Rocky draped himself over the stool, slipping languidly into a monologue.

"I had 13 confirmed kills. I received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. I spent three years ducking bullets. And I had a wife and a child. I had it all and lost it all."

The burly, strawberry-haired young man continued his tale of Vietnam and the aftermath of drug smuggling days in Latin America, staring at the cluster of men hunched over easels, sketching his portrait.

"I just realized at the age of 31, I can't go on living like this."

Rocky is an inmate at the Fairfax County Jail and, like the men in faded blue fatigues around him, he participates in the jail's art program.

Twice a week the same group of men convene in a second floor room at the jail to meet with art instructor Ina Schecter. They sketch, they paint oils, they paint watercolors and they talk.

"I'm screaming inside. I'm one of those statistic, I'm 24 and I've spent the last seven years in an institution," said another inmate, anxiously shifting from one foot to the other. "I would cut off by hands if I didn't have to live here. This is no type of life to live."

Armed with little more than a paintbrush, Schecter said she approached jail officials six years ago with the idea of teaching art classes in the jail. jSchector, who was an art and administration of justice student at American University at the time, was convinced that art would be one solution to the tedium and depression that pervades daily jail life.

"These guys have terrible selfimages, despite all the parding of power you might suspect," Schecter said. "My point in teaching the art classes is to surprise them with their own capabilities.

"I'm not a bleeding heart. I realize there are some men here who will never be rehabilitated. But we must certanily do something about those who can change. We can't keep shepherding them through the gates and right back."

Sgt. Katherine Murphy, director of programs at the jail, said more than 75 percent of inmates at the jail are repeat offenders and more than 95 percent are there because of a drug- or alcohol-related crime.

One older man in Schecter's class stole a bank to buy drugs. Stole a bank, not robbed a bank. A former public relations man and a newspaper copy editor, the man, who is in his 40s, hitched a temporary mobile bank to the back of his car one night. Tooling pleasantly down the highway, he was pulled over by the police because there was not "Caution -- Wide Load" sticker on the back of the trailer.

He never discovered how much money was in his wide load.

For the first time in six years, Schecter, who also taught art classes at Arlington County jail for three years, is part of the paid staff at the Fairfax jail. Matching state and county grants allow her an annual salary of $5,000.

"People are always talking abut the Fairfax County Jail being a country club. But look around," she suggested. "Look at the men's schedule, see how much fun it is to be here."

There are more than 250 men and five women in the jail. Some are awaiting trial, some are there until sentencing and some are serving time for misdemeanors. Whatever their status, they all wait and eat in cell blocks that house four to six individuals. They cannot return to their bunks from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. A couple of chairs and a television set furnish the block.

"It's that constant blaring of the tube that drives some of them crazy," Schecter explained. Schecter said she encourages her students to take their art pads back to their cells and sketch, sketch and sketch again.

Schecter said she never fears being alone with the inmates. Last year Schecter said she tried substitute teaching in Northern Virginia school -- for three days -- and barely came out intact.

"The kids are 10 times worse than the inmates. There was wholesale destruction of art supplies. One kid threw scissors at me. Another chopped up all the art materials. There was a total disregard of classroom aims," Schecter said.

"I couldn't wait to get back to the jail where there was more respect, caring and camaraderie than there was in that high school classroom."