It was the old story of the father who had dreamed that someday his son would have what he himself had been denied - a college education.
Seeing the dream come true yesterday, Nathaniel Wooten looked proud and proud and paternal, and it scarcely seemed to matter that his son was doing 10 to 30 years in prison for kidnaping and assault with intent to kill.
"I have always had faith in him and I always will, "said the senior Wooten, assistant manager of the Gangplank Restaurant on the Southwest waterfront. Little mistakes here and little misakes there don't change that."
The son, Ronald Wooten, probably will not be eligible for parole until 1983, but he has hopes of becoming a medical doctor or an urban planner after he re-emerges. Yesterday Wooten was one of 20 prisoners awarded degrees by the University of the District of Columbia in the first comencemene ceremony even held at the Lorton prison.
"When I first came here," said Wooten, who wore traditional black academic gown topped by a maroon Moslem Fez, "my condition in terms of desiring academic pursuits was nil." Since his imprisonment in 1974. Wooten has accumulated 96 credits, enough for the degree he was awarded yesterday, associate of arts in urban studies.
As a guard thrust his hand forward to offer congratulations, Nathaniel Wooten confidently predicted, "One day he'll be somebody. He's well on the way now."
"It's a hellified situation down here," said Don Johnson, a 25-year old parolee who began his college education at Lorton and was back yesterday to see Wooten and other get their degrees. "You may have a close friend and you wake up and he's got a hatcht in his had . . . It's a hellified situation but there's a lot of individuals that are striving to better themselves."
"I used to tell my friends," You may consider me an inmate of Lorton but I consider myself a stdent at the UDC Lorton Extension Program," said Johnson, a convicted forger who now works part time as a clerk for the Washington Gas Light Co. while studying chemistry at UDC. Johnson hopes to go to medical school after he gets his bachelor's degree.
The UDC Lorton extension program was started in 1969 with money from the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. All classes are taught inside the prison itself, and to date 28 inmates who began their college educations in the program have gone on the get bachelor's degrees.
Mayor Walter E. Washington was yesterday's commencement speaker, and he used the occasion to condemn the D.C. City Council for failing to enact a $60 million program of Lorton Improvements first proposed in 1972. (But a mayoral spokesperson later conceded that the measure may, in fact, have never been sent to the current council in the first place. And David Clarke, chairman of the council's judiciary committee, said he could not remember seeing such a proposal from the mayor since 1974.)
Washingto laudde the UDC program at Lorton, in which 300 prisoners are now enrolled, for helping "break in cycle of crime, arrest and incarceration." He defended security in the city's correctional institutions, noting that there had been no escapes since July 1977. And he defended the Department of Corrections' furlough program. Fewer than one percent to furloughed prisoners have been rearrested or failed to return to their institution on time, the mayor said."One of our young (Lorton) men was playing Jesus in a play at St. Stephen's Church," said Mayor Washington, "and he came back (to the prison) a little late . . . The community wants to know from me nor what happened to (the) 99 percent (that return on time) but what happened to Jesus."
The other principal speaker was inmate William Biggs, one of yesterday's degree recipients. Biggs' speech, although marred by problems with sound equipment and interupted bu screaming babies ob two occasions, drew resounding applause when he told the audience, "Unlike the great general Douglas MacArthur, after having once passed through, we shall not return."
As the graduates poured out of the Lorton Chapel, a UDC faculty member and veteran of many commencements noted one unusual feature of yesterday's ceremonies at Lorton: "At least all of the graduates were here," he said approvingly.