Bob Shell: In the Midst of This Covid-19

Caged Kingdom: Website For Prison Inmates. Bob Shell on left.


Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020


In the Midst of This Covid-19


I’m in good health right now except for arthritis, for which there is not yet a cure. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been listening to the politicians jawboning endlessly about what good jobs they’re doing, which makes me suspicious that they aren’t really doing such a hot job. Because I’m right on the border between Virginia and West Virginia, I’ve heard the press conferences by the governors of both states, as well as the pontifications of our fearless leader, President Trump. It’s interesting that our Virginia Governor is painting an upbeat picture, while his counterpart in West Virginia is painting one of doom and gloom, sounding like the captain of the Titanic addressing his passengers as the ship was sinking. Meanwhile Mr. Trump keeps saying, “We gotta get back to work.” Yes, we do, but China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and others are dealing with resurgences of the virus for relaxing restrictions too soon. I’ve listened carefully to Trump’s TV speeches, and I have to wonder if it was a slip of the tongue when he called the pandemic “artificially engineered.” Does he know something he’s not supposed to tell us?

I’ve always hated neckties, so I was delighted when our Virginia Governor, who I believe is a medical doctor, said people should not wear them, and cited a study that found that neckties harbor lots of disease germs. Down with neckties!

Here at Pocahontas State Correctional Center (PSCC) we have no cases of COVID-19 — yet. But, even though we’re on lockdown, staff still come and go freely. We’ve been given “Sneeze Guards” and required to wear them, even though they are not PPE grade masks, and accomplish nothing. Trump said wearing them was voluntary for “all Americans,” but we’re being required to wear them. I guess we’re not Americans. Mine restricts my breathing so much that I become lightheaded after half an hour and have to take the damned thing off.

People have asked me about my court cases. Unfortunately, they’re all on indefinite hold until this crisis is over. So is my review for geriatric parole, scheduled originally for March.

All courts in Virginia are closed for the duration, all court deadlines frozen, and the parole board is not meeting.

I have five active court cases right now in four different courts: My federal civil rights case against the Virginia Department of corrections (Federal District Court), two state mandamus actions to force the judge who convicted me to rule on my actions to vacate my convictions (Virginia Supreme Court), and two separate cases to get my forest land back (two different circuit courts). Nothing can happen on any of these cases until the courts reopen. And when they do reopen they’ll have a tremendous backlog to overcome. So, as a result, all of my plans are on hold indefinitely.

There’s been talk of releasing older prisoners to some sort of house arrest, but, so far, it’s just talk. Many of the men here could be released today and pose no threat to their communities. Some, like me, were never any threat to our communities in the first place. If I walked out the prison gates today, not a single person would be at risk from me.

Take a look at my profile on, a new ‘social media’ site for prisoners. I had to use an old photo because our picture taking.service here is shut down right now. I’ll replace it with a current photo when I can get one taken, but no one knows when that will be.

I’ve always thought we lose print media at our peril. The ‘press’ has been vitally important to our freedom since the founding of our experiment in democracy.

One of my oldest friends just told me that The Roanoke Times has furloughed about 25% of their staff. That’s terrible!

As many know, I considered it an act of unbridled idiocy when the latest owners shut down the print version of SHUTTERBUG, where I’d worked for so many years, because they claimed with ‘only’ 100,000 subscribers they could not make a profit! What nonsense! For most of its life, SHUTTERBUG had fewer than 100,000 subscribers, and made the owner rich. Now they’ve shut down the online version, too! How do people with so little business sense end up owning magazines, and why? That magazine was near and dear to my heart, and it hurts me terribly to see it trashed by people who never should have been allowed to own it.

Anyone who has ever been in jail or prison will tell you the most important thing is having a good ‘cellie,’ (jailhouse slang for cellmate). Right now I have the very best! And that’s making this lockdown tolerable. He’s a gentle soul, a victim of police entrapment. Police should not be allowed to entice people into breaking laws, then bust them when they do. That’s simply not American, not justice. I know! They tried to do it to me. I’ll tell that story another time.

Although you cannot mail me pictures anymore, a company called Pelipost has made it possible again. You email them digital files, they print high quality 4 X 6 prints and mail them to me. It works great! I love receiving pictures!

I can be reached by regular mail at:

Robert Shell # 1201280


P.O. Box 518

Pocahontas, VA 24635-0518


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 11th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here:


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