LAND O'LAKES — On Oct. 16, 2006, a man in a wheelchair moved into the gray confines of the Pasco County jail. Now, 952 days later, he is still there, still awaiting justice.
He's accused of selling cocaine back in 2001, a burglary in 2002 and several other charges for which he had failed to appear in court. The cases have languished in the court system because he has been too sick to go to trial.
The state, which plans to try him later this year on the burglary, is treating him like any able-bodied habitual offender, seeking sentencing enhancements that would keep him locked up for decades.
But William McCalop won't spend that long in prison no matter what justice is delivered him.
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For all of his adult life, William Earl McCalop has been between crimes.
Robbery, larceny, drugs. Jail, prison, back out again.
He was 17 the first time he got in trouble.
He said the crowd he hung out with while he was growing up in Brooksville sold drugs. That led to other things.
"If it starts bad, it ends bad," he said.
At 21, McCalop was on his way to prison for robbery. Four years gone.
Over the next three decades, he went back five more times for burglaries, grand thefts, selling drugs.
"When I look back over it," McCalop, now 52, said, "I don't understand the person that's left behind. I look behind me and I say, 'How could I have worn those shoes?' But I did. It was bad decisions that I made."
He uses the language of a remorseful man, but his change of heart may be tied more to his physical decline than anything else.
McCalop, who has had two heart attacks and a stroke and was under hospice care at one time, remains in a wheelchair and is simply too sick to be a street criminal anymore.
McCalop acknowledged that he didn't start out at a disadvantage. His parents, who live in Brooksville, are both church people who "never had a traffic ticket." He's still close to them.
"They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," he said. "I guess I rolled a little bit."
His father, Earl, said something similar: "I don't know why he fell out and messed up like that."
Early on, he learned to be a welder, and when he was walking the line, he found good work.
He used drugs some, but alcohol was his real demon. His drinking has led to irreversible cirrhosis of the liver.
He also married twice and fathered 14 children in all, by eight different women. The last child, a son, was born after McCalop went to jail in 2006.
McCalop has never seen him, never held him. When it became clear the child's mother wouldn't be able to care for him either, McCalop said, he agreed to give the boy up for adoption.
"Hardest thing I ever did in my life," he said.
He doesn't apologize for having so many kids, even though he was rarely around to support them. He always wanted a big family to learn from and love one another. But he pictured a life more stable than the one he created.
His kids — whose ages range from 37 to 21/2 — have never all been in the same place. They are scattered around Florida and elsewhere. McCalop says he has off-and-on contact with many of them.
"To see them all together, even just one time, that would be something," he said.
Costs of incarceration
There are the dreams of a dying man, and then there are the dispassionate realities of the justice system.
Florida's criminal laws have become increasingly intolerant of people who commit crimes, are punished and then offend again. Prosecutors have at their disposal sentencing enhancements that can be used to keep such people in prison longer — sometimes for life.
Because of McCalop's extensive criminal history, he qualifies.
Last week, he entered an open plea before Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa on various drug possession charges and the cocaine sale, an alleged $40 crack deal in Zephyrhills wherein the buyer was an undercover police officer.
Prosecutors are seeking the maximum prison term of 15 years and will ask the judge to double that to 30 under the habitual offender enhancement.
McCalop plans to go to trial on the burglary charge. Again, prosecutors have filed a habitual offender designation, which could give him another 30 years.
The State Attorney's Office would not comment further because the cases are pending.
But keeping him in jail is costing more than just his time.
The Sheriff's Office, which runs the county jail, estimates the total of McCalop's upkeep there, including his extensive medical care, to be $163,860.46. Toward that, McCalop himself has paid $95.78.
Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll says the agency saves money by paying the lower Medicare and Medicaid rates for inmates' hospital care. It also bills private insurance, if inmates have any.
McCalop will remain in jail at least a few more months. His burglary trial and sentencing for the plea are set for October.
His court-appointed attorney, Geoff Cox, acknowledges the long odds of winning any leniency. But he argues that resolving McCalop's cases is not just about punishment.
"It's allowing him to die with dignity," Cox said. "He's not going to get better."
Cox plans to ask the judge to put McCalop on house arrest until he dies. McCalop's father said he is ready to care for him.
'There is still hope'
A few months ago, a doctor told McCalop he has about two years to live. His condition is stable now, but his wearied organs aren't likely to hold out longer than that.
His days at the jail, where he lives among the general population, are tranquil. He receives oxygen treatments twice a day and has another inmate to help him with showers and other daily needs. There are card games and television shows. It's a great improvement over the months he spent in isolation in the jail's medical ward, when his condition was more dire.
McCalop believes he can still do some good, contribute something. He says he counsels younger inmates at the jail, encouraging them to "be a much, much better person than I was."
He would like to be outside one more time. He would like for the people he has hurt — his devoted parents, his mostly fatherless children — to see that he's not the person he was, that even an old crook like him can change.
"There is still hope," he said, "for people like me."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.