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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