I didn’t see Jon Fontaine on President’s Day. That’s because his parole officer will not allow Jon to see me, even though he has no reason to block communication, and despite that we have a lawsuit to remove the illegal condition.
On President’s Day:
I didn’t steer Jon to do the right thing.
I didn’t provide Jon emotional or motivational support.
I didn’t help Jon with his writing, something he wants to enhance.
I didn’t help advocate for Jon.
I didn’t brainstorm with Jon ways to better his situation.
I didn’t write about Jon’s transition from prison to society. But I’m going to start.
The only reason Rochester parole officer Martin Buonanno is denying communication? Power. Either that – or stupidity. Because when we have a chance to provide support and positive influence to someone in transition, it’s inarguably best to do so.
On September 29, Jon Fontaine, the subject of my book, A Jacket off the Gorge, was released on parole. Facility staff added my name to his “no contact” list, and we are currently suing to get it removed. The condition states Jon cannot communicate with me without the permission of his parole officer.
And yet – for no reason at all, and for five months now – parole officer Martin Buonanno has said “no.”
Our lawsuit contends the restriction violates my constitutional rights and is arbitrary and capricious. Prison and parole staff have not offered any reason for my name to be on the list, and the Attorney General’s office has done its best to get the lawsuit thrown out, rather than answer it.
Buonanno simply saw my name on that list and told Jon – nope. Just because. Power.
Parole is not rehabilitating the formerly incarcerated. They can block communication between the two of us, but that won’t prevent me from exposing their bad acts and a faulty system.
On President’s Day, I didn’t expose Buonanno and the others. Tomorrow, I will.
I learned on Valentine’s Day that the New York Attorney General’s office is acting like a bad partner in a lover’s spat.
It’s like when the wife says, “I need you to put your dirty underwear in the basket. Can you do that?”
And the guy replies, “Well, I can’t stand the way you snap your gum!”
Instead of answering our lawsuit—they didn’t.
We filed an Article 78 against the NY Parole Board. It’s a lawsuit that challenges an administrative decision. The State Attorney General lawyers defend it.
I wrote a book, A Jacket off the Gorge, about a guy named Jon Fontaine. He was in prison, but now he’s not. When he was in prison, we had all sorts of contact. That led to me writing a bunch of blogs about the bad goings on in prison. And it got a lot of attention. How Prison Guards Really Behave is the most popular blog, earning low scores all around from prison staff.
And then—BAM—my name ends up on a document that states Jon cannot have contact with me when he is released from prison.
There’s a head scratcher. I’m not a victim. I had nothing to do with his crime (or any crime. I’m crime free, aka a good influence.).
But—oh, wait. There’s that anti-prison book. Oh, and those anti-prison blogs.
We filed an Article 78 lawsuit challenging the no-contact decision after one solid year of prison staff giving us the run-around. No one admitted to putting my name on the list. Then, different people raised their hands to own up to it (“It was me.” “No, it was me.”). Most importantly, no one could tell us why my name was on the list.
We think we know. (See previous paragraph about anti-prison book and anti-prison blog).
Our lawsuit alleges constitutional rights violations. Jon is owned by the state, but I am not. And a restriction on Jon communicating with me is a restriction on my communication. I am a free adult. No one can hamper my communication. And there’s that b-o-o-k. There are first amendment violations all around.
So Prisoners’ Legal Services took up the case for free. They filed the Article 78 on December 6, 2017. The AG had a three week deadline to reply. Instead, they asked not to reply. They waited until the very last day—the deadline—and got the judge to push back the case another month and a half. And on their next deadline to reply, instead of filing an answer, they filed a Motion to Dismiss, and a laughably stupid one at that.
The grounds? The AG lawyer claimed Jon did not exhaust all of his options to try to remove my name from his no-contact list, because he didn’t file a grievance to prison staff. It doesn’t take a law degree to understand that an inmate grievance to facility staff has nothing to do with parole release conditions imposed by the NYS Board of Parole. Sure, the staff initially put my name on there, but they sent it to the Parole Board, who then rubber stamped it. Done.
The good news for us: The judge will strike it down. The bad news for you: your hard-earned tax money gets to pay for all this unnecessary court drama.
The PLS attorney filed his rebuttal on Valentine’s Day, and it delivers quite the one-two punch. You can almost hear the “ARE YOU FRIGGIN’ STUPID?” in his response papers. Perhaps on Friday (February 16), the judge will rule on the motion to dismiss. Either way, it unfairly drags out this lawsuit for us, and costs you money.
