Fights in jail or prison are like diarrhea – explodes everywhere.
I’ve had my share of fights over the years. I’ve probably forgotten as many as I remember. Most jail or prison fights are over in seconds. They’re not drawn out boxing matches. They’re explosions of violence.
Looking back, what I find remarkable is not the fights I’ve had – split lips, black eyes, sore hands, scratches – but my reaction to other people’s fights.
I was a teenager sitting in the mess hall of maximum security Elmira Correctional Facility. One corner of the mess hall was taken up by an indoor gun tower – round gun ports set in thick, angled glass. Officers paced in front of the glass, holding what looked like shotguns. Dozens of ceiling pipes were above my head, and the old-timers explained these were used to drop tear-gas canisters.
There were more officers stationed all around the room, toting wooden batons.
One minute, a few hundred inmates were eating; the next, two inmates exploded to their feet, fighting.
No one told me what to do in this situation. I was two months into my 18th year. I leaped to my feet, planning to move to the closest wall under the gun tower so I wouldn’t get shot.
The fight lasted 10 or 15 seconds – a long time in a prison fight – before officers broke it up and dragged them out.
I sat back down at my table and the guys asked me what I thought I was doing.
Years would pass, and I would see countless fights on all sides. Between inmates, there are cuttings and stabbings, and there are vicious, unprovoked beatings by officers.
A lifetime of violence desensitizes you.
I didn’t realize how far desensitized I was until 2012. I was in the Monroe County Jail, sitting in a visit with Susan [Ashline]. Half-way through our visit, I heard a crack behind me. I didn’t even turn to look, but I could see everyone else – inmates and visitors – watching.
Susan was staring at it and said to me, “They’re fighting!”
“So what?” I told her. “We’re having a visit.”
Here was a sane, law-abiding citizen surprised by a fight, and I didn’t even turn to look. I was more disturbed that she as distracted by two men fighting than I was that two men were fighting behind me.
Around the same time, also at the Monroe County Jail, there was another fight. Fifty-three inmates got popped out of their cells for breakfast. I had sat down, poured half my milk carton into a bowl of cereal and started eating.
One or two bites in, I heard inmates arguing over a chair, some cracks and scuffling, and a deputy yell, “Lock in!”
Inmates jumped up, leaving their trays behind, and fled to their cells. I stayed at my table, eating. The fight was still going on. Now, the two guys were rolling around on the floor. More deputies ran into the unit yelling, “Lock in!”
Besides the two fighting, I was the only inmate still out.
Deputies dove on them, and one ran up to me yelling, “Lock in or get sprayed!”
I stood up, picked up my tray with one hand, and kept eating with the other. I walked while eating.
When I finished, I set the tray on the floor, grabbed the half-carton of milk and took it into my cell and locked in.
After hauling the two fighters off, a deputy came to my door and asked why I didn’t lock in.
“I didn’t want my Rice Krispies to get soggy.”
“You were willing to get pepper sprayed over Rice Krispies?” he asked.
“I’ve been pepper sprayed for less.”
[by Susan Ashline]
An Upstate New York judge is off the bench because I filed a complaint; even then, the body I complained to simply let him resign rather than take action.
Like other organizations that police themselves, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct is notorious for giving passes to their own kind.
The commission is tasked with investigating complaints of judicial misconduct, but of 11 members, 9 are judges and lawyers.
The majority of judges found guilty of the most heinous misconduct are merely “censured.” That means the commission sends out a press release naming them.
In this case, the commission allowed Livingston County (York) Town Justice Walter Purtell to resign after my complaint pushed him over the edge. Their press release says so:
“The judge was also apprised by the Commission in January 2017 that it was investigating a separate complaint regarding his conduct handling a recent arraignment.”
Purtell was the subject of a complaint in November; the commission brought my December complaint to him in January, which was the tipping point to his resignation.
I pat myself on the back, because a lot of people whined about his actions, but didn’t take steps to effectively address the issue.
Purtell violated the U.S. Constitution – not a small matter. Purtell is a retired state trooper, and in violation of the First Amendment, he illegally closed his courtroom for the arraignment of Danielle Allen, daughter of Purtell’s crony, State Police Troop E Commander Major Rick Allen. A State Police staffer then blocked the media and citizens from entering.
The day the media were barred from the courtroom, media staffers called the administrative judge for the 7th Judicial District, Craig J. Doran. Doran’s response was to simply move the case to a different judge.
Doran took no other action. A judge had violated the constitutional rights of citizens en masse, and Doran simply transferred one of the judge’s cases.
So I filed a formal complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct [letter acknowledging my complaint.] On March 16, they sent me a copy of their decision, and a letter stating “in view of the judge’s resignation… the Commission has determined to close its file.”
At least that blight is off the bench.
People say if you think you can do the job better – go ahead and try.
I did. I ran for town justice years ago.
I just might do it again.
[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?”
[by New York State prison inmate Jon Fontaine, who is writing behind bars at the Monroe County Jail while awaiting a hearing]
Tom VanDusen was charged with fracturing his girlfriend’s cheekbone by hitting her in the face with a chrome vibrator.
When I was in county jail with him in 2011, he let me read his girlfriend’s statement.
I hate women beaters, so I decided to have some fun at his expense.
At breakfast each morning, we’d get juice in a small round cup with a foil lid. It looked like an apple sauce cup. It would fit perfectly inside the jail’s stainless steel toilet drain, I thought. A bonus – it was clear. It would blend in. No one would see it.
