Book Them

Pen and stink in the Jeffco jail.

>In Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a simple peasant imprisoned in the Siberian gulag after being unjustly convicted of political crimes, rises above the unbearable monotony and torture of prison life, proving that humanity can overcome even the harshest of conditions.

Inmates at the Jefferson County Detention Facility hoping to commiserate with Shukhov had better hope the jail library has a copy of One Day. Because while Jeffco's holding facility is a far cry from a Stalinist forced-labor camp, the facilities do have one thing in common: no books from outside.

"The decision not to allow prisoners to receive books from outside the facility library went into effect November 14," explains Jackie Tallman of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. "There were incidents where contraband was snuck into the facility through books, so this is an effort to curtail that kind of activity."

Prior to that decision, inmates were allowed to receive only books ordered directly from the publisher -- never from friends and family members. But savvy, quasi-publishing packaging jobs managed to find their way in, and with them came contraband. Most recently, Jeffco officers found a shipment of black-tar heroin in the binding of a book delivered to a prisoner, which cost all inmates their outside book privileges. No Trainspottingfor you, #76442; try this stained copy of Michael Crichton instead.

The jail library holds anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 volumes, estimates Jeffco lieutenant Mark Martin, and the collection is rotated on carts that roll past the 1,400 people incarcerated at the jail. "Even if an inmate wanted to read all of the books in our facility, they wouldn't have the time," Tallman says, explaining that the longest period anyone is held at the detention center is around three years.

But what about a prisoner's right to information -- or at least bad legal thrillers?

"We would prefer that the jails and prisons do whatever they can to minimize the degree to which incarceration interferes with prisoners' abilities to exercise their First Amendment right to read and exchange information and ideas," says ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein. "But prisons have a legitimate interest in preserving security and making sure contraband doesn't get into the facility.

Though, Silverstein adds, "You always hear of those cases where the prisoner gets a newspaper every day, and then the one day there is a disparaging letter about the jail in the paper, the issue doesn't show up."

But Jeffco's solved that problem, too: Outside newspapers and magazines have been banned, as well. "Prisoners will still have access to ten to fifteen different types of magazines through the commissary, though," Tallman notes.

Hey, who wants to trade for the latest issue of US Weekly?

Going like a weed:Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey did his civic duty last month, notifying citizens that their November 1 passage of I-100-- which changed city ordinances to legalize the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana -- means absolutely nothing, since the DA's office prosecutes 90 percent of cannabis cases under state law, anyway, and state law trumps city law, and blah, blah, blah, and "a class 2 petty offense is punishable by a fine," etc, etc. Translation: Screw you, hippies!

But apparently not everyone got the memo, including Eric Footer, who was ticketed for possession the day after the vote, when police found a wee bit of the ganja in his "vitamin bottle" during a traffic stop. A real estate consultant by day, Footer has vowed to fight the charge using a "mistake of law" defense, wherein he asserts that he had rightful cause to assume that marijuana was now legal within city limits.

Footer's not the only one feeling the heat. Responding to "numerous complaints on open-air narcotics dealing," the Denver Police Department has been on the prowl for the wacky tobacky in Civic Center Park -- ground zero for marijuana sales, while Capitol Hill remains prime real estate for the crack and heroin markets. On November 2, at the same time the cops were picking up Footer, an Off Limits operative easily picked up some weed in the park (Off Limits, November 10). And the DPD had equally good luck on December 1, when it arrested at least three suspects for selling marijuana to undercover detectives.

According to one incident report, Ernest Santiago, a 29-year-old transient, asked a narc if he wanted to buy dope, then led the detective to Rashaan Payne, who allegedly said, "You want some weed, I got it over here." The swoop also netted 31-year-old Sherry Ann Lopez, who is suspected of selling marijuana and is definitely guilty of bad fashion sense (she was described as wearing "black and yellow sweats").

"We pursue under the state statute as vigorously as we always have," says Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson. "I don't think we've lessened it or increased it. If we see someone possessing drugs illegally, we're going to make the appropriate arrests."

 
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