Off Limits

Captive audience: The bad news at the Arapahoe County Jail is that the video rentals once available to inmates on weekend nights have been discontinued. The good news: We got cable! Yes--in the future, should you find yourself a weekend guest of Sheriff Pat Sullivan and his deputies, you can kick back on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night by catching college hoops on ESPN, Joe Bob Briggs's Monstervision on TNT, or that perennial soft-core favorite on the USA Network, Silk Stalkings, which, as every sexually frustrated perpetrator worth his salt can tell you, routinely features chicks with billy clubs slapping the cuffs on dudes--and we're not talkin' about the policewomen.

But the arrival of cable (relax, grandpa--prisoners pay the entire bill, estimated at $5,700 per year) doesn't mean inmates have access to the entire TCI universe. Get hauled into the hoosegow on a weekday, for instance, and you'll find certain viewing options strictly verboten. Chief among the restrictions: an outright ban on daytime talk shows--which, after all, feature more perverts per capita than the average county lockup. From 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, says undersheriff Grayson Robinson, the jail makes available only "educational and informative" channels such as CNN and Discovery. "Some of the talk-show format that was available on normal programming sometimes isn't real consistent with trying to maintain a calm environment," he explains, adding that prisoners are allowed to watch the city's regular broadcast channels in the evening hours. Bottom line: Homicide is okay, but for God's sake, keep the boys away from Jerry Springer (actual description of a recent episode: "Woman is unsure which brother fathered her child").

Efforts to protect inmates from bad influences, though, are sometimes doomed to failure. One recent weekday, prisoners channel-surfing during daylight hours lucked into coverage of a fight between a pork-rind-guzzling redneck and a Rubenesque maneater who liked to get it on with Big Daddy even though she thought he was a "creep." But that was on CNN. "Basically what it boiled down to was we saw that footage of Monica Lewinsky standing next to Bill Clinton about 1,000 times a day," laments inmate J.T. Colfax in a letter to Westword.

Robinson says the jail's new interest in the viewing habits of cell potatoes was prompted by a debate now taking place among sheriffs nationwide about the proper role of TV in the pokey. And Arapahoe County is certainly on the cutting edge locally. Over at the Denver County Jail, inmates are still stuck watching over-the-air channels beamed in with a roof antenna from the Stone Age. But at least they can get a full dose of Jerry Springer, every weekday at 2 p.m. After all, notes jail boss John Simonet, "TV is a great passive manager of people."

Paging Mr. Jones...Mr. Barnaby Jones: Officials out at Denver International Airport went on high alert last week when a strange man was seen poking around where he didn't belong. In a March 18 memo titled, "Heads Up--Airport Vehicles Being Followed," DIA honcho Turner West gave employees the startling news: "During the past 24 hours, a private detective has been observed following airport vehicles and filming them with a video camera. His vehicle is a late model blue Dodge Intrepid. Since he was confronted during his surveillance, it is probable he will commence using another vehicle."

Was Barnaby on a case? Was local peeper Pete Peterson hoping to catch someone besides Roy Romer in an illicit nookie session? How about Channel 9 sleuth Paula Woodward seeking to crack another doughnut-slurpin' scandal? Did the snoop really "commence using another vehicle" after his cover was blown? And could there at least have been a high-speed chase through the airport that ended with somebody's LTD smashing through one of those little wooden gates at the toll plaza and laying rubber down Pena Boulevard?

Well, no. According to West, an impromptu investigation determined that the mystery man was actually a former airport employee--who may or may not really work as a private dick. Why the clandestine behavior? "You tell me," shrugs West, who says the onetime worker has been off the job for about three years now. "Maybe he had a bad week or something." In the meantime, there have been no further sightings of the Buddy Ebsen wannabe. "Either he's gotten better," says West, or the big espionage campaign is over.

 
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