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In the Belly of the Beast

State, Inmates and Families all Pay a Heavy Price

By Cal Treiber, POW

A recent letter touting stricter drug laws compelled me to write this. I sit in the belly of the beast every day of my life, and know firsthand the terrible damage that is done to the people through strict mandatory laws.

Human beings make mistakes and get hooked on drugs. But still they are human beings who should be given a chance. Some heartless people would have everyone who has anything to do with drugs fed to the lions. That is wrong. Everyone should get at least one chance.

I was caught up in a marijuana conspiracy case in Billings. I sit in my cell every night and look back at it all.

The person who wrote the letter does not know what they are talking about when they say the judges turn the dealers loose soon after they are arrested, and then the dealer is free to go conduct business as usual. Let me tell you something. I had never spent even one day in prison or one night in county jail. But when I was arrested, I was not allowed to post bond. I had to sit in the county jail for nearly 18 months. In the end, I received 29 years in prison, and 85 percent of the time must be served.

Family hurt by actions

My whole family has been devastated. My wife was dragged into the whole fiasco and given 11 years in prison, in my opinion, because she wouldn't testify against others and me. Now, my four kids have no mother or father.

My youngest son, Cal Jr., does not even know my wife or I. He calls his uncle Daddy. In the federal system, you are put in prison many miles from your home and transferred all around the nation. The person in the zero tolerance letter has never looked into the little eyes of kids who always ask, "Daddy, when do you get to come home?"

How do you tell your kids that you won't be able to be with them until they are about 25 years old and have kids of their own? I can't agree that the system is lenient. I know firsthand. I talk to hundreds of hundreds of people and hear about injustices. We're all only human, and we all need chances. A chance to prove you have changed when you wake up every morning in the belly of the beast. You can't help but to have changed, usually for the better. But with such long sentences, you never ever have a chance to prove it. That is not right.

Some change, some don't

I've seen people here in prison who have changed for the better but finally lose hope and revert into hard, cold people. The only thing that keeps them going is that total hatred. After 10 and 20 and 30 years of poking and prodding without mercy, the system has created a monster to turn loose on society. It scares me to think of it.

If you are going to give a man 20, 30 or 40 years in prison, you should just kill him. Believe me, I know. Because when he gets out, how can he help but be a monster? I've only been down a little over five years and have been to super-max prisons, and have been in a riot and seen the gang fights and the people in here killed.

I wish I could have just one chance. The date I get out is 2018. It seems like forever, and I pray to Jesus that He keeps me from turning into a monster in here. It makes me sick to my stomach to read the letters of how heartless people can be. I hope for them that God does not treat them as they want the drug dealers treated. For without being given a chance, we are all going to hell.

Editor's note: Calvin Treiber was sentenced to 29 years on Feb. 4, 1994, after a jury convicted him of 16 counts, including conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Sentencing guidelines adopted in the mid-1980s established penalty ranges for federal crimes. The range depends on some complicated factors, including the crime itself, the extent of a defendant's participation, the amount of drugs involved and the defendant's criminal history.

Federal statutes also set minimum mandatory penalties for certain crimes, such as using or carrying a firearm in relation to drug penalties. When sentencing guidelines were adopted, parole was abolished. Defendants con earn only 54 days of good time each year.

People convicted of federal crimes usually do about 85 percent of the time they are given, unless the government asks the judge to reduce the sentence for 'significant cooperation.'

Treiber is residing in a federal corrections facility in Florence, Colorado.

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