I am all right. Or am I?

More Than Our Crimes
5 min readApr 1, 2020

I feel like a war vet about to be redeployed after acclimating to civilian life.

I was sentenced to 30 years to life as a 16-year-old child. And after a few days of being locked up, I was all right.

When I was sent thousands of miles away from my family in DC to a federal prison in thousands of miles away because the district doesn’t have its own prison, and thus they couldn’t visit, I was all right.

When I was subjected on several occasions to 23-and-1 stints (23 hours locked down and one hour out) in solitary confinement, or to stay in my cell for weeks/months at a time with only 10-minute showers every 72 hours, I was all right.

And sadly, when my grandmother died during my incarceration, I couldn’t even cry because I had to be all right.

I’m always all right because I have to be.

It’s the prisoner’s anthem. I’M ALL RIGHT! We are constantly telling ourselves we are all right, because it is this mantra that steels us against the pain and adversity we endure daily and to which we will continue to be for years to come. It’s a defense mechanism, our armor. We are ALL RIGHT!

I thought I had a good chance to finally be freed two months ago, as part of the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act. (I was incarcerated as a child and already have already served more than 15 years — for murder, even though I did not pull the trigger.) But, last Tuesday, I was told I have to return to the federal penitentiary in Florida. The judge denied my motion requesting to stay in D.C. so I can continue mentoring younger inmates and complete my Georgetown University courses in pursuit of my bachelor’s degree.

Again, I told myself I am all right. It never occurred to me that just maybe I was not all right — until, that is, I watched the news on TV and I really took note of how people now are in isolation and/or self-quarantining to avoid catching or transmitting the novel coronavirus. It dawned on me then that in my own way, I too had begun self-isolating.

More Than Our Crimes

Rob Barton has been incarcerated for 26 years. Pam Bailey is his collaborator/editor. Learn more at MoreThanOurCrimes.org