From Mortuary Transporter to JonBenét Ramsey Suspect: An Interview with JT Colfax, Part Two
Jason Arment continues his interview with JT Colfax after his time as a mortuary transporter and a JonBenét Ramsey suspect, and talks about his experiences in various jails.
To read Part One of this interview, click here.
[JT Colfax:] There were two major times of jail in my life. One shorter, and one ridiculously long. The first one was nine months. I stabbed someone in Denver.
[Jason Arment:] Why?
[JT Colfax:] I was kind of crazy at the time. Had that been successful, there could have been more.
What were you fed up with, anyway?
I was living off of my brother, and he had a girlfriend or wife.
So, you’re telling me, if Reagan hadn’t closed institutions beneficial to the mentally unstable, you might not have stabbed someone?
Yeah. There was nowhere to go. And I never could be homeless. I’ve done it, but I can’t do it as well and professionally as some people can.
One time, it was Christmas, and I was homeless in Seattle. I woke up in the morning after a disastrous storm, under an awning or something where it’s dry, and there is this young do-gooder bringing meals to these two bums under another awning. I woke up and saw him and I was starving, but I couldn’t bring myself to say, “Hey man, can I have one?” And he had a carload of them. I was lying on the sidewalk, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for one.
I can’t protect myself when I’m homeless.
You don’t know how to use a knife?
Uh, yeah, that’s how I got to jail. I actually used two knives.
All the other jails I’ve been in—I’ve been to a million of them for small, short periods of time. You get busted for drunkenness on a Friday night. Monday is a holiday, and then you get out on Tuesday.
After the judge sees you.
So, you do four days. I’ve done a lot of those. Or just, overnight, or whatever. I’ve seen a lot of them, like LA County, Atlanta. Atlanta was 11 days. But the Denver County Jail was a good chunk, at nine months. It was an old-fashioned jail, with the bars you can clank your cup on.
When did you finally settle in?
Not during the nine months. It might have been a catalyst for what I did later and ended up in the Boulder County Jail for so long. In the Denver County Jail, it was right out of a movie. Rough, rough jail life behind bars. I saw the most, it’s sick to say it, but the most beautiful piece of violence I’ve ever seen in jail before.
It was against a bum. When it was time to go to the gym, all the doors opened. And if you stupidly walked like, “Yay! It’s gym time!” and walk away from your cell too fast, someone could rush into your cell while you’re going toward the main doors to get out, and grab things. We had cigarettes then, and those were extremely valuable. It happened to me, and then I realized, “Okay, don’t rush away from your cell. Just get out of it.” It happened to others. We all realized who it was: the bum.
People put together a plan. He was standing next to the basketball court, just watching the game. You could sense it was going to happen. They made this giant play where the ball was thrown to someone whose arm reached up above the guy’s head, grabbed it, and mashed it into his face so hard. Blood went flying everywhere!
The man was desperately hurt by this, completely knocked out. And to think all the throwing the ball to get over there was orchestrated. It was magic. Also very fearful, like, “Don’t let this happen to you.”
What was it like being processed in?
I don’t remember getting processed in that jail. I do remember they got a new machine after I’d been there for a long time, and it seemed like a big giant ordeal that we all had to go through reprocessing. I think we were wearing lanyards with our pictures and info, and now we had to go and get our pictures taken again and get wristbands. There is something about doing stuff like that, it’s just so boring that it’s excruciating. Even though you don’t have anything going on in life at all, it’s just so boring that you don’t want to cooperate.
Other moments during that period: there was a rapist in there. Everyone kind of liked him because he was so special needs that he didn’t carry the stigma. He was so deeply special needs that he was like Hoss Cartwright from the old Bonanza show. As in, he was huge! He ripped the payphone out of the wall once. And the story was, when he was caught he was in the girls room at a little community baseball park in Five Points, which at that time was a very segregated Black neighborhood. And he’s white as can be with cowboy boots, and hanging around a little girls room. And the entire crowd is Black, and he goes there and tries to get with some little girl.
The entire crowd turns on him and beats him. It’s one of those cases, like Richard Ramirez the Night Stalker, where he was glad when the police got there.
