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…
‘There is no way I think we’ll get the same treatment elites 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. …
We need to know our presence is still felt.
“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.” Kurt Vonnegut
I originally composed this post on Valentine’s Day, but the insane mess the postal service has become delayed publication until now. Valentine’s Day was created for lovers, but it got me to thinking about what the word means to me and many others who are incarcerated.
My collaborator Pam shared with me how Pete (a recently released friend of mine) described being treated like a “Cabbage Patch” doll when he…
The Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by white supremacists continues to hog the headlines in the news I read. And it should, but not just because of the specific acts of the day, but also for the systemic biases it exposes once again in American government and society.
According to The New York Times, the officials who testified at the first of a series of hearings were “reluctant to accept responsibility for the politically charged issue of calling in National Guard troops — even as the violence escalated.” …
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” -Angela Davis
Among the foundational characteristics of democratic societies are transparency and civic participation. But mention the need for reform of the Bureau of Prisons to any person inside the carceral system, their relatives or even better-resourced advocates, and the prevailing advice is to give up. The BOP, they say, is a “black box:” opaque, unaccountable and impervious to protest — the literal embodiment of “impunity.”
The search for meaning behind bars
Note from Pam Bailey: I recently interviewed Colie Levar Long, originally sentenced to life when he was 18. He now has served 25 years. The following is the story of his “change point” — when, despite conditions designed to break, rather than rehabilitate, he found his purpose.
My struggle is self-induced. My struggle is a way of life. My struggle is a source of solace. My struggle is filled with strife.
My struggle gives me strength. My struggle aches me to the bone. My struggle is the struggle of a million faceless men. …
There’s a lot to like about his pledges, but there are two glaring omissions
By Robert Barton and Pam Bailey
When my collaborator Pam told me that President Biden has nominated Judge Merrick Garland to be his attorney general, my first reaction was YES. This had to be good for criminal justice reform, I thought, since he was Obama’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. …
…is the direction you choose to take
Some people come out of the storm better
Some people come out of the storm bitter
The difference between the bitter and the better
is the compass of your heart
and the direction you want to go.
(Ant Clemons’ opening words to Better Days, performed for the inauguration with Justin Timberlake)
I entered a cold “winter” when I left the D.C. jail and was sent back into the federal prison system. I’ve spent most my time on lockdown, unable to make phone calls (I am allowed to talk only to my lawyer). That…
Which one you get depends on your class, race and ethnicity
By Robert Barton
In my West Virginia penitentiary, I am allowed to receive a subscription to USA Today, although there are days when it is randomly held back for no apparent reason. I read with disgust that President Trump has once again thumbed his nose at the rule of law. As he uses his last few days in office to pardon war criminals, white-collar offenders of influence and cronies (and to rush to execute people like the emotionally abused Lisa Montgomery), I am once again reminded that in America…
It shapes you in ways large and small
In the end, the cell is undefeated.
it stains everyone it touches
in its own unique way.
The cell molds you.
The cell scolds you.
More than likely, the cell
will fold you…
as it engulfs you in its
bearlike arms, squeezing
the life out of you.
The cell contracts and expands,
depending on your state of mind
and how you use it…
It abuses or enthuses you.
The cell talks to you
and sometimes you talk back. …