[by New York State prison inmate Jon Fontaine, who is writing behind bars at the Monroe County Jail while awaiting a hearing]
Tom VanDusen was charged with fracturing his girlfriend’s cheekbone by hitting her in the face with a chrome vibrator.
When I was in county jail with him in 2011, he let me read his girlfriend’s statement.
I hate women beaters, so I decided to have some fun at his expense.
At breakfast each morning, we’d get juice in a small round cup with a foil lid. It looked like an apple sauce cup. It would fit perfectly inside the jail’s stainless steel toilet drain, I thought. A bonus – it was clear. It would blend in. No one would see it.
VanDusen’s cell was next to mine. I put the juice cup in his toilet.
After lock-in, I heard his toilet flush. It flushed a second time. I was guessing he took a crap and couldn’t get it down the toilet. I heard the toilet flush a third time and water hit the floor. Success.
VanDusen asked a guard for a plunger, and after plunging like his life depended on it, I heard him ask, “Who dropped the juice cup in my toilet?” He thought it was an accident.
The next night before lock-in, I reached through VanDusen’s bars and took his toothpaste. Using salt packets I’d taken from meal trays, I poured the salt into his toothpaste tube, and then kneaded the tube to mix it up.
After lock-in that night, I heard VanDusen start the faucet, and then I heard loud gags.
I bit my tongue, trying not to laugh.
The following day, VanDusen came to my gate and said, “I know it’s you fucking with me. If you don’t stop, I’m going to fuck you up.”
I said, “Really? In that case, my next trick will be to shit in your sink.”
At lock-in a few days later, VanDusen started screaming, “Oh my God! No you didn’t! I am not locking in with that in my sink! If you don’t get that out I’m pressing the panic button!”
Two inmates I knew ran to VanDusen’s cell and one, who went by “D,” said he’d get out the turd. He used a wad of toilet paper to wrangle it from the sink, and then brought it to his nose and sniffed it.
“Oh my God! He’s sniffing it!” VanDusen screamed.
The other guy, Mike, took the turd from D and bit into it.
VanDusen went nuts.
The “turd” was actually a concoction of food. I’d taken a Little Debbie fudge round, folded it and pinched the ends. I bought a Snickers off commissary, took out a few peanut chunks and pressed them in the fudge turd.
I had let Mike and D in on the prank just before I pressed it into VanDusen’s sink.
All it took was a fudge round to bring a big bad woman-beater to tears.
VanDusen went nuts.
The “turd” was actually a concoction of food. I’d taken a Little Debbie fudge round, folded it and pinched the ends. I bought a Snickers off commissary, took out a few peanut chunks and pressed them in fudge turd.
I had let Mike and D in on the prank just before I pressed it into VanDusen’s sink.
All it took was a fudge round to bring a big bad woman-beater to tears.
Read the Livingston County News cover story on Jon Fontaine’s lawsuit and A Jacket off the Gorge.
[written by Susan Ashline; as told by inmate Jon Fontaine]
A huge crash awakened me in my cell at Mid-State prison. It was early – 5 a.m. – and all the lights were on. It was August 2014.
I ran to the door, joining the other inmates who’d craned their necks to the hallway, trying to figure out what was happening.
Mid-State used to be a mental hospital, so the cell was a room with no toilet or sink, and no actual door.
The corrections officer working the overnight shift on my unit only left his office for two things: the midnight and 6 a.m. head counts. He did not make the required half-hour rounds. Instead, he would sleep in his office.
I saw a guard we called “Dirty Red” standing in the hallway, just outside another inmate’s door. Dirty Red was notorious for mistreating prisoners. But one act got him beaten senseless by another guard. Dirty Red would piss in the inmate ice machine. Each housing unit had one, like the kind you’d find in a hotel. But he failed to consider that officers used those ice machines, too. And then, one found out about it.
Dirty Red wasn’t even supposed to be on our unit that night. That, along with his reputation and the crashing locker led me to one conclusion.
“They’re fucking up Shadow!” I yelled.
More inmates rushed to their doors.
Shadow was a white guy with a long, black pony tail. He was super quiet and played guitar. We talked every day.