“Petitioner could not have raised his complaint regarding release conditions by filing an Inmate Grievance pursuant to 7 NYCRR Part 701, because pursuant to 7 NYCRR 701.3(f) actions or decisions by an outside agency or entity not under the supervision of the Commissioner of DOCCS are not within the jurisdiction of the Inmate Grievance Program . . . Pursuant to Executive Law 259-c(2), the Parole Board has the “power and duty of determining the conditions of relase of any person being released to community supervision.'”
We filed suit against the NYS Parole Board for imposing a bogus condition of Jon Fontaine’s parole; one that bars him from communicating with me. As you know, he’s the subject of my book, A Jacket off the Gorge. You know all that, because it’s in the Article 78 we filed in December. You remember–it’s the court action you asked to have adjourned. It’s the Article 78 that points out that by restricting Jon’s communication with me, you’re restricting my communication with Jon—a violation of my constitutional rights.
You could’ve dropped it, removed the condition, and chalked it up to something that got caught up in a bureaucratic mess, and this would’ve all gone away quietly. Instead, you chose to continue to waste taxpayer money and argue the lawsuit.
I’m sure taxpayers will be pleased, and I’m the one to point out to them—loudly and publicly—the way you wasted their money.
When you’ve completed your response (charging taxpayers to do so), I look forward to reading it. I more look forward to our day in court.
“… explain to me how prohibiting Mr. Fontaine from associating with a woman who has done nothing more than telling his personal story is a proper release condition.”
Attorney letter to NYS Parole Board lawyer and chairwoman
It’s not the lawsuit that’s silly. But wait until you read the exchanges with prison and parole.
I wrote a book about a New York prison inmate who’s now on parole. Before his release, someone from the prison put my name on his “no-contact” list – but no one’s owning up to it.
I’m a journalist. Jon Fontaine is a guy I dated before I knew he was a criminal. A Jacket off the Gorgeis about his crimes and the period when our lives intersected. Jon has lawsuits against prison staff. The book covers that.
On December 6, Prisoner’s Legal Services filed a lawsuit against the New York Board of Parole to get my name removed from Jon’s “no contact” list, alleging constitutional rights violations.
It was July 24 when PLS Attorney Sophia Heller stepped in and wrote the parole board chairwoman and chief counsel.
“… this condition is inappropriate. I thus respectfully request that Mr. Fontaine’s release conditions be amended accordingly.”
On August 15, the parole board secretary replied:
“… this condition was removed on April 18.”
However, the “amended” document still contained the original restriction:
“I will not associate or communicate by any means with Susan Ashline… without the permission of the [parole officer]. “
And added a line:
“I can be around/communicate with Susan Ashline as long as parole officer agrees.”
Yes, it really says that—the same thing twice, with the words flipped.
On August 21, the PLS attorney again wrote the board:
“… to impose this condition in any form without justification is entirely inappropriate.”
No one responded.
Since we’d planned to jointly promote A Jacket off the Gorge upon Jon’s release in September 2017, I had chased down getting my name removed from his no-contact list as early as one year prior to his release.
I endured months of head-scratching nonsense from Mid-State prison staffers who kept sending me out for buckets of steam, particularly Ronald Meier, a supervisor in the prison counseling office. I had caught Meier in several lies (see previous story). He kept feigning ignorance about the parole condition.
A parole board staff member then informed me the parole release conditions came directly from the facility. The document had Meier’s name stamped on it. The parole board blindly approved it.
I wrote the parole board instructing them to remove my name, included correspondence with prison staff, and stated prison staff had insisted only the parole board could remove my name.
Parole board secretary Lorraine Morse wrote on March 9:
“There is no indication that Mr. Fontaine wishes to have your name removed. If he wishes, he must submit in writing to the Guidance Office—SORC Meier—Midstate CF his request to have it removed.”
She’d passed the ball back to Meier. I called Morse and told her that was the very problem—that’d I’d kept getting passed back and forth. Meier was insisting he had no role in changing the condition.
Don’t worry, she told me. It won’t be a problem. “I had conversations with him directly. He knows exactly what he’s supposed to do.”
As directed, Jon sent the request to Meier on March 20.
How did Meier respond?
“This request will be forwarded to the parole board.”
Meier never did send it to the parole board anyway. He sent it to his supervisor in the prison, Jeff McCoy, Deputy Commissioner for Program Services.
McKoy wrote Jon on June 5:
“Please be advised that the Parole Board Commissioners are responsible for all final determinations of parole conditions.”
But on March 20, Jon had also sent his request to the parole board, just to be safe.
It was after that the parole board made their genius amendment.
