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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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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My Response to The Kimberly and Beck Show

It’s okay to care about someone.

There’s a lot of material in my 400 page manuscript, A Jacket off the Gorge, about a criminal whose life intersected with mine: fake suicide, search and rescue, international drug mule, never-to-be-found treasure, real suicide, and more.

But the Kimberly and Beck radio segment focused mostly on the relationship between the story’s subject, Jon Fontaine, and me.

And that’s OK. I’m learning folks are fascinated with the relationship.

I also learned, long ago, that people don’t pay attention to what they’re listening to on the radio, on TV, or to what they’re reading.

The radio show co-host said his phone was flooding with texts saying I was “still in love with” Jon. I found it mildly amusing. I didn’t feel the need to respond. I’d already made my position clear.

I said I cared about him. He is my friend.

I’m 51, not 21. I am evolved. I understand people can feel a wide range of emotions – caring is somewhere on the spectrum, being in love is at the far end.

I can have friends, acquaintances, lovers, enemies. I may even care about my enemies.

Why do people want to hold onto their own generated notion that I’m hiding feelings? What do they gain from that? I bet there’s a sociological phenomenon that explains it. Had I vehemently denied it, I would’ve been accused of protesting too much. I sat holding the phone with a grin, because I was amused. Were I still in love, I would’ve said so. I had been at one time. That was gone many years ago, for both Jon and me.

People move on. Always, they move on.

I just finished reading a book, The Fact of a Body. A lawyer who was sexually abused as a child is asked to work on sparing child rapist and murderer Ricky Langley the death penalty. But the author, herself raped by her grandfather as a child, wants Langley to die. The author spends the entire book trying to understand why the mother of the murdered child asks jurors to show Langley mercy. And she struggles to come to terms with her own sexual abuse.

In the end, after a lifetime of hating her grandfather, she remembers the human side of him, the part that taught her things, and she goes to his gravestone and tells him she loves him. And in the end, after reading stacks of court papers about the Langley case, which include documents showing his struggles and cries for help, she writes, “he started to become a person to me.”

I don’t understand how someone could feel empathy for a person who hurt a child. And though I may never see it her way, I trust the author of The Fact of a Body is mature, intelligent, and capable of forming her own opinions.

I care about someone I know as a person; one who did bad things. And I’m not ashamed of that. I’m proud of that.

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He Looked Like a Good-for-Nothing Criminal

[by Susan Ashline]

He wanted to know how he looked.

I’d just come from Jon’s court appearance, and he called me.

“How did I look? I mean… did I look alright? Did I look good?”

I could answer that quickly.

He looked like a dirt bag; nothing more and nothing less. In his orange jumpsuit, escorted in handcuffs, sitting in the defendant section, he didn’t look like a person. He looked like every criminal I’d always seen – actually, didn’t see – in that courtroom in all the years I’d covered courts as a news reporter. He was invisible.

He was nothing.

Why was he asking? It threw me.

I guessed he was asking because we all care about how we look, and he was getting out of prison in a couple of months. And here I was, not even considering that he was a human being.

Inmates in the same clothing are paraded in handcuffs through the courtroom to the same desk, and then brought to the same podium, and I’d seen them all as good-for-nothing nobodies.

This time when I looked at Jon, I no longer saw the guy who laughed at inappropriate times, engaged in deep conversation for hours, loved his dogs, and dreamed of riding in a helicopter. Gone was the talented remodeler and eager writer. Lost was the quiet guy with a gut-busting sense of humor. No more careful planner who labored over details and laughed like a little boy when tickled, held on fiercely when hugged and cried deeply when hurt.

He asked me how he looked.

Maybe, like everyone, he just needed validation that someone values some part of him.

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Sheriff’s Office Clears Itself of Wrongdoing

[by Susan Ashline]

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department has concluded its staff did nothing wrong. This is in response to complaints alleging retaliation against an inmate for making public claims of racism by jail staff, and other wrongdoings.

But, “The evidence available did not support the allegation made,” states the cookie cutter letters in which only the dates were changed.

Inmate Jon Fontaine filed two complaints; I filed one.

All three form letter responses, all signed by Sam Bell, state the same thing. 

Here are indisputable facts – ones I can attest to:

State prison inmate Jon Fontaine was in the jail awaiting a hearing that the appellate court ruled Judge Vincent Dinoflo illegally denied him.

Jon had been at the Monroe County Jail for six months without incident. The Saturday and Sunday before the suspected retaliation, Jon’s blogs on my website spiked to more than 5,000 views.

That Monday, Jon complained to me of an alleged incident of deputies harassing him and trying to take away his pen as he was led into court.

