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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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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How Parole Sets Offenders up to Fail (Part 3)

[Read Part 1] [Part 2]

Over the last six years, locked up in prison, Jon Fontaine has had to rely on others. It was time for him to give back.

In his first week of release, his mother’s basement sprang a leak. He pulled out the broken downspout that was channeling water into the house, and then to divert it, dug a hole – for hours –using just a shovel. But he was on a tight deadline. He needed parts, and someone to drive him to the store. Parole would not allow Jon to drive.

When he returned, he worked feverishly on a three-foot trench, trying to finish in the dark, before his 8 p.m. curfew.

The curfew is one of 33 conditions Parole imposed in place of actual “supervision.” It is an unreasonable list of conditions that are impossible for any human to follow. Here are a few :

  • Cannot have a car or driver’s license.
  • Cannot have a bank account.
  • Cannot leave the county.
  • Must be inside his approved residence between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
  • Cannot consume alcohol.
  • Cannot be in a place in which alcohol is the main form of business (bar-restaurant, et. al).
  • Must maintain employment.
  • Must take substance abuse courses and other courses as directed by parole.
  • Cannot have contact with me, a journalist who wrote a book about him.

Most of the restrictions don’t apply to him. He has not been found to have a drinking or substance abuse problem and has the usual traffic tickets like everyone else.

How does one cash paychecks without having a bank account? And Jon lives in a remote area in the country (right near the county line he can’t cross). How many businesses would hire a convicted felon? How many within walking distance?

How does one “maintain employment” if he can’t drive, leave the county, have a bank account, or is unable to find anyone within walking distance who will hire a felon?

Stable social support systems are critical to rehabilitating offenders. But how does one find love and family with an 8 p.m. curfew? “Oh, and honey, you’ll have to pick me up and drop me off all day, every day, everywhere.”

“And pay for everything, too, because parole has made it impossible for me to find a job.”

These restrictions don’t allow for opportunities. They remove HOPE.

For those who want to start a new life, parole does not encourage that. Those who want opportunities will get into a car and drive to find those opportunities. They will violate these nonsensical restrictions to create opportunities. Conversely, those bent on committing crimes will cross the county line anyway. They will be out after 8 p.m. anyway.

Jon filed a lawsuit to remove the contact restriction between him and me. It is my right to contact him, and Jon wants to see me. How long before he violates that condition?

The restriction doesn’t make sense. Why not remove it?

Parole imposes conditions that are impossible to follow, and that provides them job security. We will inevitably throw these people back in prison (on our dime). The more time an offender spends behind bars, and without opportunities, the more damaged he becomes, and the lesser the chance of rehabilitation.

We have Rochester parolees committing rapes and murders, and no one understands how that happens. It’s because their parole officers felt a piece of paper was sufficient “supervision.”

We pay Jon’s parole officer, Martin Buonanno, $88,928 a year to come up with a list of restrictions – ones that throw up road blocks rather than pave new roads.

And when I called Buonanno to ask him his reason for barring Jon from contact with me, he refused to answer and hung up.

Buonanno is why we have offenders under parole “supervision” who are out committing rapes and murders. Because parole officers like him simply sit at desks and come up with lists without regard to the person they’re supposed to be supervising, and believing they don’t have to answer to the taxpayers who employ them.

More shockers in Part 4 and 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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We Sued the NYS Parole Board and It’s Downright Silly

“… 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 Gorge is 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.

Cause of Action, Fontaine v. NYS Board of Parole
Memo of Law, Fontaine v. NYS Board of Parole
Memo of Law, Fontaine v. NYS Board of Parole
Cause of Action, Fontaine v. NYS Board of Parole

Click here to read my affidavit

Read the Cause of Action:

 

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I’ve Been up to Something

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.

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Crickets

It’s been awfully quiet on this website.

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.

What a waste of your money.

Background:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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Mid-State Prison Retaliates Against Me (UPDATE)

[by Susan Ashline]

PART ONE:

Mid-State Prison Strikes Back after Learning of My Book

PART TWO:

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.

Makes sense.

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.

“It has been determined that personal information regarding inmate Fontaine cannot be released to you as there is no signed consent form signed by inmate Fontaine to release information to you.”

What personal information did I request? None. The response is not relevant to my issue.

In fact, she threw it together so quickly, she doesn’t even spell her colleague’s name correctly (it’s Ronald Meier, not Meiers); there is missing punctuation and rambling, incoherent thoughts.

Joslyn is a state employee who is either not very bright, or thinks others are not very bright and this smoke-screen letter will placate me.

It will not.

The Office of Special Investigations has opened an investigation on the matter as of December 19. However, OSI is run by the prison system (DOCCS), so is, in effect, the organization policing itself. Because of that, I don’t expect results.

In their 2016 annual report, the NYS Assembly Committee on Correction noted they also don’t have much faith in OSI, and tried to get a bill passed that would allow independent examination of complaints regarding prison staff. In 2017, the committee hopes to get approval to open an Office of the Correctional Ombudsman, which would  investigate complaints when an inmate or citizen has failed to get satisfactory results through available institutional channels.

Other states have one. Why not New York?

Not having faith in OSI, on December 21, I brought my complaint to the Assembly Committee on Correction Chairman, Daniel O’Donnell.

We’ll see if anything gets done. Stay tuned.

PART THREE:

Mid-State Prison Staff Stonewalls Me (UPDATE)

 

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