Jon spoke with his prison counselor, Larry Zick, who allegedly told Jon that he was the one who wrote the parole release document, and my name was a whoopsie—he may have gotten distracted while writing up the list (because I had to point out to prison staff that they’d removed the name of Jon’s crime victim while surreptitiously inserting my name in her place).
Prior to that, more than a half dozen staffers claimed they had no idea how my name got on the list, or why. After stating he had no idea why my name was on the list, Meier told me in a phone call that it was because I’d briefly put myself on Jon’s no-correspondence list of my own volition.
I beat down doors until I got an investigation opened. Then, I was told a different story by yet another prison employee. This time, the story was that a prison staffer named Lisa Hoy added my name to the list, alleging I’d called her in 2015 and told her I was afraid of Jon.
2015? That’s curious timing.
In 2015, Jon’s attorney filed lawsuits against staff at Mid-State and Groveland prisons. In 2015, Mid-State staff became aware of my book when I wrote administration seeking permission to do a media interview of Jon inside the facility. It was denied.
I’d been posting stories by Jon on my website; many unfavorable to prison staff. Someone posted a story from my website to an online forum for prison employees. Views of that story spiked well into the thousands. A couple prison employees posted angry comments on my website.
We believe the inclusion of my name on Jon’s “no contact” list was an attempt to silence our story.
Conveniently, Hoy left the prison job a very long time ago. I have no idea who she is. I’m not inclined to phone strangers at a prison to talk about my feelings. And if that call actually took place, what steps did the prison do to “protect” me? Because in 2015, and up to the time of his release, Jon and I had seamless, unhampered contact via phone calls, letters and visits.
I am not afraid of Jon.
The condition states that contact is ultimately up to his Rochester parole officer, Martin Buonanno. Note that almost all correspondence is cc’ed to Jon’s file. Either Buonanno didn’t bother to read it, or he arbitrarily dismissed it. He denied me the right to communicate with someone.
I am not under state ownership. My constitutional freedoms are not discretionary.
The litigation, called and Article 78, challenges an administrative decision; in this case, the parole board adding my name to the “no contact” list. The case is set be argued in State Supreme Court in Albany on January 5, 2018.
Though I added a blog category “Follow the Story in Real Time,” as you can see, I haven’t been able to follow Jon Fontaine’s story in real time. The prison staff at Mid-State Correctional Facility made sure of that. So did Rochester Parole Officer Martin Buonanno, by putting me on Jon’s no-contact list. And the New York State Parole Board blindly approved it.
So, they’re being sued.
[I will post court docs and the head-spinning correspondence with prison staff and parole. You’ll enjoy the comedic element. Stay tuned]
Court papers were filed on December 6. The case is on track to be argued on January 5, 2018, in Albany County.
The story goes like this: I wrote a book about Jon Fontaine, a criminal. A Jacket off the Gorge is currently on submission to publishers. Events depicted in my book are also detailed in Jon’s lawsuits against prison staff. Staff is well aware of the book, its contents, and subsequent blogs on my website which expose problems in the penal system. In an unpredictable and stunning move, prior to Jon’s release, prison staff added my name to a document that states he would not be allowed to communicate with me upon release (without the permission of his parole officer). Through a shocking (almost laughable) chain of correspondence, Mid-State staffers refused to remove my name, stated they had no why it was there, or how it got there.
Upon release, parole officer Buonanno arbitrarily denied Jon the right to communicate with me, and by that act, denied me the right to communicate with Jon (thereby violating my constitutional rights).
Jon had called me the day before his release and asked if I would call his parole officer to seek permission to have contact with him. I would not.
Here’s the thing about constitutional rights: You’re born with them. They are absolute. You don’t need permission; and certainly not from some Shmoe with a low-level state job.
I refused to ask permission. Buonanno is a stranger to me. He does not get to make decisions for me. Now, the parole board is being taken to court for violating my rights, and you—the taxpayer—have to pay for it. You have to pay to ensure my constitutional freedoms remain intact.
It’s what happens when citizens get state jobs, a taste of power, and knowlege that red tape will insulate them from having to answer to their abuses of power.
When you find my website through a search engine, my tracker logs which keywords you used. By the stats, people remember the title of my book, A Jacket off the Gorge. Or, they at least remember some version of it.
It this case, it is about the destination and not the journey. No matter how you got here, I’m glad you made it.
Here are some search terms that landed folks here:
There’s a lot of material in my 400 page manuscript, A Jacket off the Gorge, about a criminal whose life intersected with mine: fake suicide, search and rescue, international drug mule, never-to-be-found treasure, real suicide, and more.
And that’s OK. I’m learning folks are fascinated with the relationship.
I also learned, long ago, that people don’t pay attention to what they’re listening to on the radio, on TV, or to what they’re reading.
