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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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]

Jon had been released from prison his first day. 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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How Parole Fails Them and You – Jon’s First Day of Release (Part 1)

Jon Fontaine was released from prison on September 29, 2017, with just the clothes from his prison locker and a bus ticket. He traveled alone.

I wouldn’t know much about it. Though I’d supported him the six years he was behind bars, the minute he walked through the gate, parole denied him contact with me.

But Jon made some public online postings, and I saw them. Wearing a bright blue T-shirt circa 2011 that he’d had in storage, he talked into a camera about his first day of release.

His release was also talked about on a popular radio show, The Kimberly and Beck Show. That’s because a Rochester parole officer called the radio show hosts with the “tip.” The parole officer ratted out Jon’s release date and specific home address to the hosts, hoping they’d talk about it on the radio.

One of the hosts called me for an interview. She is the one who gave me the information about Jon. Otherwise, I’d had no idea.

Apparently, parole officers decided it was rehabilitative to broadcast to the world Jon’s exact home address, as well as to isolate him from his support system.

That first night, two parole officers showed up at Jon’s approved residence. They sat in the kitchen. Ironically, they told him he wasn’t allowed to do any media interviews – interviews which would not have been requested had a parole officer not blurted to the media what was supposed to be privileged information.

One of those parole officers, Martin Buonanno, would be Jon’s permanently assigned PO.

That night, for the first time in many years, Jon retired to a bed he could call his own, but he got no rest. Absent the putrid clouds of cigarette smoke and mind-cluttering noise of talking, arguing and steel-clanging to which he’d become accustomed, Jon couldn’t sleep at all.

Adapting to an unfamiliar life of outside prison walls wouldn’t be easy. And Jon would learn freedom wouldn’t mean free.

Most importantly, parole staff would not help with this transition; quite the contrary. They would dismantle the plans Jon had for his new life – plans six years in the making were trashed by parole staff in one fell swoop.

When parole officers fail those newly released to society, they fail all of us who live among them.

Keep reading to learn the shocking chain of events. To be continued in Part 2.

[Read Part 2] [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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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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