In Thursday's Washington Post, a reference was made to the Lorton Transformation Project as being "a management team from the Pentagon." In fact, the project is run by a Defense Department employe for the D.C. Department of Corrections, not for the Pentagon.
Johnnie Ford, the ninth of 12 children, grew up in a Baptist family in the Kingman Park section of Northeast Washington. Before he finished Spingarn High School, he began selling marijuana.
After graduation, he continued selling marijuana and also got a job as a letter carrier. Ford said he used his mail route to expand his marijuana market. Not enough money for Johnnie Ford.
In 1971, at the age of 27, Ford became a printer at a union headquarters in downtown Washington. His starting salary was $6,884 a year and within six years it would nearly double. Still not enough. He moved up to cocaine, earning more in one week from selling an ounce of coke, he said, than he made in a month at his printing job.
Ford "arrived." He bought a house in a suburb, and a new Pontiac Grand Ville. He savored the sweet smell of financial success. "I wanted people to see me 'in the life,' " he recalled recently. "I noticed that success for a lot of guys is a lot of gals. My success was a new car every year."
Then Johnnie Ford started using his own wares, he said, snorting more coke than he sold. On one occasion, he tried to recoup his losses by robbing a clothing store on Wheeler Road SE.
On April 17, 1980, two months and two days before his 36th birthday, Ford arrived at his next station in life--Lorton reformatory, sentenced to 2 1/2 to 10 years for armed robbery.
A Washington Post poll of 238 Lorton inmates found dozens of Johnnie Fords in Lorton, the city penitentiary 20 miles southwest of the District line in southern Fairfax County.
One of every six men interviewed said he turned to crime in pursuit of a fine car and nice clothes. One of every six sought money for drugs. One of six said he was bored with his regular job. One of seven considered crime a normal and acceptable way of life.
Yet in their own words, the men of Lorton offer a complex picture of what drove them to crime--what made Johnnie Ford a robber and drug dealer while his brother became a minister; what put more than 2,000 sons of the nation's capital on the road to prison while their schoolmates stayed out.
Money was the single biggest factor--nearly two of every three said he was trying to get money for day-to-day expenses. One of five said he lost his temper, one of seven liked the excitement of criminal activity, one of 10 said he fell in with the wrong crowd.
Half came from broken homes, four of 10 said they grew up fighting, four of 10 had criminals as childhood heroes. One of four said he came from a home where domestic violence was common. One of five said adults in his household didn't try to stop him from doing whatever he pleased.
But half the men interviewed said they had their own room at home most of the time, eight of 10 said there was considerable love and warmth in their childhood household, and two of three said that while they were children, there was never any reason to worry about food on the table.
The poll indicated that the majority of the 2,440 convicted felons in Lorton's six-prison complex did not care about the consequences of their action when they broke the law.
The likelihood of getting caught and sent to jail, the probability of being sentenced to a long term, the notion that even criminals who plan best get arrested--all those thoughts crossed the men's minds, the poll found, but did not change their actions.
Albert Johnson, 32, grew up near the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington and is serving 10 to 30 years for assault with intent to commit robbery while armed. He told a reporter he was excited by the power he felt when committing a crime, like bursting into a liquor store, gun in hand and ordering everyone present to "hit the floor."
"I enjoyed what I was doing," Johnson said. "A lot of things my mother would say 'not do' I would go out and do. I didn't want her solving all my problems, but when I hit the streets I wouldn't think for myself."
"Not that my parents were rich or even that they were in a high-income bracket," said Raymond Cole-Bey, 30, who grew up in the Cardozo section of the city off 14th Street NW and is serving 8 to 24 years for burglary.
"I never really had to steal or rob," he said. "But it was just something that I identified with because that's all I saw. That's all that I was a part of. That's where I lived. But I don't think that it's because I was oppressed that I had to do that."
The late Delbert C. Jackson, who headed the D.C. Corrections Department from 1973 until his death last year, once summed it up this way to an interviewer: "There are only two reasons why men come to Lorton--need and greed."
Lorton holds some of the city's most violent men, short-fused persons with "poor attitudes," as the reports of prison psychologists frequently describe them.
They are men who are tense and unable to cope with authority. In 1980, a management team from the Pentagon studied them under the auspices of a stress-management program called the Lorton Transformation Project.
After one particular session last year, the blackboard in the classroom showed a diagram that resembled a solar system. Circles were connected with lines and inside them were words and phrases such as "no commitment," "doubts," "pain-stress," "demand-overload," "choice-think," and, at the bottom of the board, "Be self."
In the case of one inmate called before a prison disciplinary board for pinching a female guard, a psychological profile described a man viewed among penal officials as "typical" of Lorton inmates.
"He is immature for a 22-year-old," the report said. "He sees the world as aggressive and his behavior seeks to compensate for the hostility he perceives around him. He has no empathy. He is impulsive and self-centered to the point of having no regard for other people's feelings."
