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location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 4 / Chapter 1 Administrative Segregation: The Litmus Test of Legitimacy / The Thomas Case

David Thomas talked about the strategies he developed during his first period in segregation to deal with what he described as "seriously bastardized reality." One was to let out "standard tension screams" at any time of day to relieve pent-up frustration and aggression. Another method was a group endeavour in which everyone on the range would lie on the floor of their cells, scream and kick the door, a form of release referred to by Mr. Thomas as "group therapy" and "temporary insanity." This both aggravated the guards and facilitated a sound sleep through sheer exhaustion.

However, Mr. Thomas found his primary release from the rigours of segregation by turning inwards. During the night hours, when the prison was uncustomarily quiet, he would write.

I wrote lots. Constantly. Thatís what kept me sane. I kept a journal when I was down there. I wrote poetry, stories. It would take me outside the fence. You sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and you can go anywhere you want. I would just sit there all night and write down stories and it would just flow, coming out of you. I would be totally absorbed in it. Iíd wake up in the morning and go, "God, that was cool." (Thomas interview, March 1992)

Every morning, Mr. Thomas would tear up what he had written and flush it down the toilet. The places he had gone in his writing were private and personal, and he did not want the guards or any psychiatrist to know the secrets of his nightly mental escape routes. David Thomasí account mirrors the words of Jomo, a prisoner in Attica, who explained in the book Iron House the secret of escaping psychologically from prison. By standing in a certain spot in the main prison yard, where by lifting his head to the sky "the prison disappeared," Jomo could journey to distant shores, smell sea breezes, watch tides ebb and flow, experience the bright colours of womensí swimsuits and ride on clouds. "Your dreams are contraband, but they are your own refuge," Jomo said. "Free yourself. Your dreams are your only escape" (Jerome Washington, Iron House: Stories From the Yard [New York: Vintage Books, 1994] at 147-48).

During his second stint in segregation, David Thomas sought to remove himself from his surroundings even during the daytime. He would go out into the yard even in the freezing cold to get away from the other prisoners and the noise inside. Although he originally saw his retreat into solitude as beneficial to his emotional well-being, he admitted that, upon returning to the general population of the prison, he looked around and thought, "Whoa, I guess Iím not as normal as I thought I was."

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