How Parole Stole College from Criminal

[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, 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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What I Didn’t Do on President’s Day

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.

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We Sued the NY Parole Board and their Lawyers Are Playing Dodgeball

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.'”

Prisoners’ Legal Services Senior Supervising Attorney

Read Prisoner’s Legal Services entire  reply to the Motion to Dismiss.

Read the NYS Attorney General’s Motion to Dismiss, prepared by Assistant AG Omar Siddiqi (perhaps better suited to be an intern).

Read more about our litigation here.

And stay tuned for more parole drama! We’ll get your head spinning with this stuff. Sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss a minute of it.

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Inmate’s Exit from Prison a Bumpy Ride

[by Susan Ashline]

Jon called me last night.

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?


Mid-State Prison Strikes Back after Learning of My Book

Mid-State Prison Retaliates Against Me (UPDATE)

Mid-State Prison Staff Stonewalls Me (UPDATE)

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