Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad wasn't exactly a model inmate for staff members last year at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center.

Maj. Charles "Skip" Land, the jail's acting superintendent, remembers many potentially dangerous situations involving Muhammad. There was the time he fashioned a weapon out of a plastic spoon, and the time he yanked out a television cable and performed martial arts routines.

Despite such incidents, Land said, he and other jailers were able to calm Muhammad during his stay and eventually earn his trust -- and vice versa -- by being stern but fair. Once, when Muhammad was being reluctant about visiting a hospital for court-ordered exams, all it took was Land to enter the cell for Muhammad to get going.

"He said, 'Are you going with me?' And I said yes, and nothing else was said," Land recalled. "When I told him I was going to do something for him, I kept my word, and when I expected something from him, I expected him to keep his end."

Members of the governing board of the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center say it is Land's longtime law enforcement experience and his straight-shooting style with inmates that could help him win the board's approval as the jail's next superintendent.

Land, 53, has been presiding over the 700-inmate jail complex since January, when he took over for Glendell Hill, who left after about 12 years to begin his elected term as the county sheriff. Land said he will likely ask to be considered for the jail's top job, but is waiting for the regional jail board to finalize the eligibility requirements at its monthly meeting July 21.

Without a college degree, Land said, he may not have a chance. But Hill, who is on the board's search committee, said that a degree will likely not be necessary and that successful experience running a jail -- one with few escapes, uprisings and lawsuits -- will be a top priority.

The board will seek candidates nationally, advertising in trade magazines, and conduct interviews in November. It will pick a superintendent by December, said Patrick Hurd, an environmental lawyer in the District who is the board's chairman.

"I am going to be focusing on the experience of the individual and that individual's track record in running a safe and secure facility," Hurd said. "I think Land is doing an outstanding job, and I think we are fortunate we've had someone step in to provide a seamless transition."

So far, no one else has indicated they are considering the job, Hill and Hurd said. Even though the board is conducting a national search, Hill said he prefers someone local such as Land, who began working at the jail as a evening shift supervisor in 1982.

Hill said starting at the jail in 1982 and working his way up helped him earn his fellow staff members' trust when he assumed the top job in 1992.

"I knew what the problems were; I knew where my support was," he said. "It takes a while for [an outside candidate] to catch up and earn some credibility from elected officials."

In 1982, Hill dissuaded Land, then a patrol corporal with the Manassas City Police Department, from taking a job as a security officer at a coal mine in his home state of Illinois.

"I was ready for a change from patrol work, but I was antsy," said Land, an Army veteran and son of an Illinois sharecropper who was a Manassas Park police officer in the late 1970s. "I just hadn't found that nook where I was really happy."

Instead of spending his career putting people in prison as a police officer, Land said, he quickly found more satisfaction from working with people already in prison, and getting them out safer and wiser.

He can be strict, but he said that most staff members and inmates know him for his easygoing, often compassionate style. Even though it is not required, Land, like his predecessor, allows prisoners to be escorted to the hospital to visit relatives who are terminally ill, depending on safety factors.

On a recent cellblock tour, inmates waved and cheerily called Land by name.

Passing one inmate, Land turned around and called out, "Why's your finger cut?"

"Cut it on a meat slicer," the inmate said, shrugging his shoulders and smiling.

"How many stitches?" Land asked, showing concern but not feigning it.

"Eight."

Land nodded and was on his way.

In many ways, the administrative side of running a jail is more time-consuming, Land said. He has lobbied hard for a 400-bed addition to help ease crowding, and he wants to free up his staff to spend more time teaching substance abuse programs and GED classes, rather than on maintaining security when quarters are tight and dangerous, he said.

Not having a college degree certainly has not stopped Land from conducting education programs for the prisoners.

"This spring we had our first cap-and-gown procession," he said.