He’d been battling the prison administration and the Office of Mental Health (OMH). He wanted – needed – his bi-polar medication. He’d taken it his whole life, he told me. But the administration wouldn’t let him have it. He felt fine, they insisted. They argued he’d been cured of his mental illness.
And he’d mock them. “Miraculously cured,” he would say.
Knowing he wasn’t cured, and riding an emotional roller coaster, Shadow started filing grievances and writing letters. Everything was getting denied. Their reasoning? Shadow shouldn’t be granted “special treatment.” By that, I suppose they meant expecting to be able to continue taking medication he’d been taking for years.
His cries for help denied by Mid-State administrators and OMH staff, Shadow resorted to filing an Article 78. It’s a form of lawsuit used to challenge an administrative decision, action or policy. You can’t get money from an Article 78. The most you can win is the administrative action you’re seeking.
In this case, Shadow wanted his mental health medications. He’d been feeling ill for so long.
I knew Shadow had just filed the Article 78. I’d surmised this was just another retaliatory beating in typical prison guard Gestapo fashion. I figured a couple of officers – certainly Dirty Red – waited until the early morning hours to storm Shadow’s room in a gang assault to teach him a lesson about challenging the administration. Of course my mind would go there. That stuff happens epidemically in the prisons.
I heard bangs and thuds and a mix of voices – shrieks and hollers. I saw more officers rushing the scene, some carrying medical bags; one with a defibrillator.
I read the panic on Dirty Red’s face. I saw it in his hands. They shook so violently that he dropped a package of gauze pads and another officer snatched them.
Shadow’s locker came sliding out of the room into the hallway, creating a smeared trail of blood.
I heard the AED beep its warning. An electronic voice spoke commands on how to restart a heart. Then, a voice crackled over the two-way radio, “The ambulance is here.”
Guards picked out four inmates standing in their doorways. A folding canvas stretcher opened and then disappeared into Shadow’s room. It came out moments later, carried by the inmates.
As it passed through the doorway, I saw Shadow’s feet. Then, I saw his arm dangling from it, like his locker, cold and gray.
“Look at how bruised he is!” someone shouted.
He wasn’t bruised. He was dead. I knew it, and I hollered it back.
The stretcher gone, we were allowed to make our way to the bathroom one at a time. We would have to walk past Shadow’s room, squeezing by the metal locker splattered with blood.
When I got to Shadow’s room, I gawked.
Blood spray ran down the wall where the locker used to be, leaving a blank outline. Shadow’s chair was in the far corner. A huge pool of blood was on the floor and leading from it, trails of bloody footprints.
I moved on to the bathroom, but stopped again on my way back. This time, I looked at the locker blocking my way. On the side that would’ve been closest to Shadow’s chair, was a message written in blood:
“Now how do I feel?”
Later, we learned what happened. In the early morning hours, an inmate on his way to the bathroom passed Shadow’s room and saw him slumped on the floor in blood. The inmate ran to the officer on duty and found him sleeping in his office, so he woke him.
Shadow, who’d been miraculously cured of bi-polar disorder and no longer needed medication to control his mood swings, had sat in the chair in the corner of his room and, with his state-issued shaving razor, cut his wrists and used the blood to ink a final argument for treatment.
Now, how do you feel?
[by NYS prison inmate Jon Fontaine, at Monroe County jail awaiting a hearing]
At the end of summer 2016, a new corrections officer at Mid-State prison became “the regular” on my housing unit. I helped him move a refrigerator into his office. He’d purchased the fridge himself, which was twice the size of a mini fridge, about chest high with a separate freezer.
It was still sealed in the box, and as I helped him take it out of the box, I realized – not only were his bags not searched, but a box holding a fridge was not searched.
I knew this officer could have hidden a dozen fully-loaded assault rifles in the fridge section, another dozen fully-loaded handguns in the freezer, and walked them right into the prison. It occurred to me this could’ve been the way escape tools were smuggled to Clinton escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat in 2015.
On today’s Rochester news – a heroin overdose at Groveland Correctional Facility in Upstate New York. An inmate overdosed on heroin and was saved by father and son officers. The reporter read the Department of Corrections’ (DOCCS) official statement that drugs are brought into prisons by people visiting inmates.