Speaking of Richard Ramirez. On one of my little visits to the LA County Jail where I did some tiny amount of time, four or five days, I was in a hallway with a hundred people going to chow. We all got ordered to stick our noses against the wall, but I did bend and look—it was Richard Ramirez being marched past us. They just made us not look so no one would freak out and do anything to him.
I was in a hallway with a hundred people going to chow. We all got ordered to stick our noses against the wall, but I did bend and look—it was Richard Ramirez being marched past us. They just made us not look so no one would freak out and do anything to him.
But anyway, back to Denver. There was a white supremacist who made all kind of news for shooting a hairdresser and then hiding in a school, but I wasn’t in town when the news happened. But I was aware that he was a famous inmate. His name was Maxwell Thomas. I heard through the grapevine that, when he went to prison, he ended up in Colorado’s famous inmate equestrian program, and that he punched his horse in the face.
In the past, you’ve spoken a little bit about the child predators who are in jail. What are they like?
For the most part, they’re treated like shit, and amazingly everyone knows who they are almost immediately. Sometimes it’s obvious: you saw them on the news last night and then they come walking in. Inmates love to watch the news and see who is coming. People will flip out when they’re cell is half empty and then the predator comes walking in with his mattress and belongings. People will go, “Fuck no! FUCK NO!” and immediately make a ruckus. And usually it’s such a ruckus the guards realize they have to put them in some other pod completely, because the inmate makes a ruckus that everyone knows loud and clear what this guy did, if they didn’t already.
One time, in Denver, I was handcuffed to a guy. It went by alphabetical order. We had to get on a bus to go to court. The jail was quite out of town. We had to go all the way downtown on the bus. I was handcuffed to a guy who was all over the news because his mother ran a daycare and he worked with her, and whatever she was doing, I can’t remember what exactly, it was all wrong too, fraudulent or something. And he was molesting tons of the kids. At any given moment, there were a lot of kids there. And she was as sheepish as you can get.
I’d never felt so uncomfortable. I was really new to the jail and being in jail for any length of time. I didn’t say anything, but people were looking at him left and right, and muttering, and I hated it, hated it! If I’d have been more seasoned, I probably would have done something. Later, I did things to people.
Let’s leave Denver. I was in the Boulder County Jail for 2.7 years. For that, I do remember getting processed in because of various reasons: one, it took forever, and two, because this other guy who was sitting there turned out to be, I can’t remember which name it was, but he was a guy from a band called Firefall. I remember them very well, from the ’70s. When he told me that, I was like, “Oh yeah! ‘Just remember, I love you!’” and I mentioned one other song. He was happy that they were both written by him. They had one other hit song which was written by someone else, and there was bitterness because of it.
Nine months later, when he was getting out, they let him go from pod to pod and play his songs. It was very funny to have all these men standing and going, “Play ‘Just Remember I Love You!’” but, I digress.
You had mentioned you’d started knocking on pedophiles’ windows?
That was my totally unique idea, and I’m sickly proud of it, I don’t know why. It was the most passive way of really wrecking someone’s day.
You could go out to the yard. It was only an hour. You went out to the yard and there was a track that ran close to the windows. You’re not supposed to go up to the windows, and if you went up to someone’s window, like a friend’s window, and tried to do a bunch of signs, the guards would see what you were doing and stop you. And if you kept doing it, you’d really get in trouble.
I formulated the idea that if everyone just goes up to this pedophile’s window and does a gentle little knock on his window, the guards really aren’t paying enough attention to notice. So, this pedophile would be sitting in his cell all day, except for his hour to be out in the yard, laying there all day. I’d spread this to other pods, and every few minutes … knock, knock, knock.
He would just get in the little slash of a window with his angriest face, and there wasn’t a goddamn thing he could do about it. The best thing he could have done would have been to stay in bed and not show us, because the more you show us it’s irritating, the more we do it. I think we drove him mad. You could see him age.
There was another. One time I was in the hole, and there was a newsworthy pedophile in there. He was a teacher. His name was David White, and he floated like a butterfly. He must have been five foot five, weighed nothing. He molested little girls in his class, a lot of them.
