I don’t know exactly when I lost my faith…but once in a while something happens at the perfect time, and I just might believe

I must admit to you dear readers that I am a faithless man.  I don’t know exactly when I lost my faith….Perhaps it was watching the hypocrisy of the “religious” adults in my youth as they were only faithful when it was convenient for them, while in action they were self-centered at the expense of all others—a lesson I learned very young. Maybe it was seeing a field full of corpses displaying every manner of death and wondering how there could possibly be a god. Or maybe it was the utter and senseless rape of one’s soul by being an innocent convicted man. I don’t know exactly when, but my faith has long since departed me. Still, from time to time and RARELY, useful things get put in my path at the perfect time. The story I’m about to tell is about one of those times.  

I have been in isolation for over a year, KY State Penitentiary’s retaliation for my bringing awareness to the absolute inhumane and cruel conditions of confinement people being housed here are subjected to.  I have written several update regarding the building I’m being held hostage in. (https://www.justiceforjohnbuckley.com/category/letters-from-john/) Built in 1870, right after the Civil War ended, this vermin and insect-infested ancient death trap isn’t fit to house rapid dogs let alone human beings. Because of my effort to make the public aware of this travesty (https://www.justiceforjohnbuckley.com/johns-open-letter-to-ky-gov-beshear-ky-doc-commissioner-crews-and-ky-atty-general-cameron/), KSP has found a way to bury me in isolation indefinitely. One of the Unit Administrators, Amy Fisher, recently told me that she could care less if I spend years in the Hole and she hopes that I do.  I have a friend, Eric Chapman, who has spent nearly 11 years in this Hell Hole and I can name dozens of names of men who have disappeared in here for years…for nothing.

Needless to say, it’s a pretty depressing prospect. But I’ve actually been through it before and it takes more than “the Hole” to douse my spirit. Being in the Hole truly isolates you, not just in your day-to-day life but in ALL ways from the outside world; they try to cut off your mail completely, I get one 10-minute call per week which they also constantly tamper with, and NO visits. Besides my awesome Aunt, the rest of my relationships have suffered. (Ms. Melton has also written me regularly –THANK YOU for your kind supportive letters!) Children do not write letters anymore, after a year in the Hole it’s like I’ve disappeared again from their lives.  Our relationships which needed time, care and attention have been sabotaged by my unjust holding in this Isolation cell. 

The appeal of my charges has been exhausted. The 6th Federal Circuit wouldn’t even hear it.  There are still options left, but to get to this point has taken me 12 years…it’s a LOT. Almost too much. 

This conglomeration of factors:  Being in the hole this long; the strained relationship with my babies; and the exhaustion of my Federal Appeal overwhelmed me to the point of hopelessness. (Oh and of course being in a dungeon with NONE of my belongings including my guitar) When you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel and instead face perpetual eternal darkness, depression sets in. I’m a RESILIENT guy.. sheer obstinance has gotten me through half the things I’ve survived.  But this is a new low for me. 

Then the book landed in my cell.  Right in my path.


One of the many ways KSP turns the screws on the prisoners being held in long term isolation is to deprive them of any reading material. The Unit Administrator (UA) Fisher seems to have made it her personal mission to make sure we don’t have any books in our cells—even though we are allowed books! Every single time me and my cell are searched on her orders, the books in my possession are roughly tossed out into the hallway.  This is a head game to keep us without stimulus of any kind, and the staff relishes in the little games they get to play. I’ve always said, “if I’ve got something to read, I can do the Hole time.” This last year in the Hole is the first time I’ve seen them actively discourage and indeed obstruct our ability to have reading materials (of course everything about the last few years at KSP has been about agitating and antagonizing the prisoner population here).  And that was what was so amazing about the book that just happened into my hands. 

I doubt if it comes as a surprise that I am decently well-read. That’s been intentional throughout my life and I love it.  I love to learn from and escape into literature. But I can’t really pick and choose what I read anymore. Years ago we could order books from approved book vendors while we were in the Hole and we were able to have access to purchase and read a LOT of exceptional literature, from self-help to the classics. Since Kentucky offers NOTHING in the form of rehabilitative services, those books were the closest we ever could ever get. So in all their bureaucratic wisdom, they considered purchasing books a privilege instead of a lifeline and rehabilitation tool and cut them off, I guess to punish us… The majority of books in here that get passed around are old religious books, romance novels or westerns.  There’s some books that guys bring in as their personal property—I brought in 6 self-help books and that’s the maximum allowed—and then donate them to the cause. They get passed around from guy to guy in the most ingenious ways and treated like treasures until the UA gives the order to throw them away.  But this one book I mentioned was thrown out of a small gap big enough for a hand at the bottom of a cell in the top tier of cells above me, where the door slides along the track.  Through sheer inmate ingenuity, I was able to get it.  

