Inmate escaped Atlanta prison camp ‘for love’ — then sneaked back in

Patches of metal cover holes that minimum-security inmates cut into  the fence around the Atlanta federal penitentiary's prison camp so they could escape and return with contraband.   (David Barnes / For the AJC)
Caption
Patches of metal cover holes that minimum-security inmates cut into the fence around the Atlanta federal penitentiary's prison camp so they could escape and return with contraband.  (David Barnes / For the AJC)

Credit: David Barnes

Credit: David Barnes

You might find a man indecisive if he escapes prison only to sneak back in — especially if he pulls the trick three times.

But Jaye L. Thomas, a 37-year-old formerly of Dalton, knew what he was doing. In 2016, things inside the prison camp adjacent to the U.S. Penitentiary in southeast Atlanta weren’t all bad. Inmates found ways to sneak in lobster, steak, Mexican takeout, drugs, copious amounts of liquor and cell phones so they could piddle on Facebook and keep up with families and sweethearts.

Women, of course, they didn’t have in the penitentiary, which is largely why Thomas decided to sneak away, his attorney Vionnette Reyes Johnson said during a sentencing hearing Thursday. He escaped “for love,” she said, or as she also put it, “sexual escapades” with two women he was dating.

Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. sentenced Thomas to 21 additional months in prison. The defense and prosecution agreed that was a just term for Thomas, who pleaded guilty to escape and was the last in a series of defendants sentenced in what had become routine escapes from the camp. The inmates would leave, sometimes through a hole in a chain-link fence, and return with contraband.

Details about Thomas’ slips in and out of the minimum-security camp confirm earlier reports from inmates and officials about the nonchalant prison breaks taking place as far back as 2013.

Caption
February 2017 — Patches of metal seen bolted to the fence along the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta to cover holes that minimum security inmates created to sneak out and back into the prison. (DAVID BARNES / SPECIAL)

February 2017 — Patches of metal seen bolted to the fence along the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta to cover holes that minimum security inmates created to sneak out and back into the prison. (DAVID BARNES / SPECIAL)
Caption
February 2017 — Patches of metal seen bolted to the fence along the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta to cover holes that minimum security inmates created to sneak out and back into the prison. (DAVID BARNES / SPECIAL)

“These prosecutions make it clear,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak after the hearing, “that serious consequences exist for inmates who escape from custody, especially for those who are caught smuggling illegal contraband.”

Contraband was a common theme in the hearing, though the one his attorney focused on was love.

It started with sweet talk through a smuggled cell phone shortly after he arrived at the prison camp in January 2016, to serve nearly seven years for possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute. Thomas is a burly man with close-cropped hair, who used to run a small trucking business and, as evidenced by the Facebook page he kept up while at the prison camp, is a football fan favoring the Florida Gators.

He exchanged texts with a woman identified in court only as T.T., because she wasn’t charged. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Lee said Thomas got T.T. to come pick him up one day in March so they could spend time together. He was on a work detail at the time and was able walk to meet her at South View Cemetery by the prison camp.


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To T.T.’s surprise, he showed up with another inmate she didn’t know. That inmate, whose name wasn’t revealed, went to a store and got some cigarettes while T.T. and Thomas spent time together in the car, court records show. Then Thomas went back to the camp, the first trip appearing to have been a trial run, a flirt with escape for man with a penchant for flirting in general.

In April, he had T.T. pick him up again for a tryst, which court records suggest was in a car a driveway.

It isn’t clear if T.T. knew or not, but by then Thomas had been talking with a woman identified only as C.M., also because she wasn’t charged.

“You’ll be mine soon,” he texted her. “Yes, ma’am, I have plans for you.”

The plans, according to statements from the attorneys, appeared to be two-fold: romantic plans and plans to “repeatedly” send her shopping lists of contraband to drop off so he could sneak it into the prison, including five cell phones and 12 bottles of liquor. Such activities and goods are illegal in the prison camp — forbidden by rules and federal law.

Thomas’ attorney read aloud text messages between the two to show their relationship wasn’t simply business, but one of lovers. They flirted and spoke of when they’d finally be together. C.M. texted mundane daily details and often asked “wyd,” meaning “What are you doing?” She also asked for nude photos. One night, she knew he was asleep but just wanted to let him know she loved him.

“I hope you’re having sweet dreams of me,” she wrote.

Ahead of Thomas’ final escape, in August 2016, he told C.M. he’d be bringing an inmate buddy named “Flacko.” Flacko needed a woman too, Thomas said, asking C.M. to bring a friend.

They met outside, got in a car and C.M. and Thomas retired to a motel room. Afterward, the inmates returned to the prison as usual.

It isn’t clear if Thomas knew, but sometime later, C.M. started texting with other inmates, Thomas’ defense attorney said, revealing texts where she asked for nude photos and took extensive shopping lists: barbecue sauce, frozen shrimp (peeled), instant mashed potatoes (garlic flavor), Johnnie Walker Red scotch whiskey, one carton of Newports, eight rib eye steaks, 110 clams, sushi.

“Eating better than I do, apparently,” the judge said.

But Thomas didn’t get any of those particular orders. He’d been caught with contraband, the prosecutor said, and moved to another facility out-of-state while his lover continued business.