Incarcerated for 25 years and out to bring humanity to an inhumane “justice” system.

Photo provided by author

Indian activist Arundhati Roy once said:

“There is really no such thing as the voiceless… only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”

She’s right. People behind bars do have voices. But they are forcibly shut up and told no one wants to hear them. With their names replaced by numbers and stigmatized as criminals, it feels like being relegated to the dregs of humanity for eternity.

I know, because for the last 24 years, six months and 24 days of my life, I have lived among them.

My name is Robert Barton and at the age of 16, I…

Dangling the prospect of starting over and then yanking it away is simply cruel

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Today Pam Bailey testified to a public-oversight roundtable convened by the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety. The focus: how to return control of parole to the District. The U.S. Parole Commission, a little-known federal agency under the Department of Justice, assumed authority over D.C. prisoners with parole-eligible sentences following passage of the National Capital Revitalization Act of 1997. …

Prisons go to ridiculous extents to stifle intimate connections

By Pam Bailey

It had been more than a year since my collaborator, Rob Barton, and I have been able to confer, brainstorm and dream in person. The pandemic hit, Rob was moved from institution to institution, and lockdowns became perpetual. At last, U.S. Penitentiary Coleman 1 (Florida) began allowing restricted visits for short periods of time, and we seized the opportunity. I take you inside this particular, surreal attempt at human contact in the world of the federal Bureau of Prisons:

1) I booked a direct flight from D.C. to…

The system is designed to bury us; we are proving them wrong

Rob Barton, incarcerated at the age of 16 and serving his 25th year, was denied parole this week. Anyone familiar with Rob knows he should be free. But with our support, he — and all of the men in our network, both “in the world” and still incarcerated — will make their mark. And we all will be the better for it.

By Robert Barton

When Michael Carvajal appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, here’s what we want them to ask

In the Bureau of Prisons’ first oversight hearing since 2019, Barr appointee Michael Carvajal will face the Senate Judiciary Committee April 15. Politico reports that two major issues will be top-of-mind for the committee members: 1) how BOP has responded to the coronavirus pandemic and 2) how it’s implemented the First Step Act, a law adopted in 2018 designed in part to expand “evidence-based recidivism-reduction programs and productive activities” in federal prisons.

This is great, but we want the senators to go further than…

The drugs and violence cited as justification for perpetual punishment are a product of the conditions

Image by Shepherd Chabata from Pixabay

As I write this post, I am in lockdown. Yes, again: the same place I was in when we published my last post. This time the excuse for locking us all in our cells was the murder of one resident by another — and thus we were all punished. But there will be another reason soon — a fight maybe, or even just “disrespect” of the staff. This is the daily reality to which I was sent by the judge who denied my petition for release, saying I should spend the next three years continuing to “better” myself. …

The isolation is deadly in so many ways

“As COVID-19 continues to rip through prisons across the world, measures introduced by governments to prevent the spread of the disease have led to human rights violations, including the use of excessive solitary confinement to aid social distancing and inadequate measures to reduce the detrimental effects of isolation.” Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director, Amnesty International

By Rob Barton

These last six months in transit have been a living hell. I have been shuffled all over the country (from D.C. to Virginia to West Virginia to Oklahoma to Florida) with my wrists…

I will no longer allow my environment to define me

Illustration by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash

By Rob Barton

I partnered with Pam to launch this blog as a “voice for the voiceless,” hoping to use the stories of people behind bars to paint vivid pictures of our pain, struggles, losses — and resilience — to both humanize the experience of incarceration for those on the outside and galvanize support for dismantling and rebuilding our broken criminal justice system to be more holistic and humane.

But I never foresaw what this blog would become to me personally. It now is a huge part of my support…

Media are marking the one-year anniversary of the pandemic; these are the recollections of the incarcerated

Photo by Moritz Spahn on Unsplash

It’s popular right now for media to mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic by sharing people’s memories of “the moment” when COVID-19 first became real to them. It is important to assure that voices of people who are incarcerated are heard as well. Following are edited transcripts of interviews conducted by Pam Bailey with three Black men, originally from Washington, D.C.

Colie Levar Long, D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility

All we knew at first was that there was a virus that allegedly came from China. Honestly, we all thought it was sort of funny early on. Based on the first reports we heard, it seemed like only…

‘There is no way I think we’ll get the same treatment elites to get.’

By Pam Bailey

Prisons have become cauldrons of coronavirus infection, with confirmed cases four times higher than in the general population and mortality twice as high overall. (Deaths are as much as seven times higher in some state prisons.) And although politicians debate whether incarcerated people are “worthy” of saving, the pandemic cannot be brought into control without bringing those numbers down. …

More Than Our Crimes

Rob Barton has been incarcerated for 25 years. Pam Bailey is his collaborator/editor. Learn more at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store