William Hedrick, acting assistant administrator at Lorton's central facility, cautioned against making generalizations about inmates. No two are alike, he said.
"Even you could be here--I can look at you and say you're capable of a homicide," Hedrick told one interviewer. All it takes, he said, is perhaps having too many drinks, coming home at the wrong time or wanting some of the finer things of life that seem out of reach by legal means. "We're all capable of killing," Hedrick said.
Several inmates said they turned to crime during a point of mental breakdown--a weak moment in which they were unable to maintain control.
Cole-Bey, his uncertainty characterized by the way he held his hand over his mouth, said that in some respects, poor people live differently from others. Most people are neurotic, he said. "But if you are poor, there is no escape."
Whatever the reasons for men going into Lorton, they keep coming back. A Washington Post examination of the records for 429 prisoners at Lorton found that nearly nine of every 10 were repeat offenders.
Only a handful returned to Lorton for parole violation. The majority had committed crimes that attempted to or did cause bodily harm.
Lorton officials maintain that the job they are asked to do is overwhelming--to step in where the efforts of other social institutions such as the schools, the church, the family and industry have gone awry, and perform rehabilitative miracles in the worst possible environment.
"Suddenly we get this guy and they say, 'Make him a success' in the worst environment," said Salanda V. Whitfield, administrator of Lorton's 1,250-inmate central facility. "This is a community made up of failures--they failed as criminals."
Only about half of Lorton's inmates are involved in prison education, job training and rehabilitative programs, and many corrections experts say there is no conclusive evidence that any kind of in-prison program reduces recidivism.
Because Lorton is a prison with close ties among its inmates, with many men living in dormitories with past partners in crime, it often enhances the likelihood that those who go to prison learn nothing more there than how to become better criminals, some experts said.
"You hit it when you said it's like another neighborhood," Judge Fred B. Ugast, head of the criminal division of D.C. Superior Court, told an interviewer. "They're going back into the same neighborhoods they left. Nothing is changed. The only difference is they've got a wall around it."
Jerome Miller, director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, said, "Lorton is more responsible for crime in Washington than anything else. It is a college for crime. The recidivism rate simply means an inmate has successfully adjusted to prison life."
D.C. officials have targeted drugs as a major reason for increased crime in the city. The Post poll and the examination of prisoners' records found drugs closely entwined with Washington crime.
Nearly half the men interviewed said they were using drugs other than marijuana before they went to Lorton, and one of five said they were still using drugs other than marijuana. Of those who said they used drugs in Lorton, nearly one-third said they wanted drug treatment.
Yet Lorton has no drug-treatment program, only a counseling program for alcohol and drug abusers run by Stepping Stones, a private firm. About 630 of the 1,900 men in the maximum, central and minimum-security facilities are enrolled.
"I don't know that it's enough, but it's a start," said J. Russell Horton, director of the program. "Most . . . don't realize that there's hope, that there's anything they can do about it."
Yet some Lorton inmates said that the absence of a drug-detoxification program in prison at a time when many drug-related offenders are being sent to jail is a cruel hoax.
"If the mayor runs for office, he beefs up his crime program and he locks dudes up," said lifer Sidney Davis, 36, chairman of the Office of Resident Concern, a self-help group.
"He don't say nothing about drug treatment. He just says, 'We gon' get 'em off the street.' That's what D.C. Police Chief Maurice Turner keeps talking about--get 'em off the street," Davis said.
"A man comes here with a drug problem and he don't get any treatment," Davis said. "They shoot him right back in his family with the same plague. He doesn't have a chance to deal with his family properly while he's here. Then he goes back into crime and blames it on conditions."
Last year, the number of men and women in Lorton, the D.C. Jail and federal facilities leaped from 4,862 to 5,636, an increase of 774 or nearly 16 percent. The crime rate fell by 3.3 percent.
The last time Washington's crime rate fell was in 1976--when the number of people in jail and prison rose from 3,346 to 4,171, an increase of 825 people or 24.7 percent.
Despite the city's successes, some corrections officials put little stock in such a strategy for lowering crime, contending that less than 5 percent of those who commit crimes wind up in prison.
"It the incarceration rate has no relationship to crime," said Tony Travisono, director of the American Correctional Association. "It never has and probably never will."
Yet for the time being, more and more of Washington's young men appear headed for Lorton, the city's toughest neighborhood.
There, The Post found, they are likely to meet old friends and crime mates, limited job training and vocational opportunities and a fear-ridden, stress-filled environment.
When they return to the streets, they will be lured by the same temptations they encountered before--the same temptations that greeted Johnnie Ford, who was sent to a halfway house last June and paroled, then rejoined his family on New Year's Eve.
"I'm much more cautious now," Ford said this week. "I know that there is not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Lorton is. "The rainbow is the streets," Ford said, "and people on the fast money circuit can expect to have a run of three or four months. Then the yellow brick road comes to an end at Lorton."