In the hole, one person at a time gets out for their hour. Our light switches were on the outside of the cell. If a guard went by, you could ask them to turn your light on or off, or any inmate who happened to be doing their hour out there. And he came out for his hour and floated right up to my door and asked me if I would like to have my light turned on. I leaped out of my bed and screamed it at the top of my lungs, “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!”
I was utterly galled by the idea that he didn’t walk around or anything, he came right to me, and I had to rebuke him. Not that we could fight or anything, but I had to show correction to anyone else who is listening that you just don’t come over and hang out and do me a little favor. I don’t want you to talk to me. He was stunned by my horrible rudeness, but to me it was hideous that he thought he could make overtures of friendship to me. It was enraging!
Then, I started making up songs about him and torturing him with words every day. Him, and there was also a school bus driver in there, I forget his name. I used to sing that song, “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round,” in a flat tuba-like way, and everyone in there knew who I was talking about. That guy never said a word to anyone.
I still hate David White to this day, for coming down those stairs and coming right over to me like we were going to be best buds.
Do you think he heard about the JonBenét Ramsey stuff? Or do you think it was something he made up in his mind? Or what?
It’s possible he saw me as a fellow person in the media and thought we should be together, or something. Over a year and a half later, after he’d already been in prison, he came back. Everyone comes back for various things. Sometimes it’s a divorce, or a reconsideration at court. Things like that. He came back, and he had a huge beard and was totally trying to disguise himself. And he was in the pod next to mine, which had a window allowing us to see each other.
I started stuffing notes under the door. Sometimes this one guy who I used to know that went over to that pod would stuff them back over and block my communication. But other notes were picked up, so I was sure other people over there knew. It was some kind of twelve-step type pod, and also a place to hide snitches. But I made sure some people in his pod knew.
And that is the thing: there is always someone like me who makes sure someone like them has their story outed. It becomes a duty. Even if you’re not tough enough to fight, or you just can’t reach them because they’re on the other side of a door! Someone else can be reached.
Also on The Big Smoke
- From Mortuary Transporter to JonBenét Ramsey Suspect: An Interview with JT Colfax
- An Interview with Crisosto Apache: “How I Walk Around in This Country Is Very Complex”
- Poetry and Sex Work: An Interview with Dylan Krieger
- Falling Down a Deep, Narrow Hole: An Interview with Matthew Borczon
You were there a long time. There has to be turnover. What is it like to be there the longest time?
So many people left and went to prison, and then they would come back for whatever reason. Reconsideration: after they’ve been in prison for a year, then they’re eligible to come back and see the judge and see if they’ll adjust the sentence. And they’ll walk in, and all the inmates are new to them but me. They’d come right over to me and say, “My god! I can’t believe you’re still here!” And they would all uniformly tell me I’d be having such a better time if I was in prison.
What were the upsides?
In prison, you can go to the library, go here or there, do stuff. You don’t have the babyish antics that exist in jail. You’ve got a TV in your room, and all kinds of things. There were two TVs in the big pod in Boulder, hanging on the wall with about 25 seats in front of each one.
It would be really rare to find me sitting in one of those seats. You couldn’t hear well, and it would be so annoying. If the show 48 Hours was on about the Ramsey case, then, yeah, I’d be there. Or maybe if everyone went to the yard and The Simpsons was on and there was no one around, then I’d watch that, because I could hear it. But other than that, no.
They’d play movies sometimes, but I wouldn’t even watch them. I’d sit in my room. Sling Blade played, and I found the noise of it really annoying while I sat in my pod. Later in life, I watched it and thought it was a fabulous movie.
I just don’t like watching movies with people.
Was there strict racial segregation where you were at compared to what I’ve heard about in Federal Prison?
There were hardly anyone but white people in Boulder.
How were the guards? Were they nice? Were they mean?
Most of them were very nice. Some of them were ridiculously nice. There were a couple of mental cases. There was one named Laury with red hair who was an absolute OCD mental case. Just absolutely insane. There was a woman named Linda Rogers who was just sweet as can be. I know she is retired now, so I’ll say, she used to hire inmates to work on her house after they got out. I liked her a lot. She used to toss my room every now and then. I’d have like six blankets in there. She’d throw them off the tier. Ideally, she is going to come along and collect everything she throws from the upper rooms and get it out of the pod. But as she gets down to the end, before she goes downstairs to collect it all, I just simply grab my stuff and go up to the other end of the tier and wait for her to go down the stairs and go right back in my room and build my nest again.
