How Parole Stole College from Criminal (Part 6)

[Read Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

Jon Fontaine had just gotten out of prison, and he had a plan. He had goals. At 35, he wanted to go to college. His past was his past, and he would pave a new road to his future.

But his parole officer threw up a detour sign. He wouldn’t let him drive.

The parole officer said no. In fact, it took him a while to say no. Really, he didn’t even say it to Jon directly for weeks on end – he simply ignored Jon.

To get a construction technology degree, Jon would have to go to school full time. He applied to Monroe Community College and was approved to start a full roster of classes in January. The only way he could take classes was if his Rochester-based parole officer, Martin Buonanno, allowed him to drive to school.

What convicted felon could afford an $80 round trip Uber each day to school on a dishwasher’s wages? (For the slow, that’s $400 a week… on a $200 a week paycheck).

With college to start on January 21, Jon asked his PO several weeks in advance for permission to drive to school. He would have to register for classes by January 16.

On January 4, Buonanno told Jon he’d give him an answer on January 18 (two days after the registration deadline), at their bi-monthly sit-down meeting.

Not hearing word from his PO, Jon had no choice but to register for classes. He signed up for six classes totaling 17 credit hours; an ambitious schedule for someone working full time.

On January 18, he anxiously reported to parole with copies of his course registrations and schedule, and a single question upon being seated.

Would he be allowed to drive to school?

But Buonanno didn’t give him an answer. He said he hadn’t gotten around to asking his supervisor.

Five days after classes started, Jon got a knock on the door. It was Buonanno. He’d come to tell Jon that his supervisor, Thomas O’Connor, had told him – four days earlier – that Jon was not allowed to drive at all.

Jon stood. He stared. Maybe Buonanno could read the questions in his face, or the disappointment. He either didn’t let on, or didn’t care. Still, Jon had to thank him. He had to be gracious for the fact the PO came by to deliver this news at all. He is required to show respect, even when it is unreturned.

Buonanno turned to march back to his car.

“Thank you very much, sir,” Jon told him, as he quietly closed the door behind him.

###

In Part 7, Rochester parole Bureau Chief Kathleen McDonnell calls my cell phone to say she’s seen these online blogs and YouTube video and claims I’m “harassing” her staff.

[Hear Jon’s parole officer hang up on me]

 

 

[*Note: Information contained herein has been gleaned from public online postings and through discussions with mutual acquaintances, none of whom are, or have been, acting as third party communicators through Jon.]

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No Love for Parolee, Literally (Part 5)

[Read Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

One month out of prison and Jon found a job. He was hired by a restaurant to wash dishes.

He’s a highly skilled and talented home remodeler, but his parole officer said he couldn’t work in anyone’s home. Barring that, he went to work washing dishes. Pay is paltry, and it won’t bring in enough for him to get a place of his own. It won’t pay for taxis/Uber, and he’ll still have to rely on others for transportation. It won’t be enough to buy clothes or to adequately feed him. But despite Parole chipping away at his morale, Jon got a job.

It’s a six mile round trip walk from his home. He started in the coldest season and continued through bitter winter.

I found this post from Jon online: “[Parole] as an entity is not structured to help inmates or parolees succeed. It’s structured to alienate, assassinate, and undercut.”

Parole next alienated Jon from love and companionship.

Not only was Jon determined to find work (and succeeded), he managed to find a girlfriend. She was a woman he knew before he left for prison, and they started a relationship at some point after he got home.

Jon found a girlfriend, someone willing to help with driving and nurturing, and providing the comfort that everyone needs from another human being to make life worth living. It is, perhaps, the single most important component to rehabilitation – love.

She has two little children, both who adored Jon, by all accounts I’ve seen and read online (his parole officer barred him from contact with me, so I rely on public internet postings and mutual friends for information).

Jon posted an email online that he sent to his parole officer, Martin Buonanno, in December. He asked Buonanno permission to spend the night at his girlfriend’s house on Christmas Eve, so they could wake up together early Christmas morning with the children.

He wanted to be part of a family on Christmas. One night.

His parole officer said, “No.”

