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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