Sixteen years ago, D.C. Juvenile Court Judge John D. Fauntleroy was sent to prison, stripped naked, searched for drugs and other contraband, issued a blue jump suit and crammed into a crowded dormitory with 39 other inmates at Lorton Reformatory's Central Facility.
After the "dehumanizing" experience, Fauntleroy thought that if he had had the power, "I surely would have done something about it."
Fauntleroy spent only a day at Lorton as part of a law enforcement workshop. Today he returns to Lorton, this time as a new special assistant to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry responsible for overseeing the city's compliance with court orders to improve living conditions at the facility.
"I'll give it my best shot," said Fauntleroy, who left the Superior Court bench in October. "The mayor said if I saw that we were slipping at all, that I was to come to him and he will back me to the hilt," Fauntleroy said.
He was appointed to his new post on Friday in a surprise decision by U.S. District Court Judge June L. Green that staved off for at least six months the appointment of a "special master" to run the facility.
Green, who in March found the city in contempt of court for failing to bring the prison into compliance with her orders, had previously said that only a "miracle" would stop her from naming her own independent specialist to monitor Central's operation.
Fauntleroy's appointment came after the city and attorneys for inmates at Central reached a compromise by which Fauntleroy will have "unlimited access" to the mayor and other top city officials in an attempt to coordinate the city's efforts to abide by court orders at Central, Lorton's Maximum and Youth Center I facilities and the D.C. Jail.
Fauntleroy, 65, spent three years as a Juvenile Court judge and 12 years as a D.C. Superior Court judge before retiring in 1983. He served as an active retired judge until last fall.
Fauntleroy said his 24-hour imprisonment in June 1970 was "a unique experience. Certainly I gained a lot of insight into what goes on in a prison." After the experience, he said, he was more inclined to sentence young offenders to probation or "some type of intensive supervision program if there was some hope of turning them around" rather than to send them to Lorton.
In a Washington Post article about the day-long lockup, he was quoted as saying, "I just cannot imagine a system like this . . . . It was better in the Army in 1943. They're still operating at the 1850 level here."
He recalled that drugs and rapes were major problems at Central and that inmates were appointed to watch over him and four other judges who became inmates along with prosecutors, parole officers, lawyers and placement officers.
Yesterday, Fauntleroy remembered that he ate meals with the prisoners and slept in a dormitory with cots about 30 inches apart.
"They had an open latrine in the back," he said. "They knew we were coming, so they must have cleaned things up a little."
Despite that, he said, conditions at Central were "not up to par, the way I think a prison should have been."
Fauntleroy said he was first approached for the job by Herbert Reid, Barry's legal counsel and a close political adviser. Fauntleroy said he first talked with Barry about the post last Tuesday and the mayor "didn't have to twist my arm. I knew I was interested in the job," which pays $61,978 a year.
"The judge and I are old friends," said Reid. "When I gave his name to the mayor, [Barry] agreed right away. He was our first choice, and I was absolutely tickled that he accepted."
An easygoing, soft-spoken man, Fauntleroy said that he was neither a personal friend nor an active supporter of the mayor but that he had been particularly impressed with Barry's repeated promise to back him in attempts to ensure compliance with court orders.
In a statement issued Friday, Barry called Fauntleroy "an outstanding jurist who has a history of fairness and the highest of integrity." Fauntleroy will "provide me with a means to ensure compliance with court orders," said the mayor, adding that Fauntleroy "will be identifying actual or potential problem areas and secure application of the District's resources through the direct authority of myself."
A new comprehensive compliance plan given to Green says that the city must hire a corrections expert to work with Fauntleroy as a consultant, a team that Peter Nickles, an attorney for Central inmates, said is the "best of all possible worlds, if it works."
Fauntleroy said, "I didn't know about any consultant," but he added that "it is a good idea. It will be good to bounce some ideas off his head."
Born at 15th and U streets NW, Fauntleroy attended law school two blocks away at the old Robert H. Terrell Law School and graduated at the age of 20 after abandoning plans to be a printer.
He worked for the government for a year before joining the Army and fighting in three World War II campaigns in Italy.
When he returned home in December 1945, he opened his own law office at 613 F St. NW and specialized in civil law cases, he said.
He decided that he might one day need an undergraduate degree so he enrolled at American University and received a degree in political science in 1953. "It took me nine years to get that degree," he said. "I took one course a semester, year-round, but I finally got it."
In his new job he expects to spend the next two weeks reading all the documents related to the prison situation, he said.
"I hope to have this job done within a year," he said. "Right now I have to get a handle on the problem. I am anxious to get my teeth into it."