Welcome to “Voice for the Voiceless,” a blog I plan to use to give incarcerated individuals the opportunity to speak to the world vicariously through me.
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 was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years to life.
I was not the actual shooter in this crime, but I was judged to be as guilty as the one who was, due to a provision of the law that treats “aiders and abettors” as equally criminally liable. Was I guilty? Yes. I was a voluntary passenger in the car. No one forced me to be there. Did I have the same malicious intent as my codefendant, the shooter? The answer to that question is more ambiguous. I am not attempting to diminish my role in the crime, and I regret the decision to ride along on a daily basis. But I was still a child, and very confused about where and how I fit into a world that had already abused me.
Much scientific evidence shows that the human brain goes through disruptive growth during the late teens and early 20s; it’s no coincidence that mental illness and violent behavior most often erupts then. I was no exception. One of the themes of this blog will be to look at what “fair sentencing” means — especially when crimes are committed by minors.
I grew up in a tough SE DC neighborhood in a single-parent household. My mom loved me and showed it in so many ways, but my father — who rotated…