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Family Values

By Tyree Callahan, Child of War

Presented on August 21, 1997 at Seattle Central College during a symposium sponsored by Hempfest '97 and moderated by William Vivian McPeak.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

As you heard, my name is Tyree Callahan. I am here on behalf of my two younger brothers and the other children of the world who have, in effect, been orphaned or otherwise devoured by the drug and sentencing policies enacted by their elected officials. My brief discussion today will revolve around my father, Gary Patrick Callahan, who in 1989 was arrested on a drug conspiracy charge when I was sixteen years of age.

Thirty three months of solitary confinement ("protective custody") later, he was sentenced to twenty-seven and a half years in prison based entirely on the testimony of a so-called friend, whose name, for all practical purposes, we now call, Judas.

I am now twenty-four years old, and after eight years of pain... Of course, as I was writing down what I wanted to say today, I got stuck trying to find the definitive noun for the past eight years. I consulted my faithful Webster's thesaurus and looked up the different synonyms for pain, trying to find the one that best describes the last years of my life. I might add that a good 95% of the synonyms were all too familiar. But in the end, I chose the one word that most aptly describes the time since my father's arrest. It has been a painful time. And forgive me for a moment as I now get a little Freudian on you. Along with that initial hurt, came the entire family tree of Pain. You had old crotchety Grandpa Shock and here's the Uncle nobody ever talks about named Guilt. Grandma Denial and Cousin Sorry. On the other side of the tree there's Grandma Sadness and Brother Anxiety. And believe it or not, there are the in-laws named Depression and Self-Hate, who have that annoying habit of dropping in unexpected. These people have been among my closest relatives for eight long years.

While I was searching for a suitable synonym for pain, I found an interesting entry-PASSION. At first I thought it was some kind of misprint. But out of curiosity, I grabbed the Webster's dictionary to look up the definition of passion. The first one defined passion as the suffering of Christ on the cross after the Last Supper. Well, OK...That made sense. But as I read on to the third definition, a moment of clarity rang true. The third definition of Passion was described as an intense emotional excitement, as rage, enthusiasm, or desire. And as I got to thinking about it, the doorbell rang and along came that long-lost relative named Passion who saved the day.

YES, I am enraged. YES! I am enthusiastic about educating people on the malevolence of these policies. And YES, I have a strong desire to address the utter devastation these policies cause to families just like mine and just like yours. And that is why I am here today.

But I must warn you. I came with a big old bag of dirt. This "dirt" is the side of the war on drugs that gets swept under the rug during the nightly news. Sure these days you do hear a lot about the terrible things that go on inside of pri-I'm sorry, "correctional institutions." Let me ask you something: Do you have any idea what it's like to have your father, or a loved one of yours, arrested for non-violently defying a drug law? To have that loved one ripped out of your life and carted away to a hostile place where he or she cannot get a proper night's sleep or receive proper nutrition? A place where this loved one cannot enjoy the simple pleasure of star gazing or watching their children grow up to be adults. And, keeping in mind the kinds of things your loved ones may face in prison, let me ask you this-do you have any idea what it's like to be a kid and worrying about whether or not your father or your brother is being raped in prison? And do you realize how sad it is for a kid to see his or her family disintegrate before your eyes as a result of a parent being sentenced to hard time? These things are happening right now. And YES, they are happening in America!

Believe me, these elected officials who are directly responsible for these heinous drug and sentencing policies, they don't stop there. They kick you when you're down and out, they keep your loved one in prisons far from your home where a visit is almost impossible to make. And it hurts. These same people who are responsible for the atrocities to non-violent drug law defiers, have of late, introduced The Issue/Buzz Phrase "Family Values." And, believe it or not, they actually have the audacity to solicit votes from us on this "Family Values" platform. My message for these hypocritical, policy making, so-called public servants is this: "Your failed drug policies have been the ruin of my family - and I fail to see the value in that!"

Now, I grew up with real family values. My father, the man our policy makers threw out with yesterday's trash - had his own brand of family values. As a child, in fact, one of my earliest and most dear to my heart, childhood memories involved a father-son camping trip when I was just a little-little dude. We camped by this little stream and my father had thoughtfully brought along some gold pans. And man, I remember the excitement of the mere possibility of finding treasure. And so here we were, gold panning along ... sluicing through dirt, mud and more mud. After a short while I got discouraged. I wanted that treasure NOW! My father, patiently panning away, explained that there are some things that take a little time and a little work. So I went back at it. Once, twice, three times - then in the mud and water something caught my eye. The water swirled around a little more and washed the remaining mud off - - - and LO and behold, there it was! ! !

I stuck my hand in that mud and pulled out a jewel. Of course, it wasn't till much later that I learned faceted, pre-cut jewels like this don't always exist in nature, but I remember driving home from that trip-sitting in the car with my treasure, watching those brilliant blue dots of light race around on the ceiling as I held my treasure in my fingers. To this day I have a perfect image of that light preserved in my memory. And my dad, by slipping this little glass rhinestone in my gold pan, created my earliest and dearest childhood memory.

My wife and I are expecting our first child early next year and I can't wait to have the opportunity to see the look on his or her face when the treasure is found - in fact, I think I'll invite my dad along so he can relive that moment... well, on second thought, he still has at least 16 years to serve in federal prison and by that time, his first grandchild will be far past those magical years... Maybe it will be his first grandchild that drives to the prison gates to greet him when his time is finally served. That is the way these asinine drug and sentencing policy makers will have it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we simply cannot afford to lose gems like my father and all the other nonviolent drug law defiers to these meat grinder policies. Drug war families want their loved ones back, and you are the only ones who can make that happen.

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