parole Denied

The Virginia Parole Board

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020


Parole Denied


My legal efforts: Unfortunately, the Virginia Supreme Court declared a state of judicial emergency in March, shutting down all state courts except for emergency hearings and some clerical functions. I have several ongoing court actions, but all are on hold until the courts reopen, and there’s no way to know when that will be. I’d probably have been released by now if not for this damned pandemic. It’s been very frustrating to just sit in my cell spinning my wheels while time passes me by!
I do expect full exoneration once courts are back in action and hear my cases. I’m also 100% confident that ownership of my forest will be returned to me then, and the thieving bastards who got their filthy reeking hands on it illegally will be punished. They had better not have harmed so much as a single one of my precious trees! I WILL be free again, and I WILL build my home and studio there.

Since the start of the virus pandemic, we’ve been on modified lockdown. That means our library, law library, and all classes are closed, and we’re kept in our cells twenty or more hours a day, even eating all our meals in our cells. It’s certainly claustrophobic. Thankfully, I have a very good cellmate. I was tested for COVID-19 recently, and came up negative. Here at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, we’ve had two staff with it and no inmates with the virus. The only way we can get it is if staff bring it in from outside.

Once again this year, I was denied parole, my eighth turndown. The Virginia Parole Board says they consider me a “threat to the community.” The absurdity of that statement is obvious to anyone who knows me. I’ve never been a threat to anyone! I ran my photo business from the 1960s and in Radford, VA from 1980 until I was locked up in 2007, photographing literally hundreds of models. The prosecution sought to portray me as a serial molester of my models, yet in the four years between my arrest and trial, in spite of all their efforts, they could not find a single former model with anything bad to say against me. I kept scrupulous records from the 1960s on every model I photographed, and the police had access to those records.

As one prominent lawyer commented, surely if I’d abused women who modeled for me, some of them would have come forward. My case got international coverage in the photo press and on the internet, but no such person appeared. Why? Because no such person existed. Yet, every time I come up for parole, the prosecution repeats its lies to the Parole Board. Worse, while they’ve denied me, they’ve recently granted parole to murderers with very long sentences! Where are their brains? Their stated purpose is to release people back into society who can be productive citizens, giving them a second chance. Don’t I deserve such a chance?

Virginia recently passed a hair discrimination law. I don’t know how many times in the 1960s and 70s I was told, “We’ll give you the job if you cut your hair.” Now that’s illegal in Virginia. From the 1960s on, except when desperate enough for a job to cut it, I always wore my hair very long in a ponytail. Now that the Department of Corrections can no longer make us cut our hair, I’m working my way back to my old look. It feels great to be me again!

For anyone who wants to keep up with the dirty deeds of America’s prison-industrial complex, I recommended Prison Legal News ( and Criminal Legal News ( magazines, published by the Human Rights Defense Center.

Until next time, be well my friends!

Portrait of Bob Shell, May of 2020. Pocohantas State Prison


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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