The 50 members of the Seven Locks Jaycees meet regularly to discuss their latest charitable efforts: monthly contributions to a poor child in Appalachia, plans to raise money for the District's boarder babies and proposals to improve AIDS education.
Unlike most of their colleagues, these Jaycees aren't young professionals squeezing in meetings between commitments to work and family. Actually, they are out of work and say they have nothing, if not time on their hands.
These unusual philanthropists are inmates at the Montgomery County jail.
"It makes us feel good to contribute something," said group member William Bavaro, who said he is in the Rockville detention center on Seven Locks Road on drug-related charges. "Just because we're in here doesn't mean we don't know what's an important cause."
One of the causes the Jaycees and other inmates rally around each year is their annual walkathon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Last Saturday, 181 inmates spent their 90-minute recreation period circling the jail track, each lap equaling more donations for victims of the progressively debilitating disease. Sponsored by the Jaycees, the fourth annual walkathon raised more than $1,000 through pledges made by another Jaycees group, corrections officers and the inmates' families and friends.
Two of the forces behind the walkathon are Grayce Haanes-Olsen, who helps run the jail school, and Fletcher Dryson, who is credited with encouraging many fellow inmates to take part in charity.
"Unfortunately, I've been here long enough to encourage people to do things," said Dryson, who said drugs have led him to the jail four times since 1976. "Outside of my negative qualities that caused me to come in here, I have excellent leadership qualities. I especially want to help boarder babies because that's related to drugs. To sit here and just do time is a waste."
Haanes-Olsen, associate director of the school, called the Model Learning Center, said the inmates "have unlimited ideas of how to help. I just help them get it to work and show them the possibilities."
The sun was blazing hot and it was his only break from the confines of the jail, but Walter Johnson wanted to put in as many laps around the yard as he could. At age 40, Johnson has been in jail before and said he is awaiting trial on a theft charge. He noted that muscular dystrophy usually strikes young children, making this fund-raising effort more significant for him.
"I have worked with the Special Olympics, and the feeling you get in working with kids is the best," Johnson said. "It makes you feel like your contribution is worthy. You know, 90 percent of the people here have nothing to do all day. This make us feel like we're doing something."
Isaac Davis, who kept up a brisk pace alongside Johnson, agreed that it is necessary to find worthwhile ways to spend the time in jail, including "whatever we can to help those less fortunate." A self-described heroin addict since age 17, Davis, 34, said charity is one more thing he can do "to prepare for the outside." Bible study classes, drug treatment and the murder mysteries he reads each week also help.
As he marks his third month in the jail awaiting trial, Davis admitted his life has its share of contradictions -- years of breaking the law and a college degree in criminology. "Everybody laughs when I tell them that," he said.
Essentially, the point the inmates want to make, Jaycees member Bavaro said, is that their interest in charity shouldn't be so surprising. "You know, we're still people and you can't judge a book by its cover," he said.