James P. Calhoun -- #09497-018

19 years -- Marijuana Conspiracy

James P. Calhoun, prisoner of the drug war
I was once a happily married, hardworking 45-year-old who earned a good, honest living in the commercial fishing industry. I was, and had been for nearly 20 years, stepfather to my wife's two sons by her first marriage. My wife taught music at a local private school and she was music director/organist at a local church. Both boys were in college: one, the eldest, was in pre-med at Stanford; the youngest was at Troy State in Alabama. All things considered, we felt we had done reasonably well thus far in life.

In January of 1988 I was asked by some people about the possibility of using my fishing boat to import marijuana. As time passed and plans were discussed, my tension, fear, guilt and worries mounted. Finally, in early May 1988, I wanted out of the discussions, period. I had changed my mind after being initially tempted.

I took back my boat before any marijuana could be loaded aboard. The boat left the dock in Jamaica empty and returned empty to the U.S. No drugs were ever loaded, imported or sold. Although I'd almost made a major mistake, I felt I had done nothing wrong. I still to this day believe I did nothing wrong, certainly nothing that would merit a lifetime in prison.

One morning at the crack of dawn in December 1988 the FBI surrounded my home, burst through the door, jammed guns to the heads of my wife and my youngest stepson (who had the misfortune to be home), and arrested me. My attorney advised that as a first offender I was facing ten years in prison. Out of naivete or ignorance, I went to trial and was convicted of Conspiracy to Import, Possess and Distribute in excess of 1,000 Kilograms of Marijuana.

In addition to the ten-year mandatory minimum sentence, the Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSI), compiled by the prosecution, recommended five additional levels (7 -1/2 years) of enhancements. The PSI Report recommended two levels (3 years) for a gun possessed by someone I didn't even know and an additional three levels (4 -1/2 years) because the Parole Officer who conducted the Pre-Sentence Investigation considered me to be a supervisor or manager in the conspiracy.

I knew nothing of any gun until just before trial. However, the judge ruled that guns were "foreseeable in drug offenses." I was therefore responsible for the gun charge and punishable. My PSI indicates that I was a manager because I attended meetings. At sentencing, however, the government used the twisted logic that I must have had supervisory authority because I had the authority to abort the conspiracy.

My family members and I were stunned. Already ruined financially, I was about to be sentenced to 20 years in prison for, as I see it, a reneged agreement! I was so terrified by that time I ran.

After several months living my worst nightmare, I realized that I was not cut out to be a fugitive. I thought surely that government attorneys would come to their senses. I turned myself in, agreed to extradition back to Florida, and agreed to plead guilty to Failure to Appear.

I was sentenced to an additional year for failure to appear at the first sentencing. My total sentence amounted to 222 months (18 1/2 years) in prison, at my age a lifetime for something I only thought about but didn't do.

I have not seen anyone in my family for years. My parents' health precludes a trip of several hundred miles. My oldest stepson is in Oregon with his wife and medical practice. My younger stepson, who was home for Christmas when I was arrested, has never forgiven me for the terror he suffered at the hands of the police who stormed our home. I'm not sure I blame him.

Now, at the age of 57, I have been in prison nearly eleven years. Although these facts are irrelevant, I have in the last five years been diagnosed with metastatic malignant Melanoma (terminal cancer), osteoarthritis, and degenerative bone and disc disease. My chances of surviving until my release date of 2006 are very, very slim.

Should I survive my imprisonment, to what do I have to look forward? I will probably be unemployable because of my age coupled with my status as a convicted felon, not to mention health problems and companies that don't like to pay those costs. As I look around here in prison, I see many like me. Most were productive human beings who committed harmless acts that Congress criminalized, thus relegating many thousands of souls to a life of misery, poverty and homelessness - if we are lucky enough to live through prison.