One night. Christmas Eve. Love.

Jon no longer has a girlfriend.

In Part 6, see what happens when Jon wants to go to college.

[Hear Jon’s parole officer hang up on me]

 

 

[*Note: Information contained herein has been gleaned from public online postings and through discussions with mutual acquaintances, none of whom are, or have been, acting as third party communicators through Jon.]

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Parolee Pleads for Self Worth (Part 4)

[Read Part 1]   [Part 2]   [Part 3]

He left prison with no job or living supplies, no toothbrush, no underwear, no food. No support system – friends and family dropped off with each page turn of the calendar.

Prior to being released from prison, no state employee asked Jon what he needed to be a productive member of society. That’s what he wrote in an online post.

“Allow me to live up to my potential. Let me work doing something I’m good at and enjoy. Let me go back to college and finish my degree. Allow me to not be a burden on others by asking them to take time off work to drive me places. Let me earn money so I can provide for myself and not be dependent on loved ones, or taxpayers. Allow me to have self-worth.”

He was – he wrote – “ready to be the most successful parolee the [corrections system] has ever seen, but every goal that’s simple in concept has some crazy restriction attached to it.”

He wasn’t allowed to see me, a friend ready to help. He wasn’t allowed to drive. How would he get to all the appointments mandated by Parole?

Jon lives in a remote area. The bus comes once (no return trip) at 10 a.m. That’s when it heads to the county seat of Lyons, New York.

The second parole condition (on a list of 33) mandated that Jon go to Lyons to apply for public assistance – or go back to prison. This, despite an order that he pay nearly $200,000 in restitution – or go back to prison.

Jon had to dip into his whittled pool of support and beg for a ride – more than one hour round trip.

“I had to have someone take off work to drive me there,” Jon posted. “This person not only had to spend their time driving me, they lost hours of pay.”

The receptionist asked Jon which services he wanted to apply for, and he told her: “Nothing. I don’t want anything from you. I don’t need anything from you. I want to work, but parole says if I don’t apply for assistance, I’ll go back to prison.”

If he qualified, it would take 45 days to receive assistance.

They scheduled Jon for a mandatory one-hour orientation. Who would take off work to drive more than an hour, and then sit in a car another hour while he attended?

At the DSS orientation, Jon was scheduled for a second meeting the following week, at 8:30 a.m. In an online video, he’s holding the letter that states the appointment is at 8:30 – while standing outside the locked building with a sign stating the office opens at 9 a.m.

All the while with someone sitting in a car, waiting for him, and missing work and income.

Jon then learned he was required to return – twice – each for four-hour sessions.

“Remember how I said my parole officer said I can’t drive? Remember how I said the bus stops one time, at 10am, arriving in Lyons at 11:30? No return trip? 22 miles from my house?”

Miss a mandatory public assistance meeting – go back to prison.

“Haven’t I cost taxpayers enough? Shouldn’t I be allowed to work and contribute to the tax roll, not take from it? Shouldn’t public employees, especially the Department of Social Services go: Oh! You want to work? You have work lined-up? We’ll help you go to work in any way we can.”

To be continued in Part 5. [Part 6]

[Hear Jon’s parole officer hang up on me]

 

 

[*Note: Information contained herein has been gleaned from public online postings and through discussions with mutual acquaintances, none of whom are, or have been, acting as third party communicators through Jon.]

 

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Jon Violates Parole in His First Week (Part 2)

[Read Part 1]

The first day Jon had been released from prison, I figured he needed time to be alone, decompress. I’d give him that space. However, I was disappointed he didn’t call right away.

After having written a book about him and communicating for six years via calls, letters, and at cafeteria-style tables under the watchful eyes of guards and cameras, I was excited to give him a hug and help him through the process of reintegrating into society.

Sure, I knew prison staff had added my name to his “no-contact” list in the 11th hour and without explanation, but I didn’t really think that would stick. We’d been through a nightmare of red tape trying to get it removed and a lawyer was helping us.

But I didn’t hear from Jon, day after day after day.

The condition stated Jon’s parole officer could grant him permission to have contact with me. Why wouldn’t he? There was nothing reasonable or logical about this.

