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…

D.C.’s reaction serves as both a cautionary tale — and a beacon of hope

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

By Rob Barton (with Pam Bailey)

I’ve been following the daily news about the uptick in murders across the country. Vox news and other media trumpeted that, “In 2020, the U.S. saw the biggest increase in the murder rate in decades. The estimated number of homicides rose to levels not seen since the late 1990s [the era of my incarceration]. And so far, the spike has continued into 2021…”

D.C. has not been spared. Across the District, homicides reached a 16-year high in 2020, and the number of people who are shot and survive increased more than 60% from 2018…

Today, the presumption is to keep them in, for as long as possible

Photo by Mark Weaver on Unsplash

By Pam Bailey and Rob Barton

Earlier this year, Rob was given his first opportunity to petition for parole. We were under no illusions; we knew that like so many parole systems across the country, the U.S. Parole Commission (which handles D.C. residents) operates with a bias against release. In fact, although there were 661 individuals as of 2020 with indeterminate sentences (like Rob’s 30 years to life), we know of only several who have since been granted parole, despite the April 2020 law passed by the D.C. …

A tale from inside the D.C. jail.

Image by Ichigo121212 from PIxabay

My name is Xavier Lee. At 42, I find myself awaiting sentencing for my first (and last) criminal charge. By the design of people who do not know me, I will spend the rest of my life working hard to erase a stain from my record that can never be erased. To make it worse, I signed statements of facts written by the prosecutors, pleading guilty to a crime I didn’t commit. You’d be amazed at what you will do when the government coerces you.

What is more important to know about me is that I am a father of…

A love letter to attorneys who care, and one in particular

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

By Robert Barton

For six months, I prepared for my parole hearing. It felt like all of my hopes and dreams, my entire everything really, was tied into that hearing. Prepping with me weekly was my lawyer, Stew. Together, we wrote and re-wrote what I wanted and needed to say. I was scared, anxious and nervous. But Stew is as invested in my freedom as I am — which is a beautiful thing. …

The story behind the label society wants you to see

Photo by Pam Bailey

By Pam Bailey

This is a tale told in three parts: the person you most need to know, the making of his undoing and the many ways we fail people like him. It’s part love letter (to the friend who has enriched me), part lament and part call to action.

Frankie today

Behind all labels that stigmatize and destroy, there is always a multitude of realities. I will start with what is most important to know about who Frankie Hargrove is today:

He is a talented guitarist, songwriter and singer. In a world of imitators who perform covers of other people’s hit…

I see my comrades free, and it’s bittersweet

Photo shot and provided by Anthony (Pete) Petty (far left)

The post below was written by Rob Barton around the time of his birthday in March. However, mail became very unreliable both at his end and in D.C., where Pam (his collaborator) lives. So we share it now.

I stare at the photo I had just received in the mail. It’s of my man Pete and a few other comrades, all recently released from prison after 20+ years. They stand against the harbor in D.C., the light shining behind them. Damn, they look good… It brings a smile to my face, a flutter to my heart and a tear down…

Inspiration can come from surprising places

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

President Biden’s plan to strengthen America’s commitment to justice included a promise to pass legislation eliminating the death penalty. However, he has not yet acted to fulfill that pledge. There are currently 46 individuals on federal death row. One of those individuals whose life is hanging by a thread is Kenneth Jamal Lighty, sentenced to death in 2005. We will share his story in future blog posts, for now, we share below a letter he wrote to his supporters recently that offers sage advice for us all.

The child blames the external and focuses…

How can anyone really think an adolescent is ‘permanently incorrigible’?

Photo by Siviwe Kapteyn on Unsplash

By Pam Bailey and Rob Barton

The year 2005 ushered in 16 years of significant progress in criminal justice reform for juveniles, triggered by a Supreme Court ruling that barred the death sentence for individuals who commit crimes before the age of 18. That was followed by a ruling in 2010 against life without parole for juveniles who committed crimes that did not involve homicide. Then, in 2012, the county’s highest court extended the same protection to people who committed any crime as juveniles (even murder); in 2016, that ruling became retroactive.

Adolescence, said the majority opinion, is characterized by…

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. …

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