Sometime this week, the rich aroma of fresh popcorn will waft through the musty confines of the Alexandria Jail -- thanks to Sheriff Michael Norris.
"When they smell it," Norris said, "they're bound to like it I don't know anybody that doesn't like popcorn."
It's all the result of an idea Norris recently had to install a 5-foot-tall popcorn machine in the jail to make life in its spartan atmosphere a little more livable. Fresh popcorn, he said, was something the inmates said they really wanted in an informal poll he conducted.
But that's not the only reason Norris decided to install the machine. It also may help control inmate hoarding of snacks and cigarettes, which they can buy in limited quantities from the jail canteen. Those hoards, he said, often are used for barter or in illegal jailhouse gambling games.
"Popcorn won't present us with that kind of problem," he said. "It has to be readily consumed." In addition, he said, because of health and sanitation concerns, the popcorn probably won't be permitted in cellblocks.
All the same, inmates think it's a swell idea.
"Anything that will add [to the variety] is an improvement," said Glen Evans, 30, who is awaiting trial on charges of forgery and passing a forged check. "... It would be a good deal."
Jail officials are still debating how to sell the popcorn. But Norris has no doubts it will be a hot item in the canteen's inventory. Some jails where popcorn is sold have made good profits from it, he said.
"Whatever money we make will go back to the inmates," he said, noting that the $1,000-a-month profit the canteen already turns is used to buy basketballs, Ping-Pong tables, televisions and other items for the inmates' use.
The $200 popcorn machine, which will both pop and bag the corn, is scheduled to arrive later this week. It probably will be placed in the storage room with the "canteen," which is nothing more than a cart carrying cardboard boxes stuffed with items like candy bars, potato chips, toothpaste and Christmas cards. The machine's cost will be paid out of canteen profits, too, officials said.
The idea of popcorn in jails doesn't sit very well with officials of neighboring jails, however.
"Popcorn -- no way in here," said Capt. James F. Morris Jr., chief of logistics and services for the Fairfax County Detention Center. He said he won't allow popcorn because it's a "heck of a greasy mess."
Spokesmen for the D. C. Jail and the Arlington County Adult Detention Center agree. They don't sell popcorn in their inmate canteens because it's too much trouble, they said.
Norris doesn't see it that way, however. In fact, he's already come up with another new idea for the canteen: selling 12-ounce cans of soft drinks.
They will go on sale later this week, and Norris expects they will sell well. After all, jail officials reason, the inmates surely will need something cold to wash down all that salty popcorn.