I had not lost my right to communicate with whom I chose, or to reach out to anyone. So I exercised that right. 

I messaged Jon through Facebook Messenger. I had legal information to pass along, and passwords to the accounts I’d maintained for him while he was away. And I’d tell him about my day, share a memory or laugh, or send pictures – everything protected under my First Amendment right.

On October 5, one week after his release, Jon sat down with his parole officer, Martin Buonanno, for what would be his first bi-weekly meeting. I learned Jon showed Buonanno my Facebook messages so Buonanno would see that I was contacting Jon, but that Jon wasn’t responding. He wanted to be transparent with his PO so he didn’t risk a violation.

What was Buonanno’s reaction? “That’s a violation.”

“She is messaging me,” Jon told him.

Buonanno said that because Jon was reading my messages, he was in violation of his parole no-contact condition.

HE WAS IN VIOLATION BECAUSE HE READ SOMETHING I WROTE. Think about that. Buonanno stated Jon violated parole because he received unsolicited communication from someone else.

The parole officer told Jon to block my messages, or be sent back to prison.

Jon did not receive a violation that day, but imagine if he did. Instead of Jon being a productive, taxpaying member of society, you’d be paying to house and feed him in an institution.

All because he read about my day.

More shockers in Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.

[Hear Jon’s parole officer hang up on me]

 

 

[*Note: Information contained herein has been gleaned from public online postings and through discussions with mutual acquaintances, none of whom are, or have been, acting as third party communicators through Jon.]

 

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Deputy Throws Whistle Blower Inmate in Isolation

Jon Fontaine is the subject of my book, A Jacket off the Gorge. He’s been sending me blogs from behind bars that I’ve been posting on my website. They are not popular among Monroe County Jail staff. They identify serious failures. (Read Jon’s blogs here.)

In what appears to be retaliation, jail staff has now taken Jon’s pen, paper, and modes of communication (phone, visits) and thrown him in isolation.

On May 23, I attended Jon’s court hearing. His attorney handed me a note that Jon surreptitiously passed him to give to me. It listed deputies’ names and stated they’d threatened him.

I walked to jail administration to turn over the note for investigation, and Corporal John Helfer came to talk to me. I had not stated the nature of my visit. Helfer’s demeanor appeared angry and defensive. He brought up Jon’s blogs on my website before I ever did, and before I got a chance to explain why I wanted to talk to him.

Helfer stated someone “sent an email around” to jail staff “with a link” to Jon’s blogs and suggested they look into his claims. Helfer then said to me, “We don’t investigate anything unless someone files a formal complaint.”

It was then I handed Jon’s note to Helfer and stated, “I want this investigated.”

Helfer asked me how Jon gets his stories to me. I said he writes them and mails them.

The next morning, May 24, Jon was taken to the mental health unit and locked in an isolation cell, his pen and paper taken from him, and his phone and visitor privileges revoked. This has been confirmed by an attorney.

Blocking someone from free speech: no small deal. That’s a violation of constitutional rights.

Later that evening, I received a call from the jail, but it wasn’t Jon. It was an inmate I didn’t know. He read a note which details the alleged chain of events. (Click here to listen to the inmate read the note.)

These are the allegations: Jon was talking with other inmates when jail deputy Cambisi confronted him and said, “You and I need to talk.” Cambisi then informed Jon he was going to write him up for “inciting a riot.” Internal Affairs staff arrived to investigate the complaint I’d launched the day before. Jon informed them of Cambisi’s action. After they left, Cambisi went to Jon’s cell and said, “You have a visit.” Jon grabbed his legal folder to take with him, which includes pen/paper. This time, however, it was not Internal Affairs, but two jail employees (Deputy Noble and Corporal Scott Bevilacqua) who took Jon to the mental health unit and locked him in an isolation cell, where inmates are barred from mail, phone calls and visits. Later, Corporal Wayne Guest brought Jon his property. Missing were his pens and paper. (Jon still had possession of the pens/paper he’d taken with him in his legal folder, which had not been searched).

