By Pam Bailey, Rob Barton’s editor and writing collaborator
The first clue Rob was about to be forcibly removed from the D.C. jail came the previous night. A C.O. (commanding officer) ordered him to the medical clinic, saying — when asked — that he didn’t know why: Just orders.
In the clinic, an assistant measured his vital signs: temperature, blood pressure, pulse. On the phone that night, he told me, “I think they’re gonna come take me. And if that’s the case, it’ll happen fast.”
Sure enough, the next morning, Rob was woken up at 3:30 a.m. — told to eat and shower, then….wait.
“I sat downstairs from 5:30 until about 8:30,” he recounts from the destination he didn’t know until they arrived: Northern Neck Regional Jail in Virginia. “Then they chained me up and put me on a van and brought me down here.”
The chain was a “black box:” a belly chain wrapped around the waist, with the ends anchored in a rectangular, black, metal box. Rob’s hands were cuffed as well — also anchored in the box. The result is a tightly fitting restraint system.
“They give you food in little bags, but you can’t really eat because you can’t move,” Rob explained later. “I’ve seen a lot of people whose hands are swollen because their blood can’t circulate.”
The D.C. jail, a way station for district residents waiting for trials or court hearings, had been Rob’s home for about two years — first for a process we had hoped would free him (unjustly, it did not) and then due to COVID-19. Because a coronavirus-related law has given Rob another opportunity for freedom — an early parole hearing — we had hoped he would be allowed to stay in the district jail, which is decrepit but a leader when it comes to rehabilitation. However, the “powers that be” in the federal Bureau of Prisons (which rules over D.C. inmates, since the district doesn’t have its own prison), suddenly and arbitrarily decided otherwise. Virginia is just the first stop…