There was a guy named James O’Brien. He was fun. He was a very immature young guy, at the time. I remember once, lockdown was either 9:00 or 9:30, whichever it was, he let us stay out another fifteen minutes because the band KISS was going to appear on some special program that was on. Obviously, he was very into them. I hate them. He could have gotten in big trouble for that, if a bigwig came by and we’re all still out watching the TV. He is the one, when I started writing letters that were put online each day as soon as they arrived to someone who would put them up, he was the one who converted one of the jail’s computers over and let me look at my website.
He was funny and had a sense of humor and everything, but much later in life, he and another officer were doing overtime of some kind. He wasn’t on the jail staff anymore. I think you start in jail and move to the streets. He and another officer were on overtime doing drunk duty, picking up drunks. They stuffed a guy into some kind of cabinet in a van they were driving. The man was extremely intoxicated, and they put him in upside down and drove him for nearly twenty minutes to some detox center. When they got there, he was dead.
It was proven he died from being stuffed in the cabinet. Although they tried to argue he died from intoxication. They lost their case, and now O’Brien, my former guard, the death happened in 2018 and then it dragged on. Last year, I think, in 2021, he was sentenced to about 5 and a half years in prison.
It’s really a strange thing to watch your old guard go to prison. And the weirdest sense, some of the nastiest pigs in the worlds who I would love to see go to prison, they don’t go. They don’t get caught. And this guy, I don’t wish him to suffer in the way he could be suffering. But, whatever.
When he stuffed the guy in the cabinet—it’s all on film that hasn’t been released by the way—they say he smacked his hands together like, “All in a night’s work.” I can see him doing that in my mind. And you know, you get what you get. He should have known better.
Would you say, “You get what you fucking deserve?”
Well, yeah. Five and a half years is a bargain.
You were communicating with the media while you were inside. Will you talk a little bit about that?
I communicated with the media all the time while I was there. I went on the radio so frequently it was unbelievable. The jail took memos if someone called, like a family member or anyone. So, this one guy, and other media as well, from a radio station would say, “Call tomorrow!” And sometimes I would think that those messages got lost, but other times I would get them. And I would call.
I communicated with the media all the time while I was there. I went on the radio so frequently it was unbelievable. The jail took memos if someone called, like a family member or anyone.
I would only be on briefly because you could only talk for 15 minutes before it would hang up, and those calls were expensive. But the radio station would accept them. And sometimes he would accept a subsequent call, so we would talk for nearly half an hour.
It was excruciating when they would have to play a commercial, and it would be like, damn, there would go so much of this time. That and various gossip columns in the local alternative weekly, and in The Denver Post, and very occasionally in the other Denver paper, the Rocky Mountain News at the time. And sometimes in the Boulder paper. And the Longmont paper, but very rarely. They did not take my antics lightly.
How would you pick out what ideas you would send the media? I saw one where you were picking out items on the lunch menu.
I picked it by any possible thing I could mock the jail with. Typos on the commissary list that said “white power donuts” instead of powdered. Which I was told had been there for like ten years. I was disappointed that the media didn’t show that piece of the commissary list that I sent, but they did mention it. And it was corrected, by the way, like a month later. Anything that would hook people. I just made myself a clown and made it so I was a joker rather than a corpse-abusing arsonist.
Denver, of course, has Bronco mania. Denver went to the Super Bowl at one point, so a memo was hung up that said, “Due to the Super Bowl, we will not be having hot meals.” So, I sent that in. It’s just so obvious. The media is just so desperate about the Broncos. Then, when you mix in me and jail, of course they’re going to put that in. It’s only a column paragraph about it, but it was obvious that was going to go in.
There was a really nice columnist for The Denver Post, his name was Dick Kreck. I used to get a good bit of things in with him. He was a very funny and nice man—his column was great. It wasn’t like I could do daily or weekly things with him. I couldn’t overdo it. But, one time, I made a mistake addressing something to him. It came back. He was on the mailing list that night, and the guards were going, “Jim Jones, Dave Smith, Dick Kreck … DICK KRECK!”
