At 5 a.m. yesterday, 28 hours after prisoners at Lorton Reformatory set fire to 14 buildings, exhaustion and boredom had forged an uneasy truce between hundreds of police officers assigned to round-the-clock guard duty and the 75 inmates who lay dozing on a ball field.
"You ever heard of an adrenaline junkie? You're looking at 230 of 'em," said Jim Powell, a bomb technician, explaining how he and his fellow officers managed to stay on their feet. "This type of emergency is what we're all about."
Officer Anthony Robinson took comfort in the fact that his sleeplessness was being paid for with overtime wages. "They may ruin my weekend, but after four straight days, this will buy me a trip to the Bahamas," he cracked.
Still, in the eerie glow of the prison floodlights, and despite the rock music shrilling from a radio across the road, weary officers were beginning to succumb to the long hours, napping in squad cars and on the grass perimeters of the baseball field.
Most of the D.C. and Fairfax County officers had been on duty since the beginning of the prisoner uprising, clad in the same heavy uniforms and headgear they had worn during the heat of the day.
The prisoners also suffered in tense and uncomfortable conditions as they waited on a barbed-wire-enclosed baseball field that doubled as a holding pen while officials tried to find places for them. During the day, some prisoners wrapped their heads in T-shirts and improvised tents by tying sheets to the fence to shield themselves from the harsh sun. But as night fell and the air grew cooler, the remaining inmates pulled their shirts back on and spread the sheets on the ground.
Food -- and a lot of it -- was the officers' way of staving off the boredom, frayed nerves and fatigue that came with the extended stakeout. During their infrequent breaks, the officers consumed more than 600 hot dogs, 300 fast food sausage-and-egg breakfasts, 135 hamburgers, about 36 pounds of chili and beans, and 75 dozen doughnuts at a makeshift picnic grounds set up by their union in a parking lot across Ox Road from the prison entrance.
They said the simple but warm fare tasted like manna from Heaven, and they compared members of the Fraternal Order of Police who doled it out to the Sisters of Mercy.
"Where else can you have a riot and a barbecue all in the same day?" said Officer Jerry Ellis, indicating the charcoal grill, urns of black coffee and 30-gallon drums filled with soft drinks and melting ice.
Most of the officers on duty were from the D.C. police department's Special Operations Division, the units trained to detonate bombs, control crowds, rescue hostages, capture wayward prisoners and escort motorcades.
Toward dawn, traffic crawled past the prison complex as motorists stared at SWAT team members shouldering shotguns in the early morning sunlight. Guards roused the sleeping inmates to check their bedding and possessions for weapons, and began loading the men onto a bus.
Roddy Bell, a correctional officer at Lorton, had this to say about the situation after 24 straight hours on the job: "It reminds me of 'Nam when I was over there. It's just like going into a village, cleaning up and doing what you have to do . . . . We saved a lot of lives, I imagine."
Staff writer Jeffrey Goldberg contributed to this report.