Lou Wieland's voice echoes a bit as he climbs the steps in the cellblocks of A-wing.
He is 84 and bowlegged, and he is wearing a green clip-on tie, white shirt and a rubber band to hold up his left shirt sleeve.
In his left arm, he cradles religious tracts, which he drops on the floor and artfully kicks under each cell door. "Good news mission coming in!" he calls. "On the floor. You gotta get down to get up."
Fragments of faces appear in the tiny circular windows of the cells: An eye, a mouth, an unshaven chin. It is gray and quiet in A-wing, except for the drip of water from the showers. "What's up, Lou?" a voice already has called out from somewhere. "I need some good news, Lou. Bring me some good news."
Since 1975, Wieland, a retired post office worker, has been peddling salvation among the grim cellblocks of the Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville.
For two decades, he has volunteered, pushing a little metal cart laden with pocket Bibles, Sunday school lessons and other religious publications from cell door to cell door, a methodical salesman working his customers.
Wieland, who attends the New Gospel Chapel in Colesville, said he has been a churchgoer all his life. Last week, as he approached his 25th year visiting the jail, he reflected on his customers and his commodity, and he explained his pitch.
It is not flashy.
He drives in every Thursday from Burtonsville in his 1993 Oldsmobile station wagon, carrying a scuffed briefcase he got from one of his sons, who is an airline pilot.
He leaves his blue fedora, corduroy jacket and green cardigan on a shelf in the metal cabinet in the chaplain's office.
He uses no preaching, no pressure, no exhortation of the kind that might seem necessary to reach the tattooed, seen-it-all con artists and negative actors cooling it in the maximum-security county jail.
He calls it "business."
But Wieland, a former Sunday school teacher and the son of a Pittsburgh ironworker, offers a precious commodity to the men and women huddled under the gray bunk blankets beside stainless-steel cell toilets: reliability.
If they're not interested, it's no sweat. He'll be back. Next week. Next month. "Good news mission on the floor." It is a steadiness lacking in the lives of many inmates, who often feel forgotten by family and friends and who, themselves, often lack a compass.
Many times, his face at the door is the only one from the outside that prisoners will see for weeks. The jail holds inmates for up to 18 months.
"He's a wonderful guy," an inmate said of him.
"He takes care of us on the spiritual part. He helps us out a lot. Keeps our spiritual hopes high. You know what I mean? He's a good guy. He's been here all these years. Hanging in there with us. Hanging in."
Last Thursday, as he prepared to make his rounds, Wieland said of the prisoners, "They remember." Even years later, if they have to return, he said. "They can't understand why I'm still here."
He says he can't understand why they're back: "You must like this place."
The major change he was seen since he started volunteering has been in the numbers and age of the inmates. "I see more" people, he said, "and more young people. I got a ward down here full of, it seems like, a lot of them in their late teens."
He tells them they are all students now: "You don't learn the lessons, you repeat the course."
But he said, he, too, is enriched by the work. "I get a piece of satisfaction knowing that we are trying to put these men on the right track," he said, "trying to help them find out that there's another way."
Last week, as he wheeled along the claustrophobic jail corridors--past strapping guards and inmates in jumpsuits, past steel tables, metal mirrors and sliding cellblock doors--he was often greeted with a gruff: "What's up, Lou?"
Parking his cart in a foyer of A-wing, he began going cell to cell with his tracts. "Good news mission," he called out. "Anybody doing home studies? Good morning. Something for you to read. Interested in doing a Bible study? Everything all right?"
There was stirring in some cells. In others, inmates did sit-ups, wrote at desks or slept.
"Hey, Lou," a young man with a white bandanna around his head called out. "You know I want something. . . . I need something to read, Lou." Wieland handed some tracts through a slit in the cell door. "There you go," he said.
At a nearby cell, another young inmate asked if Lou had any Matthew. He did. "Pray for me," the inmate said. "I go to court on the 30th of November. I'm going for reconsideration. I have a girlfriend who's pregnant."
"Okay," Wieland replied, "I'll pray for you. God bless you."
Some inmates told him they hadn't had time to study the lessons he had given them. One said he was leaving soon. Congratulations, Wieland said. "I'm not going home," the man replied. "I'm going to another facility."
And some just won't do business.
"How you doing, Lou," an older inmate said. "How's the leg doing?"
They have known each other a long time. "I first met him when I was 20," the man said. "I'm 32 now.
"I look forward to seeing him every week," the inmate said. "I don't do his Bible studies, but I look forward to seeing him nonetheless. Ain't that right, Lou?"
Wieland responded quietly: "That's right. We're always glad to see each other."
Later, he shook his head. Some people you just can't reach. "I get a lot of them like that," Wieland said.
But not all.
"Good news mission coming in!" he resumed.
"On the floor.
"You gotta get down to get up."
CAPTION: Wieland chats with inmate David Walters during one of his regular visits to the Montgomery County Detention Center.
CAPTION: Lou Wieland, 84, a retired postal worker, has been a volunteer missionary at the county jail in Rockville for 25 years.
CAPTION: "You gotta get down to get up," Wieland calls out as he makes his rounds dropping religious materials on the floor and kicking them under cell doors for inmates.
CAPTION: Volunteer missionary Lou Wieland pushes a blank greeting card through the slot in one prisoner's cell. He is some prisoners' most frequent visitor. Wieland drives to the Rockville facility every Thursday from his home in Burtonsville.