I personally know of dozens of inmates who spend nearly every moment of every day high. The reality is that a miniscule percentage of the drugs come in by visitors.
Knowing how easy it is to get drugs in prison and the vast amounts, it is impossible for inmates’ families to be responsible for even half the amount.
Drugs smuggled in during visits are passed mouth to mouth during a kiss. The drugs are packed in a balloon the size of a thumb. After the kiss, the inmate goes into the bathroom and hides the balloon inside his rectum.
In Mid-State Correctional Facility, one of New York’s biggest prisons (nearly 1600 inmates), every inmate would have to get a visit every week and smuggle back a balloon… and the total still wouldn’t come close to supplying the drugs prisoners consume in a week.
I would guess roughly 200 inmates get visits at Mid-State on a busy week. So where do the drugs come from? The same officers who think nothing of murdering inmates, committing gang assaults, committing rape and gang sodomy think nothing of supplying drugs to prisoners.
What’s the incentive? Money. The inmates pay them.
There are no searches of officers when they enter the facility. Most come to work carrying a book bag and lunch cooler big enough to hold two 12-packs.
Bullets – yes, firearms ammo – turn up in prisons. How? Guards.
Inmates are subjected to full body metal detecting after visits. Every rectum gets scanned in the “body chair.”
If an officer thinks nothing of smuggling in escape tools (ala escapees Matt and Sweat), bullets and cell phones, they won’t hesitate to smuggle in drugs.
Without regular searches of prison staff, there will continue to be heroin overdoses and escapes.
[Jon has been blogging from behind bars at the Monroe County jail, while awaiting a hearing.]
New York Post
The Daily Beast
[by Susan Ashline]
Two months ago, I learned a Mid-State Correctional Facility staffer had surreptitiously placed my name on a list of individuals who inmate Jon Fontaine will not be allowed to communicate with upon release. Jon is the subject of my book, a friend, and we currently have unhampered communication through the prison.
Additionally, Jon’s Parole Decision Notice (the one listing my name) is in error. As my name was added to the “no communication” list, the name of his actual crime victim was removed. The prison staff submitted an incorrect document and the parole board blindly approved it.
For months, I had to fight for an answer as to why my name was put on that document. Staff at Mid-State Correctional Facility also ignored my concerns that the victim’s name was omitted and needed to be added.
The first two months were spent getting stonewalled by Mid-State staff. Leading the charge: interim Superintendent Matthew Thoms, his deputy superintendent, Anne Joslyn, and a counseling supervisor, Ronald Meier.
I was forced to take my questions and concerns outside the facility to the Office of Special Investigations. They opened an investigation.
Finally, an answer.
Investigator Keila Bowens informed me a Mid-State employee named Lisa Hoy was responsible for putting my name on the list.
Why was it necessary for Mid-State administrators to stonewall me for months? They could’ve simply provided the answer. Instead, they sent me phoning, emailing and writing snail-mail letters until I grew eye bags.
Why are these people still employed? And why do we pay them for failing at their jobs? New York State is the only employer who allows its employees to do nothing and still collect pay checks.
Bowens was respectful and accessible. She told me Lisa Hoy is a former counselor at the prison. I do not know Lisa Hoy, nor have I ever heard her name. She was never Jon’s counselor. And because she no longer works at the prison, she cannot be questioned.
Bowens acknowledged the Parole Release Document is in error. She said the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) will need to submit an amendment to the record in order to include the victim’s name. However, she said DOCCS is unable to remove my name from the document because it is “part of the record.”
We’ll see if they do it.
Through this battle for answers, I cannot believe how many state employees told me the issue of my name appearing on this document doesn’t concern me. Um… yeah. Yeah, it does. It’s my name, and it restricts with whom I communicate. That’s revoking my constitutional rights. Get my name off the document and it will no longer be my business.
During Mid-State’s stonewalling, I had contacted the office of NYS Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who was chair of the Corrections Committee. I received correspondence that he is no longer chair. Should I receive an unfavorable reply from the parole board, I will contact the new committee chair, Assemblyman David Weprin.
[Jon is writing while in Monroe County jail awaiting a hearing, transferred from Mid-State prison. He sent me a personal note and later gave me permission to post it publicly]
I was going to send this other one [story], but it says bad things about DOCCS [Dep’t of Corrections] and I realized they can just open my locker and give all my shit away.
