ALL THROUGH the summer of 74, two and three times a week, dudes with Chuck's Bar & Grill or Somebody's Crab House lettered on their garish shirts stopped at the gate of Lorton Reformatory to be frisked and proceeded inside to be defeated.
"No, it was fast-pitch," said Dennis O. Miller, the Lorton first baseman who looks like one. "We won every game but one. Then there was a championship tournament, but we couldn't go." Since then softball at the D.C. prison has been no big thing.
The 1,269 "residents" of Lorton's Central (medium security) Facility have basketball and boxing and a lot of dandy games, but they are all played at home. This diminishes enthusiasm, Miller said, and competition: "Guys don't have much interest in playing each other all the time, and some of the teams come in here and act, you know, intimidated, like they don't slide into second base so hard."
Lorton's only road show these days is the football team. The Lorton Lions may occasionally go to play "another institution," such as the Virginia state penitentiary at Richmond; they go shackled to their bus. "With dudes with shotguns," said William Bethel, a linebacker since the team's inception in 1972. "A hundred miles in handcuffs can kill your enthusiasm."
"Chain you the same way to go to the hospital," said Eugene Tyree, eldest of six men sitting round a plywood table and the nearest to parole, but by no means the senior resident.
Most Lorton resident are under 30, half of them under 25. They are felons facing an average of seven years in prison. A man with a 20-to-life sentence, Lorton Administrator Salanda Whitfield said, is "looking at" 14 years minimum. "Young guys, with a lot of energy," said Wayne Wilkins, 29-year-old recreation coordinator out of Springarn High School. "We try to get them involved, but it has to be voluntary. What's recreation to one man isn't to another. Some guys sit and watch those little stories on TV. We pass out cards and table games once amonth, have a pool tournament . . . ""
Pool balls, and cues, have been construed as lethal weapons.
"So are bricks," said Wilkin's assistant, Mike Kutchman, "and there's a million of them in this place." And some murderers, Wilkins acknowledged, "but I prefer not to know much about the charges. We work closely with these men and, unconsiosly, might judge a guy if you knew."
". . . Treated like we're all hardscore," George McNeal was saying. "'Keep those animals where they belong.'" There are potential masters on his chess team, McNeal believes, but they are obliged, by limited opposition, to play beneath themselves. "A good team comes in every three weeks, with seven players. Hell, I got 15 guys on my B team."
"Because some dudes was jiving," said Tyrone Baskerville-Bey, co-commissioner of Lorton's new basketball league and a confessed slacker as the Lions' tight end, "everybody is penalized. Saxbe reads about the guy with the shortgun at Union Station and says no more furioughs. But some guys went about their business on furloughs. Why can't we be judged as individuals?"
"Yeah, before Saxbe we went to softball games on the bus," said Miller, the first baseman whose 11-745 was by far lowest serial number of the group at the plywood table. "And everybody always came back."
No conversation among Lorton residents goes many minutes without the name of William B. Saxbe being introduced. As U.S. attorney general in 1974, Saxbe noted violations of the furlough program, which allowed about 160 residents temporary leave for such purposes as education, work, public service or recreation. A man serving concurrent terms of 8-to-28 and 5-to-25 years for rapes was given a furlough "to re-establish family ties" and did not come back.
After Saxbe's order severely limiting furloughs, Director of Corrections Delbert C. Jackson suspended the entire program pending a review that is still under way.
"It (the furlough program) is a subject near and dear to the inmates," said William Plaut, Jackson's executive assistant, "and it does not sit well with people whose career it is lock people up."
Correction officials in mid-1975 drafted a program of "resocialization furloughs" which was passed by the D.C. City Council late last year. If it is signed by the mayor and unopposed by the Justice Department, the law would make perhaps 200 of Lorton's 2,350 residents eligible for some furloughs.
None of them would be murderers, armed robbers, rapists or child-molesters, and some of them might be athletes. Or musicians, like Melvin Johnson-Bey, a singer with Lorton's "primarily rock" band. (The Bey appended to many resident's surnames, and the knitted cap, signifies membership in Moorish Science, a religious cult) Time was, Johnson-Bey said, when some bandsmen "were able to go all the way to New York (on furlough) and do shows." Since Saxbe, he said, there are "about eight guys who used to get together ever day. But there's not much drive and with everything centralized in the gym, no place to rehearse."
Band reherasal is scheduled in the gym three evenings a week, but it is on time-sharing with boxing, table-top games, varsity basketball practice and the intramural basketball league. Other uses of the gym include tennis, paddle tennis, roller skating and, Wednesday nights, Bingo for cigarettes.
On Saturday and Sunday evenings the dilapidated gym houses a double feature movie. The titles for November included Super Dude, Dixie Dynamite, Bad Bunc, Sweet Sugar, Dr. Minx, Black Shampoo, The Night Evilin Came Out of the Grave and Ebony, Ivory & Jade.
The Lorton Basketball League (LBL), which began a six-game-a-week schedule Nov. 7, was conceived by Sidney Davis, a long-termer who is chairman, by something like acclaim, of the Office of Resident Concern. "He looks after our interests," explained constituent George Hockaday-Bey. "Since he's been elected nobody else has run.
There's been no complaints and we wouldn't take a change on anybody else."
LBL has been implemented and sponsored almost wholly (a $5,698.95 check for equipment and uniforms for eight teams) by E. Joseph Wheeler, the engineer/financier in the World Football League and quickly unloaded it, becoming the duty WFL owner to show a profit. ("Sidney came to my office and said he'd talked to Joe Wheeler," in Lorton Administrator Whitfield said in LBL's rules are NBA, but the 24 second rule would have to be honor-system, it was stipulated before the opening game, "because we don't even have a game clock." Reluctance to shoot, it turned out, would not be of LBI's problems. In quarters from that may have run to 15 or 16 minutes, the "Bullets" won the opener, from the "Celtics" with both teams going over 100. In mid- December the Bullets were 5-0, with Larri Fields out of Cardozo leading them and the league with a 36 point average. The schedule was deffered for while, coordinator Wilkins said by unanimous decision of the residents to watch the NFL playoffs on television.
In January, Wilkins said, there would be an all-star game of the NBA Bullets would show up.
May be they would, at that. Before the opener, Bullet's general manager Bob Ferry and coach Dick Motta rapped with the LBL players. "See that shot (Charley) Scott blocked?" they were asked. "Wasn't that beautiful?"
Motta might be back Thursday, Wilkins and had said, to give a clinic. The residents do not count on such things. "Right on," some of the resident fans said. "He didn't even stay for the game."
Motta did stay. Instead of sitting with the distinguished guests in the balcony, he and Ferry sat in the bleachers, exchanging critiques and banter with the residents.
On Thursday afternoon a reporter, being processed through the Visiting Trailer to leave Lorton, saw a smallish man sitting on a chair in the corridor, holding a basketball on his lap. He looked uneasy. He also looked like Dick Motta.