My Response to The Kimberly and Beck Show

It’s okay to care about someone.

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.

But the Kimberly and Beck radio segment focused mostly on the relationship between the story’s subject, Jon Fontaine, and me.

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.

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He Looked Like a Good-for-Nothing Criminal

[by Susan Ashline]

He wanted to know how he looked.

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.

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Sheriff’s Office Clears Itself of Wrongdoing

[by Susan Ashline]

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.

Background:

Deputy Throws Whistle Blower Inmate in Isolation

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Inmate’s Exit from Prison a Bumpy Ride

[by Susan Ashline]

Jon called me last night.

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.

$12,000.

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?

Background:

Mid-State Prison Strikes Back after Learning of My Book

Mid-State Prison Retaliates Against Me (UPDATE)

Mid-State Prison Staff Stonewalls Me (UPDATE)

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