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For prison’s neighbors, Blagojevich’s upcoming arrival is not big news

By Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune –

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Outside the walls of the federal prison here, say the name Rod Blagojevich and you get only the slightest hint of recognition.

Blagovich? Blagonavich?

“You mean the one who didn’t do it,” a local bartender asked sarcastically in reference to Blagojevich’s refusal to admit wrongdoing. “I don’t know what he didn’t do. But he didn’t do it.”

For sure some here recall the broad strokes of the crimes that will bring Blagojevich on Thursday to this sprawling suburban Denver neighborhood where the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood is located. Some know about the sale of a U.S. Senate seat, others just that he was a crooked politician.

Either way, his arrival has not caused much of a stir.

“It don’t bother me none,” said Harold Topping, 85, standing outside his home near the edge of the prison property. “He ought to be in prison, that sucker. He’s a Chicago thug. It will suit him very much.”

FCI Englewood, a campus of low-rise tan buildings and stretches of open fields, is tucked snugly into an unincorporated neighborhood of Jefferson County about 15 miles southwest of Denver. Although named Englewood and often referred to as Littleton, it is technically not located in either nearby town.

It is home to both a low-security prison — where Blagojevich will serve his 14-year sentence for corruption — as well as a minimum-security prison camp.

The prison is the unusual element in an otherwise residential area. It backs up to houses and ball fields, across the street from a high school and off a busy intersection.

A neat and tidy enclave of newer homes sits just across a one-lane road to the south, a statuesque guard house at the entrance to Englewood visible from the quiet streets. To the east and west of the prison, there are older homes.

The majestic snow-capped Rockies line the western view.

And of course, there is the added element of Colorado wildlife — the coyote, foxes and playful prairie dogs that pop in and out of the dusty dirt fields near the prison entrance.

Neighbors interviewed this week don’t seem to give the prison much attention. They do recall a few funny stories. Inmates who made a run for it, though that hasn’t happened in years, they said. Or the time a kite that blew across the fence and was recovered and promptly returned by a prison employee.

When Penny Esenberg’s family moved to the Lake Borrough neighborhood in 1972, the prison across Kipling Street was the sole institution in the area.

“It was just all by itself out here,” said Esenberg, standing in the backyard of the family home.

Since then more homes have been built as well as a high school, she said.

Golf courses have also sprung up around the prison — so close that sometimes golfers can see the inmates exercising, said Donald Rosier, the commissioner for that area of Jefferson County.

Esenberg, 50, recalled when she was a child in the 1970s, her sister arrived home from school to find an inmate sitting on the neighbor’s slanted roof. He was soon scooped up by the prison.

“One climbed up the smoke stack,” said her father, Elmer Nichols, 82. “He just wanted to look at the mountains.”

Topping, who lives on the other end of the prison, is separated from the grounds by a small golf course.

A few years ago Topping’s nephew set out for a jog around the golf course and somehow wound up in a running group — of inmates.

“That was real funny,” Topping said with a smile. “He said he noticed everybody had the same color jogging suit.”

A whistle of a guard ended his nephew’s run with felons, and he was escorted off the property.

Much of this — the traffic, the scampering prairie dogs, ball fields, golf courses and the majestic mountains — will be seen and heard from a short but painful distance for Blagojevich.

“I don’t guess he’ll get to get out and play much golf,” Nichols said.

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