Donald V. Watkins
Jaye L. Thomas: Standing Tall in the Face of Adversity
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on November 15, 2020
In 2019, Jaye L. Thomas (Reg. No. 64752-019) was an inmate at the Talladega, Alabama Federal Prison Camp. Jaye, who is African-American, was born in Groton, Connecticut in 1980 and grew up on Naval bases around the United States.
Jaye’s mother, Millie Thomas, was a Navy enlisted woman. She died following a distinguished career in the Navy and after serving as a correctional officer in state and federal prison systems. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery along with Jaye’s maternal grandfather and grandmother. Both of them were Navy veterans, as well. Before dying at 40 years old, Jaye’s stepfather was an E-8 Master Sergeant in the Air Force. Jaye had one sibling, a brother.
Fellow inmates at the Talladega Camp quickly realized that the 6’3”, athletically built, physically fit, Jaye, was highly intelligent and gifted in the art of verbal and written communications. Jaye was well-versed in business, finance, travel, politics, and sports. He exhibited an eloquence of diction in his speech. Jaye’s command of the “King’s English” was spellbinding. And, Jaye’s appearance, even in prison attire, was always immaculate.
It was obvious that Jaye had been exposed to men and women in leadership positions all his life. At the Camp, Jaye was a leader, as well. Inmates of all races, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages looked up to Jaye and respected him as a teacher of Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) classes, as a mentor in business, and as a successful businessman.
Life Before Prison
In 2009, Jaye started Thomas Transportation Company, an Atlanta-based trucking and logistics company he owned and operated until he entered prison. Jaye was one of the few Blacks in the United States who operated a commercial trucking company. His "hands-on" management style grew the company's customer base, contracts, and size, quickly.
In 2011, Jaye started a record label in the music business named "300 Boyz" in north Georgia. Like his trucking company, "300 Boyz" was a commercial success.
Jaye’s rise in the transportation and “rap” music industries attracted solid supporters and diverse business allies. This level of success for a young black man also placed Jaye on the radar screen of Georgia and federal law enforcement officials.
Even with the heightened scrutiny, Jaye persevered in managing and growing both of his businesses, legitimately. In the eyes of the Black community, Jaye was a business leader. In the white world, Jaye was a criminal “suspect”. In truth, Jaye was a hard-working, energetic, law-abiding, Black entrepreneur who self-funded his companies and made the mistake of competing for mainstream business in a Deep South “Red” state.
From Legitimate Businessman to “Criminal”
In 2013, Jaye was indicted on a conspiracy to traffic cocaine charge, along with several other co-defendants. Eventually, this charge was dropped and superseded by a charge of possessing cocaine. The other so-called “co-conspirators” were not charged and/or did not spend time in jail.
As is so often the case with defendants who hire criminal lawyers and pay them up-front huge fees to defend these cases, Jaye emptied his financial coffers to pay an attorney to fight his case. Once the lawyer received his fee payments, he refused to fight, faded from the scene, and was fired by Jaye. The next lawyer was court-appointed but highly competent. The prosecutor in Jaye’s case found a slick way to remove this talented lawyer from the case via a conflict-of interest maneuver. Jaye’s third lawyer was court-appointed, as well. This attorney was capable of “representing” Jaye, but not “defending” him. There is a big difference between these two levels of job performance.
With his financial resources depleted and his businesses crashing, Jaye took a “plea deal” to get this emotionally and financially draining order behind him. He appeared before a federal judge in Rome, Georgia, pled guilty, and received a 135-month sentence.
As a first-time, non-violent offender, Jaye was sent to the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp in 2016. Showing the same characteristics he later exhibited at the Talladega Camp, Jaye quickly emerged as a highly respected inmate in the Atlanta Camp. Staff members and inmates liked him. Jaye also had “community custody” status in the Atlanta Camp. This custody classification, together with Jaye’s CDL job, allowed him to leave the Camp premises with the permission of staff members.
About 10 months after Jaye arrived at the Atlanta Camp, he was transferred to a federal correctional facility in Oakdale, Louisiana. The transfer resulted from an accusation that Jaye possessed a cellphone and other contraband. The evidence in the case was highly questionable. Jaye’s efforts to fight the charges in a system that only requires “some evidence”, whether credible or not, turned out to be an exercise in futility.
While Jaye was at Oakdale, FBI agents visited him and asked questions about a correctional officer who allegedly allowed inmates to leave the Atlanta Camp without proper authorization. Jaye advised the agents that he wanted to confer with an attorney. Thereupon, the agents threatened Jaye with new criminal charges of “escape from a federal correctional institution”, if Jaye did not talk to them, then and there. Jaye refused and the agents left angry.
Four months later, Jaye was indicted in Atlanta federal court on three counts of “escape”. Again, Jaye pleaded “guilty” thinking his new 21-month sentence for the “escape” charges would run concurrently with the 135 months he was serving on the possession of cocaine charge. It did not. Again, he was screwed by the system.
Nightmare in Talladega
Just as life began to gel for Jaye at the Talladega Camp, his real nightmare commenced. With Jaye’s increasing popularity in the Camp came envy from a handful of disgruntled inmates and heightened scrutiny from staff members and guards.
In 2019, Jaye was written up for “Giving Money or Anything of Value to or Accepting Anything of Value from Another Inmate”. This is a Code 328 minor infraction which is handled by a committee of staff members of the Camp, rather than an outside disciplinary hearing officer. This infraction is usually punished by assigning the inmate extra duties.
Prison officials then charged Jaye with the Code 328 infraction. He was removed from the Camp and placed in the SHU. Jaye has been locked down in the maximum security SHU at the medium security Talladega prison 23 hours per day, 7 days per week since December 2019 on a charge that typically carries no detention time.
In January 2020, the Camp’s Unit Discipline Committee held a hearing and found Jaye guilty of the Code 328 infraction. He appealed to the Bureau of Prison’s Regional Office in Atlanta. On March 17, 2020, the Regional Office ordered a rehearing in Jaye’s case. To date, the Committee has not reheard his case.
It is clear that Jaye had been flagged in the prison system for mistreatment, whenever and wherever possible. Still, he has been able to maintain his dignity and manhood. Even in the SHU, Jaye enjoys the respect and admiration of staff and inmates, alike. Such is the price of manhood.
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