STEVE ROCHELLE, a surveyor with a civil engineering firm begins his nights by going to jail. After leaving work, he stops for something to eat and then drives to the jail in Arlington. He walks past the guard at the desk and announces himself to the intercom - "Rochelle returning from work." A door opens and Rochelle steps into a room. He takes off his watch and empties the contents of his pocket. Everything is placed in a small bag and then he goes into another room where he takes off all his clothes, standing naked while a guard looks him over. Rochelle, after all, is a criminal. In 1970, he trespassed.

The guard looks under his arm and through his hair and under his feet and even makes him bend over like an army recruit at a physical. Rochelle is a big man, 6 feet 7 inches tall. He has the beginning of a red beard, which he is growing because the jailhouse razor blades are too dull for his liking, and he has an artifical arm - a hook. For all that, he is something of a pussycat, the kind of guy women cook hot lunches, for and others say, as one did, that he's "sweet." He is.

Anyway, after being searched, he dresses and then goes to the cell he shares with five other men in the work-release program and changes into his prison clothes. The others watch television, but Rochelle tries to get some sleep. He has to be up early. In the morning, he has to be back at work.

In his own way, Steve Rochelle is something of an anachronism - maybe the last of the Vietnam war protestors. That's why he's in jail. That's what the trespassing charge is all about - a college sit-in. Steve Rochelle is a domestic version of one of the Japanese soldiers who are found still fighting World War II, a nostalgia trip back to the days when you denounced the "system" and locked arms with someone else and sang something about not being moved.

It happened in 1970 - April to be more specific, the month of the Cambodian invasion and the killings at Kent State. Rochelle was a student at Madison College in Harrisonburg, Va., one of the students to sit in at what amounted to the administration building. You know the script. The dean came along with the usual bullhorn and made the usual statement about trespassing and the cops arrested everyone - 29 in all. Somehow, though, they missed Rochelle and he had to go into town and sort of give himself up. He and the others were found guilty, fined $50 and sent on their way.

But Rochelle and three others appealed. They saw some constitutional question involved - the right to assemble, for instance, and they wound up having a jury trial. Again they were found guilty, but instead of a $50 fine they now had to pay a $500 fine - and face six months in jail. The appeals continued. Ford went back to Michigan. The appeals continued.Carter became president. The appeals ran out. Rochelle and the others were ordered to jail. The judge said something about the integrity of the judicial process and how seven years did not change that. You can see this point.

You can see how the judge could feel that way and you could see how it should not matter that the likes of Mark Rudd are walking free. You can see also how it should not matter that everyone is doing "where are they now" stories about the campus radicals and how they are now selling insurance or peddling new religions or surfacing, as Mark Rudd did recently, to rejoin society. Well, this should not matter, but somehow it does and it seems just plain stupid that every night in Arlington a man goes to jail for a campus sit-in concerning a war that is now over.

So Rochelle's friends have this letter-writing campaign going, sending off appeals to the governor asking for a pardon, some of them, you can bet, strident in tone. There is none of that in Rochelle himself. In fact, he is something of a disappointment. You want him to fill your notebook with stories of how he is afraid to sleep at night, for fear of what his cellmates will do, but he sleeps just fine and fears no one. He get along fine with his cellmates.

You want him to yell and scream about the injustice of it all - about how he has been penalized for appealing - and you want him to describe what it is like to have your freedom taken from you, that feeling I used to have, for instance, whenever I returned to my Army post after a weekend pass. It must be something like that. Rochelle says it is, but he says little more and what fury there is within him seeps out only occasionally - just in words like "framed," which is not quite what happened to him anyway.

So now Rochelle and I are standing in the jailhouse parking lot and he is about to go in. He turns and goes up the stairs and into the building and then past the guard. I know the routine because he has told me and I try to imagine what is going on. I can imagine it all - the search the cell, even the breakfast in the morning. There's just one thing I can't imagine.

I can't imagine why he's in jail.