There haven't been any guards at the Prince George's County Correctional Center for the past year. Guards work at a bank. Correctional officers run the innovative -- and controversial -- jail that opened one year ago yesterday. That's the first rule.
In Housing Unit 2, Correctional Officer Joseph X. Lyles, an ex-Marine in a black cap, enforces many rules: No smoking lying down. No items on the wall. No running or yelling. Beds must be made.
Lyles and the center's 200 other officers preside over a jail without bars, a clean, almost unnaturally quiet place where the inmates enjoy endless coffee and juice, exercise bicycles and weight machines, and color television with cable -- if they obey the rules. Otherwise, the privileges are withdrawn, the inmate can be locked in his room for up to 48 hours, or transferred to maximum security, where a different set of rules applies.
"It's all in the environment," said Lyles, 25, who spends his time walking among the inmates or observing them from behind an open console. "If you put these same inmates in the old jail, I don't think they'd act as civilized. I know they wouldn't."
The old jail was legendary. Officers were regularly doused with urine. The rotting smell of "jump steady," the jailhouse wine made of fruit and bread, hung over the filthy, crowded facility. Violence, escapes and sexual assaults were nearly routine. In 1983, a series of articles in The Washington Post exposed the high incidence of rapes there.
"At the old place, you figured you had a good day if you made it without being injured," said Lt. Dan Healey, who was "jumped" by an entire cell block in 1980 and was hurt by inmates several other times. In the old jail, the inmates were in charge and guards rarely entered their domain; now, the officer is the boss.
The new jail, a tan-colored $50 million facility set in a large field in Upper Marlboro, has the appearance of an efficient municipal building. It is regularly described as a state-of-the-art jail, a "new generation" jail, a trailblazer in modern penology. Correction officials from around the country have visited it for ideas.
Inside, it's reminiscent of a modern college dormitory: cream-colored, well-lit hallways, the floors shiny with wax; tan carpeting in the living units, and modular wood furniture made by the inmates. It is far cleaner than anything to be found on a college campus, more like a reform school. "Welcome to our kiddie camp" is the way inmate Mark Wilson, 32, greets visitors to Housing Unit 2.
But so many changes have also triggered a barrage of controversy. There have been three well-publicized escapes and several erroneous inmate releases -- fuel for critics who believe the jail is too lax and too kind to criminals. The facility has been the focus of a political struggle in the county, and its chief promoter, Director Samuel F. Saxton, a former Marine who considers "My Way" his theme song, has come under constant fire. Also, the population at the jail has exploded -- from 590 inmates last February to more than 900 and climbing.
One year after the jail's opening, however, many people contend that the jail and its new concept are working and that the past problems are part of a necessary "shakedown period" for any new correctional facility -- especially one that has changed its fundamental philosophy toward inmates.
The new approach replaces the image of the burly, no-nonsense jail guard with that of an officer who takes a more psychological approach to the job. Now, the role of the officer is also sometimes that of counselor, although each officer is free to decide whether his unit will be run military-style or in a more collegial way. Corrections officials say they are now emphasizing some college education in their search for officers, who have a beginning annual salary of about $21,000.
Officers are unarmed, but if serious trouble erupts, they use an electronic "panic button" to alert central control. But officers say they use the device rarely and rely on trust instead of intimidation.
Still, the "old-timers" -- repeat offenders familiar with several prisons and jails in the metropolitan area -- say they will never get used to one aspect of the new Prince George's jail. The traditional distance between inmates and officers is gone. Inmates are encouraged to talk to the officers, to tell them things. And they do.
"If these youngsters here go up the road, thinking other jails are going to be like this, they're in for big trouble," said Mitch Ralph, 28, a cocaine addict in Lyles' unit who is facing a life sentence as a habitual offender. "People tell on each other around here. In the old jail, they'd yank you in your cell and beat you up for that."
In Della Donaldson's class in the new jail, even the spelling words have a certain relevance. "Circumstances," Donaldson said dryly as she turned and wrote on the blackboard, "all the time, I hear, 'I came to jail because circumstances were out of my control.' "
Her students sat in bright blue desks, four women and 12 men in jailhouse greens. They are an "exceptionally bright and exceptionally ignorant" group, Donaldson said. They read at the sixth grade level. They include shoplifters, drug manufacturers and two convicted murderers.
"What happened today, gentlemen?" Donaldson said in her frank, often irreverent manner, noting the full house. "No court today? No headaches?"
"You scared us last time," a voice replied from the back row. Everybody laughed. The inmates respect Donaldson; she's "okay."
For 11 years, Donaldson, a small, animated woman with short, reddish hair and gold hoop earrings, has taught school in the county jail. She is its only academic teacher, a refugee from kindergarten who decided she was better suited to the difficult adult personalities of the incarcerated.
The new jail gave Donaldson her first classroom. Her students now come to her. In the old jail, she made the rounds of the units, forced to "holler over the flushing toilets, the screams, the fights." She has a matter-of-fact attitude about her students. She cares about them; she is happy that five of them take the high school equivalency test each month, but "I learned the first few years, I can't give them my life's blood."
"You get ho-hum about certain things," she said. "A man comes up and says, 'I just got two life sentences.' And I can say, 'How do you feel?' and then go on with the fractions."
When a spelling lesson was over, Donaldson turned to the question she had asked the group to consider, written on a large sign on the wall: "If you found out a good friend had AIDS, what would you do? What if your brother or sister had it?"
