time in Cañon City
SuperMax prison home of super criminals
By Miles Blumhardt
There are no roadside billboards boasting of their presence, no summer special section from the local newspaper telling you to stop at Bob's Bait and Donuts on your way to the sites, no visitor
You want to do Fremont County's prison tour and you're on your own. That's fine because as is the case with most things done serendipitously the unexpected is the adventure.
Fremont County is the prison capital of Colorado with nine state and four federal prisons. And where as Hewlett-Packard is one of Larimer County's largest employers, prisons are Fremont's largest employer. The county seat of Cañyon City is home to Colorado's first prison - the 130-year-old Colorado Territorial Prison and the Museum of Colorado Prisons, which claims the obscure fact of being the only prison museum located adjacent to an active prison.
In fact, there might be more razor wire in the county than barbed wire. There's a good chance the local Ace Hardware keeps razor wire in stock.
My tour started on a back street in Florence where a kind lady watering her yellow marigolds told me where to go when I asked her for directions to the SuperMax prison. It's not what you're thinking.
"Just go back to Carl Jr's and take a right, you can't miss it," she said while splattering mud from her watering on my shins.
"I just came that way and I didn't see any signs," I said.
"That's because there aren't any," she laughed. More mud on my shins.
So I took a right where I discovered you could get an 8-piece chicken dinner for $13.99, drove south of town a mile, passing a Super 8 motel, a lonesome looking First Assembly of God church and the Bear Paw subdivision, which the sign proclaimed as "Simply the Best!", and there it was all dressed up in gleaming razor wire.
The marigold-watering lady was right. There wasn't even a "do not pick up hitchhikers" sign along the road.
SuperMax is the address of super criminals. Before he became the late Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber did time there. Mobster John Gotti, Unabomber
I waited in line behind a FedEx truck to talk to the guard at the gate. D. Brewer, as the nametag implied, informed me neither SuperMax nor any of the other federal correction buildings on site do tours. He added it's hard even to get interviews with the prisoners.
So I slowly drove along Colorado Highway 67 to look the joint over then stopped and got out my binoculars through which I saw a Sonoma pickup the color of O.J.'s Bronco pacing along the razor wire fence.
The next thing I know, the guard in the Sonoma is looking through binoculars back at me. We had a magnified stare down before I blinked and drove back into town for the real scoop on SuperMax. Because it's such an obvious act of capitalism, I had to stop at the Super 8 a half-mile from the prison and chat with the two beefy dudes behind the desk.
They were friendly, offering up that McVeigh's sister and attorney stayed there as well as friends of Gotti's. However, they admitted the motel venture wasn't the moneymaker the owner had dreamt of because visitation is allowed only on weekends and not all week long.
Back in town I found out from an elderly lady at the Price Pioneer Museum that the best view of SuperMax is from the Bear Paw Golf Course driving range. So I drove on a gravel road to the golf course and, sure enough, from the driving range you can see the 11 dark-tinted window towers looming over the underground cells, thus the previous mole reference.
With so many prisons and so little time, I hustled to Canyon City's Museum of Colorado Prisons. I have to admit the real prison tower guards yelling at the real prisoners behind the real 15-foot
One of the first exhibits you see at the museum is the retired gas chamber. It's put 32 prisoners to death, the last one coming in 1967. I had to laugh at the plaque that indicated funding for the lime green building housing the gas chamber was provided by Dr. Eric and Linda Carlson and their sons. Who donates money for a gas chamber?
It's well worth it to shell out the $5 for museum entrance plus $1.50 for a tour booklet. Inside you can read about Alfred Packard, the only person in the United States ever convicted of cannibalism, see the actual hangman's noose of the last man executed by hanging in Colorado, have a hokey picture taken behind bars while holding up a prison number, view the handmade weapons made by prisoners and get a sense of what it would be like behind bars.
After leaving the museum, I nearly ended up on the wrong side of the bars. OK, I'm embellishing somewhat. But I was detained for 15 minutes by prison authorities.
I was ready to shoot some pictures of the real prison on the real prison grounds when this tower guard interrupted his phone conversation and started yelling at me. I'm not sure if he was yelling at me because I busted him making a personal call on prison time or because I was snapping a few photos.
I yelled back at the fat guard that I was from a newspaper and that the only sign I saw was "No Tours" and that there's nothing on the fence that says I can't take pictures. The next thing I know, fellow guard, Nate, was knocking on my pickup window. He asked if I'd taken any photos and I said I was from the Coloradoan and hadn't taken any photos. Nate was nice but called for backup.
An equally pleasant Sergeant Cleveland then asked me the same line of questions and I refused to change my story. Cleveland was calm but called for backup. This time a higher-up with the last name of Bland was forced from his desk to my pickup window and he asked me the same questions. Same reply.
Bland's a good guy, recognizing me as a law-abiding citizen. He released me into my own custody and calmly said that if I wanted a picture of the prison that I'd have to go across the highway to take it.
On my way out, I slowly drove by the tattletale guard, wishing he'd look so I could solute him.
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