And Dick Kreck was, of course, not showing up for his mail. Of course, I told him that, and he included that detail in his column. He got a kick out of that.
The biggest thing I did was during an election. I plotted on it for months and months. It was the primary election for the Democratic Primary for a U.S. Senate seat. The two Democratic candidates vying for it were a man named Gil Romero from Pueblo, Colorado, who no one knew, and a woman named Dottie Lamm. She was the wife of the former Governor, the former First Lady of Colorado, and she used to write a column for The Denver Post. And he had three or four terms—Governor forever. She ran harping on nonstop that she should have this Senate Primary win on the basis that she had statewide name recognition, and nothing else.
I gathered so many inmates to help me to increase her statewide name recognition. We would go to the library and take all the cards for junk mail out of the magazines. We’d all fill them out, and do various things to put Dotti Lamm Colfax, we could spell Kolfax or make it Polish as Zolfax, just a billion ways so that reading machines at counting houses couldn’t be like, “Something is wrong here.” We made places all over the state receive junk mail under the basic name Dotti Lamm Colfax. Of course, I kept a list, a neatly made list of all the places that were receiving this junk mail.
I had the librarian make a copy of that list, and as the election drew near, I mailed that list and the story of increasing her statewide name recognition to all sorts of publications. It got picked up in various places, and the radio. But Dick Kreck put it in his column on page two in The Denver Post, which at that time went through all of Colorado, parts of New Mexico, all the way to Idaho, all the way to Wyoming—he put it on page two of The Denver Post on primary morning. I just can’t imagine what Dottie Lamm thought when she saw it. It had to be so hugely embarrassing. Like, how can this damn inmate reach out and do this?
I got grilled by a Sergeant named Bob Meals about how I pulled it off. I made sure to say, “I mean her no personal harm or anything, but she just ran on statewide name recognition. I’m just trying to help her out.” And he said to the media, “He is just trying to make people forget why he is here.” And he had the nerve to say, “He and I are becoming kind of friends,” when I’d talked to him about once before for about five minutes. The things people do to the media is astounding. So, the calls from various things about this media made him want to step into my limelight. It’s just astounding! The things people do about the media, I’ll never get over it.
Were you getting any feedback from the outside world about what you were sending out?
Maybe you might mean, there was a, when I started, a former inmate got out and he started mucking around with the whole Ramsey thing, he thought I was a big pot of gold for him to make a name for himself. He was a junkie, out of control. And he went to Albany, and I wrote to him every day, and then he posted the letters first onto some Ramsey forums, and then onto a website. And that officer, O’Brien, who went to jail for manslaughter, is the one who showed me the website. How would I ever see it?
A lot of the guards were reading my daily mail. It would go out sealed and unbothered, so it would take days for what I wrote to appear, but there was a time when they started shipping me around. I went to three different counties because of supposed “overcrowding” and it was true it was overcrowding, and I’d been there so long. So, I guess it was logical to send me. But on the other hand, it was weird because it always happened that I would be sent, and every single time that I would arrive in a different county.
I went to Gilpin County, and I arrived on the day you could order commissary. That I was too late, that I would arrive on the afternoon, that I would have to order commissary that morning. Which means no stamps for me. And then, be there for a week or two before being moved to Douglas County. What’s the point?
If I’m needed to be out of the Boulder County Jail, why do I need to be now in Douglas County instead of Gilpin County? Same thing. Because now I have stamps in Gilpin County, but now I’m moved to Douglas County on exactly the same day I can’t order stamps. Douglas, Gilpin, and someplace else. It happened three times. There is no way it was an accident. It was a way to block me from reporting. Or I would make extremely expensive phone calls that this junkie of mine could not really deal with.
Well, that’s interesting.
They have their ways. It’s a counter tactic. It works, and there is no way I could prove it.
Is there anything you miss about jail?
