After 9 years in prison for Weed, Trevor Saller prepares for freedom

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  • In prison since 2012, Trevor Saller has watched Missouri legalize medical cannabis – the same drug that earned him a thirteen-year sentence.

On May 24, 2011, two young men faced drug trafficking charges after police found several pounds of marijuana arriving by mail at a home in Warren County, Missouri, about an hour away. west of St. Louis.

One of them, Trevor Saller, is still in prison.

“I was young and stupid, and when you’re 21 I feel like a lot of people make decisions that they feel bad about later in life,” Saller said in a phone interview with the Center. Algoa Correctional Officer, describing the time in his youth when a series of drug-related charges – along with Missouri’s toughest drug law – derailed his future.

Now 31, Saller is one of more than 200 Missouri prisoners currently serving “increased” sentences under a law that for decades has targeted low-level drug offenders with sentences of. compulsory prison ranging from ten years to life.

The law, passed in 1989, applied a unique designation to its incarcerated subjects, marking them as “past and continuing” drug offenders.

For the past nine years, this label has defined Saller’s life. In 2012, Saller was sentenced to thirteen years in prison, and he is now approaching his “parole date” of August 4, 2022. The benchmark is one that most inmates never reach, as the vast majority of drug addicted prisoners of the state are released. on parole after serving part of their total sentence.

But Saller and the other “past and persistent” offenders are not eligible for parole. As RFT has reported abundantly, the law’s provisions were designed to take on a drug-related crime that on its own would only result in a few years behind bars and multiply the sentence to decades, if not life, in prison.

“The state of Missouri decided to make me exceptional in this terrible way,” says Saller, and points out that in the years that followed, Missouri both repealed the law behind the law “before persistence”. and legalized medical marijuana.

No development has affected his case.

“I have seen everything change, I have felt it change,” he says of society’s changing perspective on marijuana. He describes watching coverage of Colorado’s early legalization efforts on prison television and then closely following the news as several states began to grapple with the damage caused by the War on Drugs.

“It’s hard to deal with,” he reflects. “If I sit down and think about it, I’m just like, ‘Wow, why am I still in this position?'”

The answer lies in a mix of legal and legislative hurdles. Although the Missouri legislature repealed the “previous and persistent” law in 2017, the state Supreme Court rejected arguments from current inmates who thought the repeal should be retroactively extended and reinstate their parole eligibility. . The High Court ruling was followed by action by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who pledged to address the state’s backlog of clemency requests. His attention has repeatedly turned to cases of “past and persistent” offenders left behind by the repeal.

Over the past year, Parson has issued a series of commutations that reinstated the parole of “past and persistent” offenders otherwise barred from early release. The pardons have led to the release of eight drug-addicted offenders, while a ninth, Robert Franklin, has had his parole status restored by the commutation of a governor in May and is awaiting a hearing with a parole board.

However, Saller’s requests for pardon only returned silence from the governor’s office.

“It’s like the governor is my parole board, and that’s a tall order,” Saller notes. “Bless him for giving clemency, it’s wonderful that he was kind enough to do it for others, but I feel like there is a lag in the sense that I should have a opportunity somewhere to reap the rewards of the personal growth and personal change I was able to make. ”

Saller’s case is not unique, but it is also an example of the struggle that hangs over offenders trapped in long sentences as they face addiction and mental health issues – issues that are rendered much harder, according to Saller, when you don’t have one. hope you can demonstrate your rehabilitation to a parole board.

“I was not always successful during my time in prison,” he admits, adding that he struggled with depression and “problems with opioids” which he obtained illegally during his early years in prison. .

“I had drug offenses,” he continues. “I was the victim of demons from my past, but luckily they didn’t swallow me up like my friends.”

One of those friends was Ty Kruse, Saller’s co-accused in the May 2011 marijuana shipment bust. While Kruse and Saller faced identical charges, only Saller had a criminal record to make it “earlier”. and persistent “.

Kruse, meanwhile, fled the state, to be extradited in 2014 to Warren County and sentenced to five years of probation. In 2017, a probation violation briefly sent Kruse to jail, reuniting him with Saller in Algoa.

“It was like seeing my brother for the first time in five years,” Saller recalls. “I was just happy to see him outside of drugs and partying and whatever we were doing. It was like knowing him again for the first time.”

Saller says he and Kruse are committed to “a lifestyle of fitness and health.” But Saller still owed at least five years in prison. Kruse, who retained his parole eligibility, was quickly cleared for release.

It wasn’t the first time Saller had watched someone with similar drug charges get out of jail, leaving them behind. In fiscal 2019, the Missouri Department of Corrections released 626 drug-related non-violent offenders after an average of less than four years behind bars. According to prison data, 93 percent of these drug addicted offenders went through a parole board upon release.

But Kruse had his own demons, and in 2020 his life outside of prison ended with a fatal opioid overdose. For Saller, his friend’s plight was a tragic example of drug addiction, but the divergence of their cases also reflects Missouri’s failure to correct the damage from its previous drug laws, which, despite the 2017 repeal, continue. to trap hundreds of people in prison.

Saller can only wait until his time is up next summer. He knows that other “past and persistent” drug offenders – some jailed for decades or even life – are not so fortunate.

“If I’m being honest,” he says, “there’s been a lack of people taking responsibility for the way Missouri used to be. There’s a void, and people don’t stand up and say,” We must right these wrongs. ‘”

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at
@D_Towski. Email the author at [email protected]

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