The following is an email I sent to Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn:

I am requesting that inmate Jon Fontaine be immediately released from isolation, where he was put today (5/24/17) after Deputy Cambisi wrote him up on trumped up charges of “inciting a riot.”

This appears to be in direct retaliation of the complaint I delivered on Jon’s behalf to Corporal John Helfer yesterday. Helfer mentioned Jon’s stories on my website before I ever did. He asked how Jon relayed the stories to me. I told him Jon writes them and mails them.

Today, Jon’s pen, paper and carbon paper were taken away from him, and he was placed in an area where he is barred from communication.

I call on Sheriff O’Flynn to investigate these jail employee’ actions, and if the claims are found to be substantiated, to remove them from their duties.

UPDATE:

5/24/17 evening

Two jail guards entered Jon’s isolation cell, awaking him at 10 p.m. to search his property. They took him from the isolation cell and relocated him.

UPDATE:

5/25/17 a.m.

Jon was relocated to the “main frame;” an area of the jail known for housing the most violent detainees. There, guards are caged for their safey.

5/25/17 p.m.

Two inmates in the main frame entered Jon’s cell and bashed his head in. He spent the night in the medical unit under observation. Jon states that after required time in the gym, inmates were returned to their cells and locked in, but soon after the cells locked, they were all unlocked. That’s when, according to Jon, two inmates entered his cell and began stating they were told he was a “baby killer.” They proceeded to slam the back of his head repeatedly into the jail bars. He states he does not remember how this ended. Jon states there were witnesses and security cameras.

UPDATE:

5/26/17 

Without explanation or paperwork, Jon was abruptly removed from the Monroe County Jail and taken back to Mid-State Correctional Facility. He had been under judge’s orders to remain in the Monroe County Jail through June 20, the date of his restitution hearing, so he would have adequate contact with his attorney in preparing for the hearing.

Jon had been at the Monroe County Jail for six months without incident. The weekend before this happened, Jon’s blogs on my website spiked to more than 5,000 views in two days.

 

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Deputy Go F Yourself

[by NYS prison inmate Jon Fontaine, temporarily housed in Monroe County Jail]

Toilet paper, soap, and something to brush my teeth with – that’s all I needed. It’s all I was entitled to: basic toiletries.

I left prison at 6 a.m. and stayed shackled until my booking into the Monroe County Jail six hours later. For the next five hours, I sat in a small booking tank with a half dozen other inmates.

It was filthy. There was trash on the floor, and a toilet that looked like it had endured every form of bodily explosion and never been cleaned. Flies buzzed all over it.

I was informed our jail issue jumpsuits don’t get washed before re-issue; only tossed in a dryer to “kill the bugs.”

I kept trying to dodge the reek of body odor, only to learn it was my own unwashed jumpsuit.

We were all given bedrolls and moved to the “street plaza” unit. It was December 8, 2016.

When we got to the unit, a young Latino deputy was browsing the internet on the unit’s officer computers.

Street plaza was empty, so they gave us our choice of cells. I chose an end cell (quieter). It turned out my cell was also at a scanner, where the deputy (same one playing on the internet) had to make rounds, wave a key fob and then turn around.

About 30 minutes after I arrived, I asked the deputy during a pass at my cell, “Do you think I can get toilet paper, soap, and something to brush my teeth with? I’ve been on the road since 6 a.m.”

“I’ll see,” he told me.

A few minutes later, more inmates moved into the unit; more started asking for basic toiletries.

Next round (15 minutes later), I asked again. He told me he didn’t have a chance to check. Must’ve been too busy on the internet.

Correction law requires jails and prisons to provide basic toiletries. If inmates were denied toilet paper and a tooth brush, incarceration would be much more dehumanizing than it already is.

Next round, I said to the deputy, “Please, deputy, can I get supplies? I left prison at 6 a.m. and haven’t been able to use the bathroom or brush my teeth.”

“When I check.”

Each round, I asked, and each time, he gave me the same variation of not having time to check. After each round, I’d watch him return to the computer and the internet.

Finally, at 10:30 p.m. when I asked again, he told me, “I don’t have anything to give you.”

