Livingston County News: Jon’s Story

Read the Livingston County News cover story on Jon Fontaine’s lawsuit and A Jacket off the Gorge.

Former Groveland inmate claims torturous treatment in lawsuit against state

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Dying Inmate Scrawls Message in Blood

[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?

 

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Prison Guards Bringing in Bullets and Drugs

[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.]

Prison Guard Busted for Smuggling Phones, Drugs into Jail.

New York Post

Prisoners Texted Guards for Drugs and Paid Them with PayPal

The Daily Beast

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Mid-State Prison Staff Stonewalls Me (UPDATE)

[by Susan Ashline]

Read Part One

Read Part Two

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.

Stay tuned.

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Sitting in a Pool of Blood, Piss and Shit

[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.

 

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Mid-State Prison Strikes Back after Learning of My Book

[by Susan Ashline]

Mid-State Correctional Facility employees are not happy I wrote a book.

And the way they retaliated affects you.

Some of the incidents depicted in A Jacket off the Gorge are subjects of lawsuits against the prison in Marcy, New York. I’ve had direct communication with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision about the book and have been publicly vocal about the lawsuit, including appearances on the radio in the very community where the prison is located.

And they don’t like it.

On November 15, 2016, the subject of my book, Jon Fontaine, met with his prison counselor, Lawrence Zick. Zick informed Jon that as a condition of his release, he would not be allowed to have contact with four people: individuals with orders of protection issued by the sentencing judge. Those individuals were connected to the case as witnesses, but only one, Dora Rosser, was the actual victim of Jon’s theft.

Pay attention. That comes into play.

Two days later, on a document dated November 17, that “no communication” list changed. Within just two days, a mysterious, unnamed state employee swapped my name for the name of Fontaine’s only victim, Dora Rosser.

Got that? A prison employee surreptitiously put my name on the list of individuals Jon is not allowed to communicate with upon his release. At the same time, they removed Rosser’s name (Jon’s only actual victim).

Why? No one can tell me. They claim they don’t know. And here’s the part that should concern you: state employees do what they want, outside the bounds of their authority, with no oversight. And there is nothing you can do about it.

When I first obtained the document with the “no communication” list, I didn’t notice my name was substituted for Rosser’s. I first called the New York State Parole Board to inquire why my name there. After looking up the file, they told me they had no idea; that there was no reason given on the request. They said the recommendations originated from the prison. Without so much as questioning why my name appeared, and why Rosser’s was glaringly absent, parole board members approved the document. They simply rubber-stamped it.

I contacted Mid-State prison to inquire why my name was on the list. I first spoke with a “Counselor Picente.” He seemed puzzled. He looked up information on his computer and said there was no reason given. He looked up other information and confirmed the facility had clearly approved me unhampered communication with Jon, and indicated that made it even more puzzling. He transferred me to the supervisor of the department, Ron Meier.

Here’s where things get… bizarre.

After looking up information on the computer, Meier stated he, too, had no idea why my name was on a list stating Jon will not “communicate” with me in any way. I told him I wanted my name removed. I told him a state employee has no right to revoke my civil liberties; I have a constitutional right to associate with whom I please.

He argued the “communication” restriction wasn’t on me; it was on Jon. However, by its very definition, “communication” is interactive. I told him I could talk to a tube of toothpaste all day long, but if it doesn’t respond, it’s not “communication.”

Ronald Meier stated he couldn’t do anything about it. He also said he had no idea who put my name there, or why.

Then, I received an official copy of the document. The only name on it is: Ronald Meier – the very person who feigned ignorance of the entire thing.

So I sent Meier a polite but firm email (read it here) stating I had the document – with his name printed at the bottom – and that I would like him to correct the document and send it to the parole board for amending. I said I would follow up with a phone call.

A week after no reply from Meier, I called him. He was waiting for me. He verbally ambushed me, chastising me for sending him an email. He kept nervously repeating I shouldn’t email him at the facility.

I can think of only one reason.

Needless to say, as a state employee, he is a public servant. We pay his salary. I told him my preferred method of communication was email, as I like to have things documented in writing. Evidently, he does not want anything documented in writing.

He then claimed he could not adjust the document, and would not. It was then I pointed out that the name of Jon’s actual crime victim was omitted. After stuttering and stammering, Meier said that was “odd” and tried to come up with a justification. There is none. The names of the other three individuals with orders of protection are there; Rosser’s is omitted. My name aside, it is a fact the document omitting the victim’s name is incorrect. Yet, the state employees at Mid-State prison refuse to correct their error.

This is why you should care. We pay their salaries. A single individual is making decisions, without oversight, that affect your life. And even when the documents are in error, no state employee is willing to correct it.

They are not doing their jobs. There is no way to make a state employee do his/her job.

Meier left it as – regardless, he can’t change the document and is unwilling to take steps to correct it. I asked to speak with his supervisor and left a detailed message. Anne Joslyn, a deputy superintendent at Mid-State, has refused to return my call or address the issue in any way. I have also emailed the interim Superintendent, Matthew Thoms. This is the person inserted in the Superintendent position after the NY Times reported a rogue band of guards raided a dorm and urinated all over the floor, beat the inmates and sodomized them with metal objects.

The state employees at Mid-State think they have power. And as long as no one reins them in, they do have power. Simply by pushing it across the desk, they got the parole board to sign a document that makes no sense and is actually dangerous to a crime victim (Rosser).

And that kind of unbridled power is dangerous. Trampling a citizen’s constitutional rights, with no recourse – is dangerous.

Today it’s me, tomorow it will be you.

PART TWO:

Mid-State Prison Retaliates Against Me (UPDATE)

PART THREE:

Mid-State Prison Staff Stonewalls Me (UPDATE)

 

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Prison Worker Steals Inmate’s Money Order

 

New York prison worker admits stealing inmate’s money order

 December 15, 2016
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