The radio show co-host said his phone was flooding with texts saying I was “still in love with” Jon. I found it mildly amusing. I didn’t feel the need to respond. I’d already made my position clear.
I said I cared about him. He is my friend.
I’m 51, not 21. I am evolved. I understand people can feel a wide range of emotions – caring is somewhere on the spectrum, being in love is at the far end.
I can have friends, acquaintances, lovers, enemies. I may even care about my enemies.
Why do people want to hold onto their own generated notion that I’m hiding feelings? What do they gain from that? I bet there’s a sociological phenomenon that explains it. Had I vehemently denied it, I would’ve been accused of protesting too much. I sat holding the phone with a grin, because I was amused. Were I still in love, I would’ve said so. I had been at one time. That was gone many years ago, for both Jon and me.
People move on. Always, they move on.
I just finished reading a book, The Fact of a Body. A lawyer who was sexually abused as a child is asked to work on sparing child rapist and murderer Ricky Langley the death penalty. But the author, herself raped by her grandfather as a child, wants Langley to die. The author spends the entire book trying to understand why the mother of the murdered child asks jurors to show Langley mercy. And she struggles to come to terms with her own sexual abuse.
In the end, after a lifetime of hating her grandfather, she remembers the human side of him, the part that taught her things, and she goes to his gravestone and tells him she loves him. And in the end, after reading stacks of court papers about the Langley case, which include documents showing his struggles and cries for help, she writes, “he started to become a person to me.”
I don’t understand how someone could feel empathy for a person who hurt a child. And though I may never see it her way, I trust the author of The Fact of a Body is mature, intelligent, and capable of forming her own opinions.
I care about someone I know as a person; one who did bad things. And I’m not ashamed of that. I’m proud of that.
I’d just come from Jon’s court appearance, and he called me.
“How did I look? I mean… did I look alright? Did I look good?”
I could answer that quickly.
He looked like a dirt bag; nothing more and nothing less. In his orange jumpsuit, escorted in handcuffs, sitting in the defendant section, he didn’t look like a person. He looked like every criminal I’d always seen – actually, didn’t see – in that courtroom in all the years I’d covered courts as a news reporter. He was invisible.
He was nothing.
Why was he asking? It threw me.
I guessed he was asking because we all care about how we look, and he was getting out of prison in a couple of months. And here I was, not even considering that he was a human being.
Inmates in the same clothing are paraded in handcuffs through the courtroom to the same desk, and then brought to the same podium, and I’d seen them all as good-for-nothing nobodies.
This time when I looked at Jon, I no longer saw the guy who laughed at inappropriate times, engaged in deep conversation for hours, loved his dogs, and dreamed of riding in a helicopter. Gone was the talented remodeler and eager writer. Lost was the quiet guy with a gut-busting sense of humor. No more careful planner who labored over details and laughed like a little boy when tickled, held on fiercely when hugged and cried deeply when hurt.
He asked me how he looked.
Maybe, like everyone, he just needed validation that someone values some part of him.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department has concluded its staff did nothing wrong. This is in response to complaints alleging retaliation against an inmate for making public claims of racism by jail staff, and other wrongdoings.
But, “The evidence available did not support the allegation made,” states the cookie cutter letters in which only the dates were changed.
Inmate Jon Fontaine filed two complaints; I filed one.
All three form letter responses, all signed by Sam Bell, state the same thing.
Here are indisputable facts – ones I can attest to:
State prison inmate Jon Fontaine was in the jail awaiting a hearing that the appellate court ruled Judge Vincent Dinoflo illegally denied him.
Jon had been at the Monroe County Jail for six months without incident. The Saturday and Sunday before the suspected retaliation, Jon’s blogs on my website spiked to more than 5,000 views.
That Monday, Jon complained to me of an alleged incident of deputies harassing him and trying to take away his pen as he was led into court.
I went to talk about it to Corporal John Helfer, a communications staffer I knew from my days as a news reporter. I did not tell him the nature of my visit, and he hadn’t seen me for years. When he approached, he did not greet me. He refused to sit and appeared defensive and angry. He brought up Jon’s blogs before I ever said a word about them. He stated he was aware of them because someone “had sent an email around” to jail staff, including a link to the blogs.
That’s when I talked to him about suspected incident of retaliation #1 (May 23).
Helfer asked me how Jon got his stories to me. I told him Jon wrote them and mailed them to me.
The next morning (May 24), Jon was taken to the mental health unit, an area where inmates are barred from all forms of communication – writing, calls, and visits. Because the jail cannot deny an attorney visit, that evening, I sent his attorney to the unit. The attorney confirmed Jon was, in fact, in the mental health unit.
