When you work in a Northern Virginia county government office and the phone rings, you expect a county citizen to be on the other end. Or a friend. Or a relative. Or maybe, if your luck is a quart low, a salesman. You don't expect a Lorton Reformatory inmate.

But a Lorton inmate is exactly what a reader of mine got last week -- and he made a suggestion that might not have been as innocent as he made it sound.

The caller immediately identified himself as a Lorton inmate, my reader writes. He said he frequently dialed county government numbers from the main Lorton number "because he knew there were a lot of nice women who answered the phones."

My reader, who is indeed a nice woman, began getting a good-sized case of the creeps right about here. She got an even bigger case when the Lorton inmate asked if she would be his pen pal.

"I must say that at first I took him seriously," the county government employe writes. "I am sympathetic to prison inmates . . . . {But} I am not going to give my address to a prison inmate I know nothing about."

The inmate took this in good humor, and trotted out his fallback position. The woman wouldn't have to write letters. All she'd have to do would be to accept phone calls from him on a regular basis.

"I thanked him for the offer but declined," the county government employe writes. "Does Lorton know this kind of thing goes on? Do they condone it? Could this man have been a murderer or rapist who would have visited me when released" if she had supplied her address?

To begin with the last question first: Yes, indeed, the caller could have been a murderer or a rapist. Lorton contains dozens of each.

As for his motives, I can't say, and neither can D.C. Department of Corrections spokesman Ed Sargent. But Ed did say this:

"There are inmates who have phones accessible to them. The use of the phone is for business only. But in terms of frequent use {for the sort of call my reader received}, I know of none."

Ed added that inmates have access to pay phones, unless their privileges have been restricted for disciplinary reasons. However, the inmate who called my reader specifically said he was using the main Lorton number. To have access to that, he would have to be a "trusty," or an inmate who had proved his honesty over considerable time.

Ed urged my reader to "report it immediately" to D.C. Corrections officials if she feels she is being harassed by a Lorton inmate, in this or any other way. "We take that sort of thing very seriously here," Ed said.

Footnote to Lorton inmates:

I have a hunch that once this item sees print, a whole bunch of you guys are going to lose your phone privileges.

I'm sorry that I have to tar so many of you with such a wide brush. I wish I could pinpoint which inmate did this, so that only his privileges would be in jeopardy. But he hasn't come forward, and I doubt that he will. So I'm afraid all of you will have to suffer because one of you used the phone to frighten a person who didn't deserve it.

A generation ago, Agnes Brown was a sixth- grade teacher at Ravensworth Elementary School in Springfield. One of her students was a girl named Susan Hamel.

Susan graduated from the University of Virginia this year, and decided to apply for kindergarten teaching jobs in the Fairfax County school system.

She called Springfield Estate Elementary School and asked for an interview. She almost fell off her chair when she discovered that the woman who would interview her was the principal, Agnes Brown.

The interview went swimmingly, and Susan began at Springfield this fall.

"I'm just delighted," said Agnes. "She has a good sense with the children. I was very impressed with her training. And I know she had very good sixth-grade training, too.

"She was a very fine student, very conscientious, and had a nice sense of humor . . . . I always encouraged the girls to do something different, to be thinking about what they wanted to do when they grew up."

"She was a wonderful teacher," said Susan of her teacher-turned-boss. "I always remembered Mrs. Brown throughout my years. She was very encouraging and encouraged you to do your best. She helped me enjoy being in a school setting, being concerned with the individual child rather than as a part of the group."

There's only one problem with the rejuvenated Susan-Agnes relationship.

"I am still the only one in school who calls her Mrs. Brown," Susan said, with a chuckle. "It's too hard for me to call her Agnes."