I am aware each unit has an entire supply cabinet full of everything. I asked politely, “Can I please see someone with stripes?” That is a supervisor.

He stopped. He asked why I wanted to see someone with stripes. I told him, “Because I’m entitled to use the bathroom, and you won’t give me what I need.”

“They’ll be around on rounds at 3 a.m., if you’re awake,” he replied.

I asked if he could radio someone and tell them I need to see them. He told me no.

“What’s your name, deputy?” I asked.

He turned his back on me, and as he started to march away, responded, “My name? It’s Deputy Go Fuck Yourself.”

Name tags are so small, you have to be close to read them. I couldn’t see his. I never did get supplies that night, or the next morning. It wasn’t until almost noon the next day that I was given basic toiletries so I could use the toilet, brush my teeth, and wash my hands with soap – 30 hours since I’d been given that basic human dignity.

Four days later, I was moved to a normal housing unit and found a Monroe County Jail handbook in my cell. Page 13: Upon admission to the jail, inmates will be provided with personal care items including soap, toothbrush, tooth paste, toilet paper.

Not only did Deputy Go Fuck Yourself violate Correction Law, but he violated his own boss’ policies.

Monroe County Jail requires that inmates get permission to file an internal complaint. How many jail deputies do you think are going to give an inmate permission to file a complaint about the jail?

 

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More Drugs than Books in Monroe County Jail

[by NYS prison inmate Jon Fontaine, temporarily housed in Monroe County Jail]

There’s more rats here than books, more drugs than books, more tobacco than books.

It’s literally easier to get bitten by a rat at the Monroe County Jail, smoke a cigarette, and get high to deal with whatever infection the rat gave you, than it is to find a book to read.

There’s no library, no book cart, no book requests allowed – nothing.

Inmates can only receive books if their loved ones order them from an outside vendor, and the books must be shipped to the inmate from that vendor.

I don’t know if the Monroe County Jail administration realizes this, but most of the inmates come from the poorest neighborhoods. Their loved ones can barely pay their taxes (Some of the highest in the country), let alone afford a computer and internet service to go on Amazon and order books.

In almost three weeks, I’ve come across two books. Oddly, both books looked like they’d been chewed.

Two books in three weeks is mindless torture for someone who normally reads two books in three days, doesn’t watch TV, and doesn’t play cards.

Other jails provide books.

It’s not a question of finances. In addition to being one of the highest taxed counties in the entire country, Monroe County shares in the profits from inmate commissary sales and inmate phone calls. This is nothing unusual. It’s common practice among jails to make money off inmates’ families. What is unusual is how expensive everything is at the Monroe County Jail.

A 1.7 ounce Degree deodorant that goes for $2 in a retail store is $4.79 here. A small bar of Irish Spring soap costs $1.25. A Ramen soup that normally costs 10-cents is 74-cents here. A standard size Snickers bar costs $1.29. A Walkman (remember those?) costs $35 here. At the Henrietta facility, inmates must buy a Walkman to hear the TV.

If your loved ones can’t afford books, they can’t afford a $35 radio for you to listen to the TV.

What’s an inmate to do to occupy their mind? Count rat droppings. Fight. Maybe call home. Well, the Monroe County Jail is raking in the money there, too: $3 for a 15-minute phone call.

In state prison, it’s only $1.50 for a 30-minute call. That makes Monroe County Jail phone calls four times more expensive.

Why compare jail calls to prison calls? Jail holds “pre-trial detainees;” people who have not been convicted. Some of them will leave with their innocence confirmed after trial; others will see their charges dropped entirely.

Yet, they are extorted financially for calls to their loved ones.

Inmates have limited options for taking their mind off their legal dramas. Books are a critical part of occupying an inmate’s time.

I never did get to finish my second book. Oh well, there’s always fighting, 15-minute phone calls for $3 a pop, and counting rat droppings to keep my mind occupied.

[Jon Fontaine is at the Monroe County Jail awaiting a hearing that Monroe County Court Judge Vincent Dinolfo wrongfully denied him four years ago.]

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