I went to talk about it to Corporal John Helfer, a communications staffer I knew from my days as a news reporter. I did not tell him the nature of my visit, and he hadn’t seen me for years. When he approached, he did not greet me. He refused to sit and appeared defensive and angry. He brought up Jon’s blogs before I ever said a word about them. He stated he was aware of them because someone “had sent an email around” to jail staff, including a link to the blogs.

That’s when I talked to him about suspected incident of retaliation #1 (May 23).

Helfer asked me how Jon got his stories to me. I told him Jon wrote them and mailed them to me.

The next morning (May 24), Jon was taken to the mental health unit, an area where inmates are barred from all forms of communication – writing, calls, and visits. Because the jail cannot deny an attorney visit, that evening, I sent his attorney to the unit. The attorney confirmed Jon was, in fact, in the mental health unit.

The attorney also stated Jon was wearing his jail clothes; however, inmates placed in those mental health cells do not wear jail clothes because they are placed there, and writing implements removed, due to their risk of self-harm.

I emailed Monroe County Sheriff Pat O’Flynn, copied in some news reporters, and requested that Jon be released from isolation.

Jon was then moved from the mental health unit.

I received an email from Sheriff O’Flynn stating Jon was not in the mental health unit. (The email did not acknowledge he had been in the unit).

That whole scene was suspected incident of retaliation #2.

Jon was relocated to the “main frame;” an area of the jail known for housing the most violent detainees.

On May 25, I received a call from an internal phone line of the Monroe County Sheriff’s office. The individual identified himself as a deputy. He told me Jon was injured and in the medical unit.

The circumstances that led to this injury should have been on camera.

That was suspected incident of retaliation #3.

Jon was then abruptly removed from the Monroe County Jail and taken back to Mid-State Correctional Facility.

The results of their (supposed) internal investigations confirm everything is running just fine within the Monroe County jail.

Background:

Deputy Throws Whistle Blower Inmate in Isolation

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Inmates Gamble Hair

[by New York State prison inmate Jon Fontaine]

With so little to do behind bars, some inmates gamble for fun. They gamble on almost anything – pro sports, chess, checkers, Dominoes, Scrabble, inmate-on-inmate fights, award shows, and card games.

I don’t gamble on anything. But I’ll watch the outcome of a really interesting bet.

One boring Saturday, I was playing cards with two other guys, Mike and Jordan, and they bickered endlessly about what to gamble.

One wanted to wager cakes off meal trays, known as “tray cakes.”

“No, I don’t want to give up my cakes.”

500 pushups.

“If I win, what do I get from watching you do pushups?”

The old man.

“What?”

Jordan threw out an offer. Loser had to shave the top of his head to look like an old man. Saturdays are hair cut days, the same day we were playing. The loser would lose his hair right then.

They agreed.

I was at the head of the table, Mike to my left, Jordan to my right.

“This is great!” I said. “I win either way!”

The game was tense. And in the end, there was no question – fitness-freak Mike, known for being cocky, lost.

“I hope this is a humbling experience,” I told him. “Maybe you’ll learn not to gamble.”

A few minutes later, Mike looked like an old man.

Then, Sunday came.

Whenever Mike said something to me, I responded with, “I can’t even take you seriously right now with that hair cut.”

Jordan, confident he could win again, offered Mike another bet: “If you win in Rummy, I’ll get the old man. If I win, you give me a bag of coffee.”

A bag of just three ounces of instant coffee costs a whopping $5 on commissary. Cocky as always, Mike took the bet.

An hour later, Jordan won again.

Mike was so pissed. Jordan sensed another opportunity. He offered Mike another bet: “You win and you don’t have to get me a bag of coffee, and I’ll get the old man. I win, and you owe me a second bag of coffee.”

But Jordan’s luck ran out.

“That’s what you get for being greedy!” I told him.

Not only did he lose the bag of coffee, he lost his hair.

Both hoped they didn’t have to go anywhere (visits, court, medical…).

Neither learned a lesson, despite being laughed at by just about everyone who came in the unit, inmate or civilian. They haven’t stopped gambling with each other. I sit at the table, Mike to my left, Jordan on my right, thinking about how they look like a peanut M&M that’s been bitten in half, their bare skulls the nut stuck in a bowl of chocolate.

It’s Dumb and Dumber Jail Edition.

Now, they’re wagering eyebrows.

[New York State prison inmate Jon Fontaine is temporarily in the Monroe County Jail awaiting a hearing that Monroe County Court Judge Vincent Dinolfo illegally denied him five years ago.]

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Felon’s Job Search May Land Him in Prison

[EXCLUSIVE] by Susan Ashline

 

Darnell Jerome is looking for a job like his freedom depends on it.

