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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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.

$12,000.

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?

Background:

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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Mid-State Prison Staff Stonewalls Me (UPDATE)

[by Susan Ashline]

Read Part One

Read Part Two

Two months ago, I learned a Mid-State Correctional Facility staffer had surreptitiously placed my name on a list of individuals who inmate Jon Fontaine will not be allowed to communicate with upon release. Jon is the subject of my book, a friend, and we currently have unhampered communication through the prison.

Additionally, Jon’s Parole Decision Notice (the one listing my name) is in error. As my name was added to the “no communication” list, the name of his actual crime victim was removed. The prison staff submitted an incorrect document and the parole board blindly approved it.

For months, I had to fight for an answer as to why my name was put on that document. Staff at Mid-State Correctional Facility also ignored my concerns that the victim’s name was omitted and needed to be added.

The first two months were spent getting stonewalled by Mid-State staff. Leading the charge: interim Superintendent Matthew Thoms, his deputy superintendent, Anne Joslyn, and a counseling supervisor, Ronald Meier.

I was forced to take my questions and concerns outside the facility to the Office of Special Investigations. They opened an investigation.

Finally, an answer.

Investigator Keila Bowens informed me a Mid-State employee named Lisa Hoy was responsible for putting my name on the list.

Why was it necessary for Mid-State administrators to stonewall me for months? They could’ve simply provided the answer. Instead, they sent me phoning, emailing and writing snail-mail letters until I grew eye bags.

Why are these people still employed? And why do we pay them for failing at their jobs? New York State is the only employer who allows its employees to do nothing and still collect pay checks.

Bowens was respectful and accessible. She told me Lisa Hoy is a former counselor at the prison. I do not know Lisa Hoy, nor have I ever heard her name. She was never Jon’s counselor. And because she no longer works at the prison, she cannot be questioned.

Bowens acknowledged the Parole Release Document is in error. She said the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) will need to submit an amendment to the record in order to include the victim’s name.  However, she said DOCCS is unable to remove my name from the document because it is “part of the record.”

On January 26, 2017, I sent a letter to parole board members requesting removal of my name (click to read). 

We’ll see if they do it.

Through this battle for answers, I cannot believe how many state employees told me the issue of my name appearing on this document doesn’t concern me. Um… yeah. Yeah, it does. It’s my name, and it restricts with whom I communicate. That’s revoking my constitutional rights. Get my name off the document and it will no longer be my business.

During Mid-State’s stonewalling, I had contacted the office of NYS Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who was chair of the Corrections Committee. I received correspondence that he is no longer chair. Should I receive an unfavorable reply from the parole board, I will contact the new committee chair, Assemblyman David Weprin.

Stay tuned.

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