The attorney also stated Jon was wearing his jail clothes; however, inmates placed in those mental health cells do not wear jail clothes because they are placed there, and writing implements removed, due to their risk of self-harm.
I emailed Monroe County Sheriff Pat O’Flynn, copied in some news reporters, and requested that Jon be released from isolation.
Jon was then moved from the mental health unit.
I received an email from Sheriff O’Flynn stating Jon was not in the mental health unit. (The email did not acknowledge he had been in the unit).
That whole scene was suspected incident of retaliation #2.
Jon was relocated to the “main frame;” an area of the jail known for housing the most violent detainees.
On May 25, I received a call from an internal phone line of the Monroe County Sheriff’s office. The individual identified himself as a deputy. He told me Jon was injured and in the medical unit.
The circumstances that led to this injury should have been on camera.
That was suspected incident of retaliation #3.
Jon was then abruptly removed from the Monroe County Jail and taken back to Mid-State Correctional Facility.
The results of their (supposed) internal investigations confirm everything is running just fine within the Monroe County jail.
He’s less than two weeks from getting out of prison and has been told nothing concrete about anything from anyone.
He has no place to live and hasn’t been told where he might be placed.
He worries his parole officer will not allow him to have a vehicle, which would hamper him from finding employment.
He’s been given different dates for his release.
His counselor at New York’s Mid-State prison, Larry Zick, apparently told him he’s allowed to have someone pick up him on the day of his release; then told him he’ll have to take a bus to his parole officer’s office… wherever and whenever that may be. Picked up or take bus – Zick simply doesn’t know.
Jon’s attorney, the one he paid $12,000 to do his restitution hearing and a motion almost a year ago, has been largely absent. I’ve tried to stay out of it, but a good part of my book, A Jacket off the Gorge, deals with failures in the justice system, and I have a hard time ignoring that an attorney is neglecting any client, let alone one who paid him $12,000. The whole “voice for the voiceless” thing – I’ve felt obligated to intervene a number of times. My last contact was more than a month ago. I emailed Jon’s attorney on his behalf, because I’d learned the decision on his restitutaion hearing had come down three weeks earlier. Jon, of course, had been waiting to hear. The attorney then emailed the decision and said to tell Jon he was sending a big packet of information. There’s an affidavit Jon has been waiting to sign that his attorney promised to get to him months ago.
As of last night, Jon has heard nothing from this attorney – no calls, letters, visits; affidavit never came. Months go by with no communication.
I am resisting the urge to rip into this attorney. I don’t want to look like a jerk. But I’m realizing I am not the one who looks like a jerk here.
Speaking of jerks… After learning I wrote a book about Jon, which includes his lawsuit against Mid-State Correctional Facility, Mid-State staffers arbitrarily added my name to his parole release conditions, stating he would not be allowed to communicate with me. Isn’t that convenient?
I spent months contacting everyone involved (Superintendent Mathew Thoms, Ronald Meier, Ann Joselyn, Larry Zick, DOCCS attorney Kevin Kortright, DOCCS investigators Scott Apple and Keila Bowens, the NY Parole Board), stating I do not consent to my name being on that list. Jon sat with his counselor, Zick, who apparently told him he doesn’t remember adding my name in the first place, and that someone may’ve walked into his office while he was doing the form and distracted him, and that’s how it wound up there. Jon also wrote the parole board, as well as filed a prison grievance to get my name removed.
Let’s pull all the support beams from any inmate being released from prison and laugh while they crumble (*sarcasm). More likely, whine about the fact they slipped up, committed crimes again, and wound up back in the system. Throw your hands up, shrug your shoulders and act in disbelief as to how this happened.
After being sent around in circles, no one doing their job, and no one getting anything done, an attorney out of Albany, through a prisoner’s advocacy organization, took up the case to get my name removed.
Ironically, the one attorney who has done more than anyone else is the attorney not getting paid a penny from Jon.
Thank you to this attorney for her hard work and tenacity. She has been in contact with the Parole Board legal counsel, demanding my name be removed and stating there is no cause for it to be there. Unbelievably, the Parole Board lawyer wrote her erroneously stating my name had been removed in April. In fact, it had not been removed. The very same condition was listed as an amendment, but restated – different words. And now the attorney is forced to go at them again.
And this is how the criminal justice system goes.
And we all want better citizens and less crime, but the state employees want to retain power, collect their fat paychecks (that you pay out), and put up roadblocks to get people to a better place.
Like it or not, most of these inmates are released at some point. Isn’t it better for us if we help them rather than isolate them from social circles and take away their ability to find viable employment?