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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: County jail trounces Zags in TV drama

What a letdown. Spokane finally gets some national TV exposure and guess what?

The show, “Behind Bars,” is aired at the same time as a Zags game.

True, it wasn’t much of a Zags game. Watching Gonzaga vivisect Santa Clara 88-51 Thursday night was like watching George Will compete with third-graders on “Jeopardy.”

Still, I’m guessing not many of you tuned in to the Discovery Channel program, which profiled life inside our very own Spokane County Jail.

Never fear. I took plenty of notes for those of you who missed “Behind Bars.” Here are a few of the thrilling highlights.

•Spokane is shown from the air. “Juxtaposed against the natural surroundings,” states the announcer, “is a dark microcosm of the city.”

Hey, what gives? I thought this was about the jail, not the downtown bus Plaza.

•The show really is about the jail, of course. And soon we see a very troubling image: All of the cell doors are pink.

Who designed this hoosegow, Adam Lambert?

No wonder we need a new jail.

•Meet Sheriff’s Sgt. R.D. Smith. The announcer calls him a man who “knows how to take care of business.”

Maybe so. But Smith mainly appears to also be a man who gets sworn at constantly by foul-mouthed, insolent inmates. “I’ve been called just about everything in the book,” observes Smith.

Somebody give this guy a raise.

•Smith commands the CRT, which is short for Corrections Response Team. CRT members dress up in black Darth Vader costumes and charge into the cells of uncooperative inmates. Once inside, they pile on the felon like he’s a loose ball in the Super Bowl.

This looks like more fun than wrestling Oprah for table scraps. Where do I sign up?

•The CRT is soon called into action to subdue Bradley Hickey, a shirtless and thoroughly tattooed gangbanger.

I can’t help but wonder if Hickey’s friends and relatives are watching “Behind Bars” at home.

“Hey, look, Brad’s on the tube. Told ya that kid would hit the big time some day.”

•Commercial break. An advertisement for “Shutter Island,” the new Martin Scorsese movie, is shown. As a matter of fact, I saw “Shutter Island” last weekend. It’s about this remote island that is populated with psychotic criminals and creepy overacting doctors.

Quite frankly, what I’ve seen of the Spokane County Jail in the previous 10 minutes makes “Shutter Island” look like a vacation in the Bahamas.

•The “Behind Bars” announcer states that one out of every three Spokane County Jail inmates is “mentally imbalanced.”

I have heard that disturbing statistic before. But only applied to the City Council.

•A crazed inmate launches a failed attack against the CRT with sharpened pencils taped to his knuckles.

The announcer didn’t mention it, but they looked like No. 2 Ticonderogas.

•Bean bag shotguns. Pepper spray. Tasers. Sting-ball grenades …

I repeat: Sign me up for the CRT!

•Cole Strandberg is a bizarre violent felon who is charged with murder. The “Behind Bars” announcer calls him the jail’s most dangerous inmate.

I call him my first choice for a solo trip to Mars.

•Inmate Michael Painter uses the sink phone to communicate with his girlfriend, Maggie May Tyler, who is locked up a floor below Painter.

Painter places a roll of toilet paper over the drain hole in his sink. Then he puts his lips to the tube and hollers.

Meanwhile, Maggie puts an ear to her own sink phone to hear Painter’s words of love reverberate through the jailhouse plumbing.

I consider telling Apple about this ingenious new communications device. That is, until Painter explains why the sink phone will never replace the iPhone.

If other inmates flush their toilets, says Painter, “you can taste pretty much … other people’s fecal matter.”

This is what I’d label a wrong distance call.

•Speaking of communication devices … Two cell phones are removed from the brassiere of a very large woman who is being booked into jail.

She must be on that TT&T service plan.

•The CRT assembles again. This time they must remove an inmate who hasn’t showered in two weeks. The announcer tells us that the man has been using his cell walls and floor as a toilet.

Message to the CRT: Clark quits!

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at

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