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.
Since the subject of my book, A Jacket off the Gorge, was released from prison in September 2017, he’s been… I have no idea what he’s been doing. Prison staff manipulated the system to get parole to add a condition barring Jon Fontaine from communicating with me. My book is not complimentary of prison staff. Their bogus condition assures no collaboration on promoting the book (*ahem first amendment rights violations).
So I’ve been productively quiet while waiting for them to get sued. On December 6, that lawsuit was filed (details coming).
What have I been up to? I started a new book.
Trunk: A Story of Savagery, Courage and Survival tells the horrifying tale of a suburban family kidnapped by teenage brothers who hail from the most dangerous streets of Rochester.
The family is taken from their Irondequoit home, tortured for hours, stuffed into a trunk at gunpoint, driven around inner city streets and shown off like prized trophies until Don and Rashad Peterkin decide it’s time to “do ’em in.”
Among those held captive: a baby still in diapers.
Would any of them survive? In the hood, “Snitches wind up in ditches.” Fear rules. No one sees anything. No one tells.
A judge would call the Peterkins “savages” and “beasts who need to be caged.”
They are brought to justice thanks to two brave siblings raised on those very city streets; heroes whose stories have never–until now—been told.
Trunk is a gritty and riveting true crime story seeded with valuable discussion of inner city culture. It tells of the brutal crime in novel-like fashion, and reveals the untold story behind the heroes’ dramatic actions, and the shocking turn their lives would take.
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.
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?
In prison, people don’t generally segregate themselves by race. Associations are usually based on region. New York City guys usually stick together no matter the borough. Upstate guys will associate by city or region (Rochester with Rochester, Utica with Utica).
I usually associate with everyone, because I always seem to wind up with a prison job or reputation that brings everyone to me for something. Two guys I use to have a lot of fun joking around with were from Syracuse.
Wilfredo Roman, known as “Pieto” or “P,” was a Puerto Rican drug dealer. Jamie Kimbrough, known as “Bam,” was a bi-racial “booster,” or someone who goes into stores to steal valuable goods, like jewelry.
Bam stood out among the inmates, because one drunken night, he thought it would be a good idea to get a tattoo of a hair line to make up for his baldness.
I spent a lot of time with P and Bam, because we lived in the same unit. It also meant they were victims of my practical jokes.
One day, I was at my prison job in the gym until 11 a.m. I waited until Bam and P were together in P’s room, and I went in all hyped up.
“You guys are not gonna believe this!” I told them. “Yesterday, someone took some Jolly Ranchers off my locker. So this morning, I took a handful of Jolly Ranchers, opened them all, and shoved them halfway up my ass and re-wrapped them! I left them on my locker when I left this morning, and when I came back now, there were gone! Someone literally ate my shit!”
I saw Bam’s face turning red, and asked, “Did you see someone take my Jolly Ranchers this morning?”
Bam snapped back and pointed at P: “He gave me Jolly Ranchers this morning! He said he found them on your locker!”
Bam’s face was getting beet red, and P and I started laughing. Of course I wouldn’t stick candy up my butt. I had simply told P what I was planning to do, and asked him to play along.
[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.
[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.
[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.
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.”
On January 26, 2017, I sent a letter to parole board members requesting removal of my name (click to read).
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 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.
[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.