- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2001

The last 27 inmates at the 92-year-old Lorton prison complex are moving out tomorrow into an overcrowded D.C. jail system, and some who live nearby could not be happier.
"I'm psyched," said Colleen Ross of Hollymeade Drive, whose home is less than a mile away from the complex as the crow flies. "It's just too old. It's past its usefulness."
The 3,500-acre Lorton Correctional Complex opened in 1909 when the mood of the country dictated that rehabilitation worked better than punishment.
Criminals from the District were brought out to the one-time sprawling wooded complex and given the chance to work outside on the farm, and the sanitary conditions were far better than any inner-city jail. The prison was largely self-sufficient, with the wood from nearby trees going to construction, and the farm provided food for the convicts. At its peak, more than 12,000 prisoners lived there.
In 1997, Congress gave the District until New Year's Eve of this year to remove the prisoners and turn the land over to Fairfax County. The various pieces of the complex the maximum-, medium- and minimum-security units have slowly shut down, sending convicts to other prisons, including Youngstown, Ohio.
Plans are in the works to redevelop the land, including constructing a golf course, and building parks and schools.
"Hopefully, it will be like Reston, but not as commercialized," said Seana Willis Blake, who moved into one of the many new communities that have sprung up near the sprawling acreage on which the prison sits. "Maybe we will get a bookstore, or a Harris Teeter. And there is also a real dearth of good restaurants here. We have to schlep all the way out to Alexandria."
Neighbors fear this kind of development more than they ever did the murderers, armed robbers and drug dealers that Lorton housed.
Just down the road from the prison's gates, Earl Curtis said he never felt threatened. He's lived in Lorton since 1928 and raised two children there. His daughter lives two doors down.
"[The prison] never hurt anyone. People are just scared of the word 'prison,'" Mr. Curtis said.
"The prison did not bother us," said Warner Schifflett of Route 123., also known as Ox Road, its newer name. "I am sad to see it go. If it were still here, they wouldn't be building up all these subdivisions."
Dan Gillum, Mr. Schifflett's neighbor, moved onto Route 123 in 1988 and never had a problem, but with the increased traffic and newer homes, he is biding his time before he moves out.
"I am waiting until they buy me out, then I am beating my feet out of town," Mr. Gillum said. His property runs up to Route 123, and the traffic is "miserable" as a result of all the new homes.
In a given five-mile radius of the prison facility, there are at least six different subdivision communities with everything from apartments to mansions that resemble the homes of Charleston, S.C., in Civil War days.
Despite all these new homes, some local business owners said they were sad to see the facility go because it brought revenue that might not be easily recovered, especially when combined with the lasting effects of the September 11 tragedy.
"The employees used to stop by and have breakfast every morning after they changed their shifts. Now, I don't have that business," said Mike Williams, general manager of the Burger King in Gunston Corner, right off of Lorton Road. Mr. Williams estimated the closure of the facility has already cost him at least $1,000 a month.
Vikreem Gill, assistant manager at the Texaco down the street, agreed.
"Most of our customers were people who were going to the prison. Even at night they had to buy their gas from us," Mr. Gill said. "And I think it is safer if the prison is here. If they did get out, they were not going to stay here."
Still, Dorsey Owens, a native of Lorton, feels better knowing the house she grew up in is no longer down the road from the corrections facility. She remembers well the sirens alerting the neighbors in the middle of the night that a prisoner was unaccounted for, and now that she lives in Virginia Beach she worries about her parents and grandparents who still live in the house.
"I just feel better knowing that the facility is closed," she said. "You get used to it, but with my family here, I am glad it is gone."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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