Calvin Robinson's 30 year prison anniversary was a few weeks ago, but he should have been released before he had to celebrate it.
The 76 year-old marijuana offender's application for compassionate release has been approved, but because of the endless bureaucracy of the prison system, he hasn't heard anything more about it in the last six months.
"I was told that it was already approved, and that it was on the judge's desk waiting for signing back in January of this year, so it hasn't gone anywhere yet. I've been told over and over again that this takes years," he told Civilized during a 15 minute phone call from USP Victorville in California.
But Robinson doesn't have years to wait. He has cancer in his lymph nodes that was left untreated, among many other health concerns. Time is running out.
"This was a set up"
Robinson's story is one that wouldn't be out of place on a true crime podcast like 'Serial.' The story has everything: a DEA set up in international waters, a man who says he is innocent, and a conspiracy case that landed him in prison for life without the possibility of parole.
According to the government, Robinson was a career criminal whom they finally took down in the largest hashish and marijuana seizure in United States history. The 56 tons of cannabis were allegedly worth over $160 million.
According to Robinson, though, it was a straight set up. He was hired to take supplies offshore to two survey vessels with his tugboat and barge. He was towing the barge half a kilometer behind him, and he had no idea that there were 13 tons of marijuana and 43 tons of hashish in the ballast tanks when he was on his way back.
"This was a 500 ton barge and 56 tons put it down about two inches in the water," he said. "You couldn't tell there was anything on it. This was a set up, a straight up set up."
He was charged with conspiracy to import marijuana, even though he argues that he never left the state of California.
And as if his case weren't tough enough, his lawyer died right before he went to trial, and he wasn't allowed to find a new one.
"I was angry, very angry," he said. "And all I could do was just plead not guilty and do the very best I could."
One thing after another went wrong in his trial and the rest is history.
"Everything happens for a reason"
Robinson doesn't fit the typical criminal profile. He's a senior citizen, wheelchair bound and highly religious. He says his faith has helped him survive prison for as long as he has.
"I believe in the Almighty and I believe that everything happens for a reason," he said. "I've learned a lot, and I've grown a lot, and I still got hope of overturning this. And I've got a hope of seeing my family again."
But just because he has been able to cope with his incarceration doesn't mean he's accepted it, especially since the substance that he was unknowingly towing back to shore was cannabis.
"I think it was wrong to even ban cannabis to start with," he said. "I don't think that was right, and I believe that the almighty made it for the benefit of all people. That's the bottom line."
That said, that doesn't mean that he was ever involved in drugs at all, he says.
"I've never bought any drugs, and I've never sold any drugs and I don't even smoke marijuana," said Robinson. "And it's just ... it's like a black hole."