I go back and my razor is missing, and I go to the box. I say, “It came up missing when I was gone.” And they go, “No. You sold it before you left.”
And I lose.
(Yes, they give you a razor to keep.)
Or, they put a weapon/drugs in my locker (hide it) and 5 minutes after I’m back… “Search!”… and I get a new charge.
Nothing will stop any of it. My shit will be gone, or I’ll be in the box. They lock guys up for months and go – sorry, we’re expunging this from your inmate record. “What about the 4 months in the box I did and all my stuff being gone?”
They do whatever they want.
Google “Renfrow.” He was my bunky. IG/OSI [Inspector General/Office of Special Investigations] showed up. His 3rd day hog tied and bleeding in the box and they didn’t make anyone un-hog tie him or get him medical attention for 3 more days – “Oh, he’s still in there? You should take him to a doctor.”
Teeth gone, skull fractured. Hog tied, sitting in a pool of blood, piss and shit, and the investigators didn’t care for three days. And after, when he got out of the hospital with an open investigation, COs [corrections officers] would come to his unit at 3 a.m. and fuck him up in his sleep, run up behind him on the walkway and punch him in his head; removed all the numbers from his phone list so he couldn’t call anyone, would tell his attorney he couldn’t come to a visit, stalked him in uniform when he got out, twice framed him with weapons – all with an open investigation.
[by Jon Fontaine, a NYS inmate who has been transferred to the Monroe County jail from Mid-State Correctional Facility, awaiting a hearing.]
There were two holding areas. In the first were guys in street clothes. In the second were guys in jail jumpsuits. Other than the deputies, I was the only white guy in booking. Everybody was staring at me because I was in prison clothes. They were stating the obvious:
“He just came from prison.”
“He’s a white guy who just came from prison.”
The deputy led me to a room full of jumpsuits and property bags. I found a pair of new, jail issue, generic blaze orange clogs. I was not issued a single undergarment, nor were there any in sight – no socks, no under Ts, no underwear. My previous stay was the same. Monroe County jail does not issue any undergarments.
I sat in the holding area for probably an hour before a deputy came around saying, “I have to lock you guys in a holding area. We have a crazy guy coming through.”
We got moved to a holding pen the size of a living room. I took the coveted corner spot where two wood benches met, and put my back against the wall and my feet on the bench. Four other guys napped in the hard chairs, while one paced the holding area. And one kept popping up and down from his chair saying he hadn’t gotten to make a free call.
On the far side of the pen was s stainless steel toilet and sink combo. From 20 feet away, I could see both were totally covered in filth. Flies buzzed over the scum. The floor was littered with trash.
A deputy was locking the guys dressed in street clothes into a second holding pen. A few of them started complaining about being locked up.
“There’s no crazy coming through.”
“Yeah, they’d bring him in cuffs and lock him in isolation.”
“They just wanted to lock us up.”
“It’s two o’clock,” I said. “Shift change is in an hour. A crazy is coming through, but he’ll be wearing a badge, and these deputies want us locked up until their shift is over.”
The guy complaining about not getting a call asked, “You’re the guy who just came from prison, right?”
He sat down next to me, two mystery meat sandwiches wrapped in plastic in his hand. “What were you in prison for?”
“I beat a guy to death.”
“Damn! What’d you beat him with?”
I held up my hands. “My fists.” I touched a scar in the center of my forehead. “After I head butted him in the face.”
“Holy shit! You’re a bad dude! Why’d you kill him?”
“Last time I was in prison, he asked me what I was in prison for.”
His eyes got wide and his jaw moved around. I couldn’t tell if he knew I was joking.
“You want a sandwich?” he asked.
“Can I have both?”
“Sure,” he said. “Take both.”
The guys spent the next five hours asking about prison, talking about their cases and telling stories. The oldest guy, the one who gave me his sandwiches, would get up and pace around, and then sit back down next to me. When he’d talk, he’d wave his arms all around and I’d have to tip my head to avoid getting smacked in his excitement.
Every time he moved his arms, I’d get whiff of rancid body odor.