One man said he doesn't like to think about bad things. Another said that if his sister had AIDS, "I wouldn't get high after her anymore." A dark-haired young man in the front row volunteered, "It's like this: If somebody in my family got AIDS, I'd wonder how they got it. If they caught it from being a homo, I'd hate them, simple as that."
The statement brought a swift reply from Donaldson, who works as a volunteer with AIDS patients. "A death through AIDS is the most hideous thing you can imagine. People," she said pointedly, looking at the last speaker, "tend to discriminate against AIDS patients, treat them like trash.
"If I judged you all by what it says on your charges, I'd go screaming into the night."
The women's unit, H-3, is the noisiest. Everybody knows that. Women complain more. They demand more. They're just more needy.
"They like to talk, all right," said Cpl. Tondaleya Sofidiya, 29, a six-year employee of the department. "The communication is definitely better now. You feel what they're saying to you. You're more understanding. You're here to answer. At the old jail, it was, 'Okay, I'll get back with you, because they need me up front.' "
H-3 includes all phases of the women's incarceration -- a large, locked intake room where new arrivals doze on cots or move about restlessly; two maximum-security cells that are always in use; an isolation cell whose tall, slender occupant stared without expression at the card players in the general area.
Like the men, the women bide their time playing cards, watching television, reading Sidney Sheldon novels. One young woman, wearing fuchsia bedroom slippers, straddled a weight machine as she wrote a letter. At a nearby table, an inmate laughingly braided another's hair. On the second tier, a clearly pregnant woman stood swaybacked, reading a cable television guide; of that day's count of 64 women, five were pregnant. The two phones, as usual, were busy.
Like the men, most of the women blame drugs -- PCP, heroin and especially crack and cocaine -- for their problems.
"Many have burned a lot of bridges," said Theresa Ford of the United Way-funded Bureau of Rehabilitation Inc., the only counselor who works with the women.
They are, for the most part, a depressed group, Ford said.
It helps to have the neat surroundings of the new jail.
"Because this place is big, clean, new, it carries a more festive spirit somehow," said Zakkiyya Ahmed, a 37-year-old optician and admitted cocaine addict who was recently sentenced to four years for robbery. "When I came here from the D.C. Jail, I thought it was a luxury hotel."
But another inmate, while allowing that the old jail "wasn't fit for a dog," complained that the men always get better treatment.
"This is a man's jail, see?" said the woman, a 30-year-old Landover resident who traces her troubles to heroin. "They have more opportunities. There's so little for us to do -- it's a wonder we don't all go crazy."
While the jail is not a treatment facility, there are some activities -- Della Donaldson's classes, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, Bible studies, counseling sessions with Ford, and classes in something called employability skills. On a recent morning, Barbara Mae Holloway, 39, sat at the front of that class, pretending to telephone a prospective employer to ask about a job opening. She told the mock interviewer, volunteer Delores Fowlkes, that she had 15 years of housekeeping experience. When it was over, she laughed self-consciously and put her hand to her heart.
Her 24-year-old son, she said, is in prison. Her 20-year-old is also in jail. Her 8-year-old is staying with a friend while she serves her short sentence for theft. All morning long, she had proudly shown his most recent letter to her classmates.
"Hi, Mom," the letter said. "How you ben doing? I have ben doing OK. Is you doing OK? I love you so much . . . . "
The name is Kozar, D. Kozar, never mind what the D. stands for. "I start losing it if they think they can start calling me by my first name," he said.
Kozar, who has worked for corrections since 1982, has reddish hair and a beard. He wears tinted glasses; that way, the inmates are never quite sure whom he's watching. There are two silver death's-head rings on his right hand. He describes himself as "laid-back."
"I'm mild," he said. "I'm not one to get on them all the time. I let them do what they want. Because they know me, how I operate, they do what has to be done. I don't have to go, 'Hey, there's a cigarette on the floor. There's paper on the floor.' I can just walk over, look down at it, look back up at them, and walk away."
Kozar works the 3 to 11 p.m. shift in H-1, one of the jail's last remaining single-cell units. It was 7 p.m., and the men were locked in their rooms for a routine head count. There were 59 inmates that evening. "In another month or two, there'll be 90," he said.
He turned to the panel of red lights and diagrams -- "Our 'Star Wars,' " he said -- and started pushing buttons. The red lights disappeared, the cell doors unlocked, and the men came pouring out of their rooms.
Two inmates made a beeline for the telephones, catching Kozar's eye and waiting for his nod. One walked by the console and scooped up a checkers set. Another headed for one of the small study rooms, a Bible in his hand. Two others sauntered toward the showers fully clothed; the more experienced inmates grumble that, while it's nice to have unlimited showers in the new jail, it's too bad they can't walk around in a towel anymore.
There was an orderly atmosphere about the unit. It was so quiet and calm, it was almost boring.
"Why do they behave? Look around at what they get," Kozar said. "Other jails, you don't have weight machines or juice or coffee. They've got study rooms on the side. They've got two color TVs. They've got cable.
"And they've got me. It's like the movies where the old Marine Corps sergeant says, 'I'm your mother, I'm your brother . . . . ' I'm their link to the outside world."
It was time for his rounds. On the second tier, he ducked his head inside a cell to show off one inmate's artwork -- an almost perfect rendering of Mickey Mouse. On the desk, a color photograph of a woman and two small children stared out from a frame made of cigarette wrappers.
In the open area, around the color TV, two men started to bicker about what to watch. "Let's not start that," Kozar said firmly. The men shrugged and settled down to watch "Sanford and Son."