Well, the Boulder Jail was a college town jail, with some fun young people. It would have been heaven to me if you could have lived there and gone out and gotten high and had some drinks and then come back. Obviously ridiculous and fantasy, but yeah. To know so many people. It’s an experience people miss, just like college or the military. It’s a once in a lifetime, or maybe a couple. There are a lot of people who miss their jail or prison experiences in some ways. But I don’t miss so much the Denver County Jail. There were moments, and some people. But no, I wouldn’t want to go back there.
What do you remember hating the most?
Really, really loud tension-causing people. And in Boulder there are people who focus on you. People who do stuff to make you angry. There was a guy in Boulder, he wasn’t there for that long, or at least not in my pod for that long. He acted friendly toward me, he smiled at me. He was a big card player. And I wasn’t like a hider in my room, but I just was just, you know, I read a lot, you know, and I’d come out to get water or go socialize or something. And he’d always be at a table that looked up at my room, and he would scream, “Colfax!” and I hated it. I do not need to be announced every time I walk out of my room. And I told him I hated it. And he still kept doing it. So, therefore, I knew he was doing that to draw attention to me in a negative way.
There was something else I was going to ask you. Keep talking.
And incidentally, he was the spitting image of Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island and this, of course, brought out a rage.
We’re missing the most important story of all. Josh Khan. I’ve got to tell you about Joshua Khan. Josh was right there from the beginning. When I got in, I ended up in Special Management because of all the media. I must be insane with starting all the fire at the Ramsey house. And Josh, he was segregated, even in Special Management. He was in one of two special cells in there that were extremely locked down and he was on a mattress on the floor in his underwear with no blanket, no nothing. Eventually, I started, you could open the door to that segregated area, in a little hallway; I would open his meal slot and talk to him. I’d say stupid things like, “It rubs the lotion on its skin.” You’ve got to remember the film was much more recent at the time. And he was just so thrilled with that. I think he hadn’t seen the film, so he thought I was just speaking crazy gibberish and he loved it.
Eventually, he got out of there and was just in the regular area, where 15 cells were. So, he could circulate with me and talk to me. And we hated this one particular hippie, who was very annoying. This particular hippie controlled the TV to a point, like I said, I don’t even care about TV. But the way he controlled the TV made me care, because it made me hate him. And he was a big hippie, and I hated him.
He absolutely flipped out one morning because the funeral of Princess Di was on. He hated that organ music. Whereas, I thought, I wasn’t really watching it, I was walking around, but I thought, “This is kind of amazing. We’re swimming through all this outrageous funeral music.” But he came out of his cell flipping out and turning off the TV.
I told Josh to shit in his hand and throw it at him. He didn’t right then, but later that night, Josh went into his cell. I’d forgotten all about it, but then Josh walked near me and gave me this kind of look, and then he went to the stairs. So, he indicated at me, and I went kind of like, “What?” I could see his hands behind his back, and I saw big giant poo in his hands. And he goes up there and then goes to sleep, but before he throws it in his cell. It’s not too long before lockdown, so everyone goes into their cell. And then the doors close. And then a guard goes by and looks at everyone in their cells, but they’re so stupid they don’t notice anything. Hours into the night, we’re all sleeping. All of a sudden, you get a shuddering scream, when he gets up to piss or something and he finds it.
And the thing is, Josh took to that like a maniac. He began doing it all the time. And he deteriorated very badly. He mostly lived in the hole. And I would go to the hole a lot. I’d get in fights and stuff. And I would see him over there, and send him coffee powder through vents, and he was just deteriorating something awful. And every now and then I’d be in some other pod. I’d see him dragged down the hallway in diapers, and he’s crying and crying, and just a mess.
Well, anyway, eventually, I saw an article in The Denver Post that referred to a new law in Colorado called Josh’s Law that referred to inmates throwing bodily fluids at correctional officers. It’s hard to believe there wasn’t one before, but it was called Josh’s Law. And I can’t find it anymore. Maybe around here I have a clipping, I don’t know. But I definitely saw it and, sickly, that’s another—I don’t know, everything gets twisted around in the inmate world. Did I take advantage of a very mentally ill young man? Yes, I suppose so. But he would have deteriorated anyway.
I was thrilled when I saw it. I did that!
Makes a hell of a cocktail story, I tell you what.