Stealing Time

As its inmate population ages, the Colorado prison system discovers there's no con like an old con.

When a prisoner dies, the state gives family members time to claim the body and make arrangements for burial. If no one comes forward, the prison assumes responsibility for cremating the inmate's body. The funeral home hired to carry out the cremation is given the responsibility for disposing of the remains. "What they do with them, I don't know," Smith says.

Years ago, the bodies of some unclaimed inmates were shipped to Denver in a wooden coffin, to be donated for scientific study. The coffin would then be sent back to Canon City, to be used again when another inmate passed away.

Other prisoners were buried in a special section of the Greenwood Cemetery, about one mile south of the Territorial prison. The area for dead prisoners came to be known as "Woodpecker Hill" for the birds that flocked to the site. Historians say the woodpeckers destroyed many of the wooden grave markers placed on the inmates' graves, making it impossible now to identify the dead.

Earl Kenner won't talk about the possibility of dying in prison. "Maybe the walls will fall down," he says airily. "Who knows?"

The 67-year-old is working on an appeal to shorten his current sentences--the DOC says he won't be eligible for parole until 2011. "I got fifty for kicking a door in," he grouses. "There are guys in here doing fifteen for killing a guy." Still, he doesn't profess to hold out much hope of a release. "I got one of them court-appointed jobs right now," he says of his new attorney. "I'll tell you what--it's like buying oats for a dead horse."

Kenner, though, has made a tolerable life for himself inside the prison. "A parole officer told me once, 'You're a damn good convict, but a hell of a citizen,'" Kenner reports, with a smile. But he admits that if he had it to do over again, his life would be different.

"I just couldn't stay out [of prison]," he muses. "Couldn't stay out of people's stuff. Why? That's like asking a guy why he goes insane. It was a form of insanity. It had to be. I could have made more money throwing rocks at airplanes. You know what I mean?

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