Finally, I got up and stood in a corner by the door like I was looking out into booking. I was near a vent and could still smell the rancid BO. I started sniffing my own jumpsuit. It reeked. “Do they wash these things?”
“No, they just put them in a dryer.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. It kills bugs but saves money on water and soap.”
“My God this jumpsuit stinks.”
Despite a few dozen requests, it would be seven days before I got to exchange my jumpsuit.
[by NYS prison inmate Jon Fontaine, who is in the Monroe County Jail awaiting a hearing, after being transferred from Mid-State Correctional Facility.]
They call it Gumbo. It looks like slop in a garbage bag, which, basically it is.
Inmates in the Monroe County Jail will pool their food to “cook” together each night.
They start with a garbage bag. That’s their cooking pot, casserole dish and serving tray.
They’ll break up a few Ramen soups and toss them in the bag, and then add a couple of packs of cheese crackers, or maybe a few small bags of Doritos. Someone will break up a dill pickle, which comes individually in a pouch, and then someone else will break up a greasy summer sausage. Into the bag they go.
They’ll scoop Jalapeno cheese out of a small, chip-dip sized tub, and then sprinkle in all of the seasoning packets from the Ramen soups.
Then, they shake the bag; mix it all up before adding a teaspoon of warm tap water. They tie the trash bag and wrap it in a bath towel to keep it warm.
A half-hour or so later, when everything has softened and expanded, the “Gumbo” is ready to serve.
A half-dozen bowls are set out. An inmate tears off a corner of the bag, turning it into what looks like a giant cake icing bag. The inmate squirts the Gumbo into each bowl in equal proportions, and then the inmates enjoy their meal, which has eight times the daily limit of sodium and four times the daily limit of saturated fat.
This is an overpriced heart attack in a bag.
In jail and prison, inmates can buy food, cosmetics, writing supplies and a few other items off commissary. There’s no healthy food on jail commissary. It’s all cookies, cakes, chips, candy and Ramen soups. Everything is overpriced. A 10-pack of Ramen soup at a retail store is $1. Here, that’s the price for just a single soup.
It’s a captive audience, so commissary companies can charge outrageous prices. The sad thing is most inmates’ loved ones are poverty stricken and they’re the ones getting gouged by multi-million dollar companies to buy soap, deodorant and toothpaste for their loved ones.
Hey commissary companies – How about some dehydrated blueberries, or apple chips, or trail mix? Then, we could make “fruit salad” in a bag.
I tell the story of Jon Fontaine and A Jacket off the Gorge.
We talk about Jon’s lawsuit against two New York prisons (Mid-State and Groveland).
I answer why people should care about guards abusing/neglecting inmates behind prison walls.
[by Susan Ashline]
I wrote a book. A Jacket off the Gorge is based on incidents outlined in a lawsuit against Mid-State Correctional Facility. The subject of my book, Jon Fontaine, is currently housed at Mid-State.
As Fontaine is prepared for release, he met with his counselor in November 2016 and went over his parole conditions upon release. Jon’s sentencing judge had issued four orders of protection against him; individuals tied to the case for which he is imprisoned. Just one of those individuals, Dora Rosser, was the actual crime victim.
Jon’s counselor notified him that his parole release document will state he is not allowed to communicate with those four individuals.
But this doesn’t make sense. Just days after meeting with his counselor, Fontaine received a hard copy of those conditions. Someone at the facility had surreptitiously swapped in my name, and swapped out Rosser’s name. The NYS Parole Board approved the document. So I am now listed as being barred from communicating with Jon upon release. And Rosser’s name was removed from the list, though it names three of the four individuals with orders of protection.
Why? And who did it?
No one at Mid-State prison will tell me. In fact, the staff at Mid-State has only told me they have no idea who put my name there, or why. Now, they are dodging all contact with me.
Clearly, the document needs to be revised, as it glaringly omits the name of Fontaine’s crime victim. Yet, staff at the prison is ignoring the issue.
Only after snail-mail letters attempting to address this did Deputy Superintendant of Programs Anne Joslyn send a response – one that makes no sense.
What personal information did I request? None. The response is not relevant to my issue.