The book was described to me as a “decent John Grisham” – who I love!  He’s my 3rd favorite author behind Bernard Cornwell and Wilbur Smith—great writers of historical fiction. I’ve read every John Grisham that I could get my hands on and there’s only a few I haven’t read—the ones he’s written in the last 4 years or so (covid lockdown really gave license to prisons to implement a number of extreme measures to limit inmate’s freedoms). This happened to be one of those—“The Guardians”. In typical 3 Cell House fashion, it was missing the front and back cover as well as the first 10 pages.  It’s a fictional story based on real characters at Centurion Ministries who spend their lives exonerating wrongfully convicted prisoners.  The main exoneration story is also based on a true story of a horribly unjust “Justice” system.  There are some insightful quotes I got from the book: “Prison is a nightmare for those who deserve it.  For those who don’t it’s a daily struggle to maintain some level of sanity. For those who suddenly learn that there is proof of their innocence and yet they remain locked up, the situation is literally maddening”. And  another one: “There are times, many times, when I despise judges, especially blind ones and old and white ones, almost all of whom cut their teeth in prosecutors’ offices and have no sympathy for anyone accused of a crime. To them, everybody who is charged is guilty and needs time in jail, the system works beautifully and justice always prevails.”  

I needed these words. I needed to know that someone out there gets it, that it’s not just me and my closest family shaking our fists at the sky that this tragedy is real and other people can see it.  I’ve read other books like “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson which didn’t affect me as much because it’s about a specific state and rooted in systemic racism (yes, there is..) I’m sure the environmental factors like where I am right now played a major role in the way The Guardians affected my head and heart. When I finished it, I flipped it back to the beginning and read it a second time. The parts where the lawyer rails against an unjust system validated my own experience. The parts where he walks the innocent men out of the courtroom doors brought tears to my eyes.  When he described an exoneree sitting in a burger joint right after being released, smelling the smells, watching the people—and without the weight of the filth of prison. The freedom to go to a clean bathroom without fear of what he’ll see or what violence may happen.  The description was so vivid to me, so REAL, like he’s experienced it.  He gave me a glimmer of hope that one day I could experience such a thing.  Probably not…but just maybe. I can see myself there.

The point where I got John Grisham’s life-saving book was a very low point for me. Prisoners in general population are still allowed to order books from approved vendors, just not those in the Holeand this is where we really need them!  Makes no sense for prison administrators to think that Hole Time is more effective if the inmate just stares at the cement wall and listens to all those who have gone crazy scream 24-7, that it would be insane to let them read a book and try to improve themselves. 

Books are not the only point of censorship here. My Aunt sends me inspirational articles and educational essays, many of which are censored by the prison mail room, claiming “copy-write infringement” because they have to copy anything that I get instead of giving me the originals.  Even though my Aunt has established many times with proof she submits from publishers that it is perfectly legal to do so. I recently had pictures of my 3 girls rejected because my 12 & 14 year old (at the time) were giving each other “bunny ears”.  The pictures were “denied” because they said their “bunny ears” were GANG SIGNS…by the way, my girls are straight A students, state champion wrestlers, and nationally ranked judokas. 

Anything positive, educational or inspirational is censored without reason. Trust me; I have tried to find out. I ask, how long can one stare at the wall?  I’ve fallen into the habit of sleeping 20 hours a day. I’ve lost over 40 lbs. My mind is as starved as my body and my spirit. What keeps me going is rage at the unfairness of it all and a general unwillingness to quit, even though I have NO idea when my isolation will end and the censorship will cease.  I don’t know if any of you have ever had the experience of a book giving you the hope you need just when you need it the most. It is like a breath of fresh air. This censorship is just one more torture of the mind and spirit inflicted by an inhuman Nazi-like prison administration that lacks human emotion or empathy of any kind. When UA Fisher exposed the darkness of her heart by admitting she hoped I spent years in the Hole, it zapped my strength because I have no power to aggressively fight back against this tyranny.  And there is nothing to fortify my mind and spirit against such naked aggression and hate.  Of course, I suppose that is their entire purpose—to break our minds and our wills.  

But this book…this book brought hope. 

Ranger Buckley From the Front Lines, Out!!

RLTW!  (Rangers Lead the Way!)

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By |2024-04-15T14:49:49-06:00March 7th, 2024|Categories: Letters from John|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Karen Ann Melton March 10, 2024 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Thank you, John, for your kind words. Knowing that I can make a tiny bit of difference makes me want to do more. This open letter brought me to tears. Your eloquence, intelligence, wisdom, and big heart – they all shine through here in the midst of a heartbreaking TRUE story. Anyone who’s reading this – PLEASE SHARE. We need to do anything and everything we can to bring justice to these innocent men. We need to shine a light on the INJUSTICE happening behind the prison walls of the Kentucky State Penitentiary. Because it is pure evil.

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