That’s because it does.

The 20-year-old Rochester man faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for lying about his criminal record on an application related to his employment search.

“I just wanted a job,” said Jerome.

Sentencing is April 21 in U.S. District Court in Rochester.

Jerome was a teenager living with his mother in a low-income neighborhood in the Upstate New York city when he stole a car while displaying “what appeared to be a firearm.” In February 2016, he was sentenced to five years probation for attempted robbery in connection with the crime. To avoid prison time, he was ordered to go to school, or get a job.

Jerome said he’d completed one year of courses at the community college, but when he went to enroll for the fall semester, he was told there was a hold on his account. He owed $200. He would have to find work.

The Probation Department provided little help, said Jerome. “I was given a packet and sent to a meeting downtown. I honestly didn’t find it useful.”

Jerome said he downloaded a job search website to his phone and applied for the first job he spotted: a cook at Famous Famiglia Pizzeria in the airport.

“I was just thinking it’s a job at the airport. It’s going to help me get back to school and pay my bills,” he said.

He applied for it online. The restaurant was within Rochester city limits. Rochester has a “ban the box” law, making it illegal for employers to inquire about criminal history before the end of the first interview. Jerome’s prospective employer interviewed him over the phone and asked him to go the restaurant for orientation.

The restaurant was beyond a secure area of the airport.

Jerome attended orientation. He was hired and told to show up to work the next day. He was given an application to fill out for a security badge that would allow him access beyond the airport screening devices so he could go to work.

The security access form asked a series of questions, including if the applicant had been convicted of a crime in the past 10 years. Darnell checked “no,” though he’d been convicted of attempted robbery just one month earlier. The application indicated a conviction such as his would bar him from obtaining a security badge. Along with the application, Jerome provided federal authorities with identification and fingerprints.

He worked three months before a federal air marshal showed up at the Probation Office to question him.

Authorities charged Jerome with making a false statement. The penalty upon conviction: up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department would not comment on the case.

An element of the crime is that the act was done “knowingly and willfully.” To secure a conviction, the prosecution would have to prove Darnell intended to check the “no” box.

During a January trial, the marshal testified Jerome had told him he was aware he checked “no.” The prosecutor showed images of items that airport restaurant employees could access after gaining security clearance.

“They were showing pictures of knives and cleaning chemicals, insinuating I’m a terrorist; that I would have access to get to passengers or get on the plane with them,” said Jerome. “I was like, really? Me? A terrorist?”

Jerome said his motives were not sinister. “My intention in filling out that application was to get a job.”

Jerome said he understands the importance of the security screening. “It is their duty to make sure every citizen boarding a flight is protected.” He added, “I’m not the person to be looked at. Despite my recent felony conviction, some people turn around. And I was obviously trying to turn over a new leaf.”

Jerome said he checked “no” accidentally, because he wasn’t reading the form carefully.

Rochester passed a “ban the box” law two years ago, but the federal security access application is an exemption. Rochester City Councilman Adam McFadden was instrumental in developing and passing the law. He said he suspects Jerome checked the box knowingly, but not because he’s a terrorist. McFadden said he knows how difficult it is for those with a criminal record to find employment. He said he personally knows many individuals whose criminal pasts continue to plague them during job searches for years, leading their lives down a path of ruin.

Jerome echoed those concerns. He said in the eyes of the eyes of the criminal justice system – he’s branded for life.

A jury convicted Jerome on January 10. Sentencing is set for April. Though the prosecutor argued for Jerome to be sent to jail while awaiting sentencing, the judge ordered Jerome to remain free, but on one condition: He goes to school or finds a job.

Jerome said he’s trying his best – considering accepting any type of work – and hopes to earn money to pay his school bill so he can go back to college.

“I’ve even asked my probation officer, ‘Is there any help? Are there any conventions? Do you know any places that are hiring?’”

He’s submitted more than 30 applications, he said.

“They’re not willing to hire me. It hasn’t made me get up and think differently any day, other than keep trying. Not everyone’s going to say no.”

Even if someone says “yes,” on sentencing day, that may no longer matter.

“I don’t know how it’s going to go April 21,” said Jerome, of the date he will appear in court to learn his fate. “But I have fingers crossed and God ahead of me.”

And, he has a plan.

“To show [the judge] I’m doing beyond good with my appointments at probation, and finding employment, and trying to figure out something with school. At least if I get that fine paid, I can show her it’s paid and I’m ready to go for the fall semester. Or, I’m willing to take summer courses.”

Jermone had one question before ending the interview.

“Do you know where I can find a job?”

Read the Update 
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