In fact, she threw it together so quickly, she doesn’t even spell her colleague’s name correctly (it’s Ronald Meier, not Meiers); there is missing punctuation and rambling, incoherent thoughts.
Joslyn is a state employee who is either not very bright, or thinks others are not very bright and this smoke-screen letter will placate me.
It will not.
The Office of Special Investigations has opened an investigation on the matter as of December 19. However, OSI is run by the prison system (DOCCS), so is, in effect, the organization policing itself. Because of that, I don’t expect results.
In their 2016 annual report, the NYS Assembly Committee on Correction noted they also don’t have much faith in OSI, and tried to get a bill passed that would allow independent examination of complaints regarding prison staff. In 2017, the committee hopes to get approval to open an Office of the Correctional Ombudsman, which would investigate complaints when an inmate or citizen has failed to get satisfactory results through available institutional channels.
Other states have one. Why not New York?
Not having faith in OSI, on December 21, I brought my complaint to the Assembly Committee on Correction Chairman, Daniel O’Donnell.
We’ll see if anything gets done. Stay tuned.
[by Jon Fontaine, who has been transferred from prison to the Monroe County jail for a restitution hearing after County Court Judge Vincent Dinolfo wronfully denied him one four years ago.]
December 14, 2016
I spent my first six days locked in a dungeon known as “reception;” 23-hour a day lockdown, no TV, no radio, no windows. No nothing – but war stories, jokes, walls and sleep.
Everyone just arriving at the jail had to go through reception.
I was the odd man out, because I’d been locked away in prison the past four years while everyone else was fresh from the street.
Almost everyone in reception was a heroin addict; a “dope head.” I’d only heard about the epidemic. I had no clue about the drug, withdrawal, any of it. The epidemic is apparently so bad the jail now has a “detox” nurse who does nothing but handle addicts who are detoxing.
I could see or call out to roughly 15 other guys. About half were in the processing of detoxing and going through withdrawal. At least 10 of them were full-blown addicts.
I listened to their stories.
Pretty much all of them became addicts after being prescribed opiates for pain.
I listened to a just-turned 20-year-old who committed three burglaries to support his habit. He was excited his dad sent him money so when he’s released this week, he can go to Florida where his dad lives and go into a rehab facility.
I listened to a 26-year-old guy who committed burglaries and car break-ins to support his habit cry on the phone to a loved one about how he wants to get tattoos to cover up his needle marks so he doesn’t feel like shit about himself.
There was an Iraq and Afghanistan war vet, and a second 20-year-old on the far side of the vet. The one thing they all had in common was they were all treated equally as non-humans by the staff.
Any of those addicts who wind up in prison will be equally treated as punching bags and animals to be abused by state prison staff.
Each one of those addicts talked about how desperately they wanted to be done with heroin; how they wanted to be clean and have a normal life.
Withdrawal and detox was step one – something painful and traumatic in general, but easiest to do locked in a cage away from heroin.
A few days into my stay in reception, an older man pushing 60 got moved to the cell directly across from me. He looked like he could be a math teacher, or someone’s grandfather. Turns out, he was an addict.
He looked shocked when I told him I knew nothing about heroin.
To support his habit, he, too, was stealing. He wanted to kick his addiction, he said.
I had a front row seat to his withdrawals, standing at my bars for two days, watching him twist up in sheets, in pain. He’d beg the deputies to see the detox nurse. Their answer was always, “She comes when she comes.”
Yesterday, he kept begging to see the detox nurse. The deputies’ responses were consistently indifferent, and one even got mad that he kept asking to see the nurse.
Finally, after hours of yelling and moaning, a deputy came and opened his gate.
The deputy told him, “Pack up.”
I assumed he was being moved closer to medical services.
The old man moaned and said, “I need to see the detox nurse.”
“You’re being released,” the deputy told him.
”No, I need to see the detox nurse,” the guy pleaded.
“Listen, guy,” said the deputy. “You’re getting out. You don’t have to worry about detoxing. You can go get high.”
The old man sat up in his bed, eyes wide, balled up his bedding and dashed out the gate.
I thought – He got caught stealing so he could support his addiction. He was half-way through withdrawal. How is he going to afford getting high now? Commit some crimes.
No rehab. No assistance. Just – “Go get high.”