VanDusen’s cell was next to mine. I put the juice cup in his toilet.
After lock-in, I heard his toilet flush. It flushed a second time. I was guessing he took a crap and couldn’t get it down the toilet. I heard the toilet flush a third time and water hit the floor. Success.
VanDusen asked a guard for a plunger, and after plunging like his life depended on it, I heard him ask, “Who dropped the juice cup in my toilet?” He thought it was an accident.
The next night before lock-in, I reached through VanDusen’s bars and took his toothpaste. Using salt packets I’d taken from meal trays, I poured the salt into his toothpaste tube, and then kneaded the tube to mix it up.
After lock-in that night, I heard VanDusen start the faucet, and then I heard loud gags.
I bit my tongue, trying not to laugh.
The following day, VanDusen came to my gate and said, “I know it’s you fucking with me. If you don’t stop, I’m going to fuck you up.”
I said, “Really? In that case, my next trick will be to shit in your sink.”
At lock-in a few days later, VanDusen started screaming, “Oh my God! No you didn’t! I am not locking in with that in my sink! If you don’t get that out I’m pressing the panic button!”
Two inmates I knew ran to VanDusen’s cell and one, who went by “D,” said he’d get out the turd. He used a wad of toilet paper to wrangle it from the sink, and then brought it to his nose and sniffed it.
“Oh my God! He’s sniffing it!” VanDusen screamed.
The other guy, Mike, took the turd from D and bit into it.
VanDusen went nuts.
The “turd” was actually a concoction of food. I’d taken a Little Debbie fudge round, folded it and pinched the ends. I bought a Snickers off commissary, took out a few peanut chunks and pressed them in the fudge turd.
I had let Mike and D in on the prank just before I pressed it into VanDusen’s sink.
All it took was a fudge round to bring a big bad woman-beater to tears.
VanDusen went nuts.
The “turd” was actually a concoction of food. I’d taken a Little Debbie fudge round, folded it and pinched the ends. I bought a Snickers off commissary, took out a few peanut chunks and pressed them in fudge turd.
I had let Mike and D in on the prank just before I pressed it into VanDusen’s sink.
All it took was a fudge round to bring a big bad woman-beater to tears.
Read the Livingston County News cover story on Jon Fontaine’s lawsuit and A Jacket off the Gorge.
[written by Susan Ashline; as told by inmate Jon Fontaine]
A huge crash awakened me in my cell at Mid-State prison. It was early – 5 a.m. – and all the lights were on. It was August 2014.
I ran to the door, joining the other inmates who’d craned their necks to the hallway, trying to figure out what was happening.
Mid-State used to be a mental hospital, so the cell was a room with no toilet or sink, and no actual door.
The corrections officer working the overnight shift on my unit only left his office for two things: the midnight and 6 a.m. head counts. He did not make the required half-hour rounds. Instead, he would sleep in his office.
I saw a guard we called “Dirty Red” standing in the hallway, just outside another inmate’s door. Dirty Red was notorious for mistreating prisoners. But one act got him beaten senseless by another guard. Dirty Red would piss in the inmate ice machine. Each housing unit had one, like the kind you’d find in a hotel. But he failed to consider that officers used those ice machines, too. And then, one found out about it.
Dirty Red wasn’t even supposed to be on our unit that night. That, along with his reputation and the crashing locker led me to one conclusion.
“They’re fucking up Shadow!” I yelled.
More inmates rushed to their doors.
Shadow was a white guy with a long, black pony tail. He was super quiet and played guitar. We talked every day.
He’d been battling the prison administration and the Office of Mental Health (OMH). He wanted – needed – his bi-polar medication. He’d taken it his whole life, he told me. But the administration wouldn’t let him have it. He felt fine, they insisted. They argued he’d been cured of his mental illness.
And he’d mock them. “Miraculously cured,” he would say.
Knowing he wasn’t cured, and riding an emotional roller coaster, Shadow started filing grievances and writing letters. Everything was getting denied. Their reasoning? Shadow shouldn’t be granted “special treatment.” By that, I suppose they meant expecting to be able to continue taking medication he’d been taking for years.
His cries for help denied by Mid-State administrators and OMH staff, Shadow resorted to filing an Article 78. It’s a form of lawsuit used to challenge an administrative decision, action or policy. You can’t get money from an Article 78. The most you can win is the administrative action you’re seeking.
In this case, Shadow wanted his mental health medications. He’d been feeling ill for so long.
I knew Shadow had just filed the Article 78. I’d surmised this was just another retaliatory beating in typical prison guard Gestapo fashion. I figured a couple of officers – certainly Dirty Red – waited until the early morning hours to storm Shadow’s room in a gang assault to teach him a lesson about challenging the administration. Of course my mind would go there. That stuff happens epidemically in the prisons.
I heard bangs and thuds and a mix of voices – shrieks and hollers. I saw more officers rushing the scene, some carrying medical bags; one with a defibrillator.
I read the panic on Dirty Red’s face. I saw it in his hands. They shook so violently that he dropped a package of gauze pads and another officer snatched them.
Shadow’s locker came sliding out of the room into the hallway, creating a smeared trail of blood.
I heard the AED beep its warning. An electronic voice spoke commands on how to restart a heart. Then, a voice crackled over the two-way radio, “The ambulance is here.”
Guards picked out four inmates standing in their doorways. A folding canvas stretcher opened and then disappeared into Shadow’s room. It came out moments later, carried by the inmates.
As it passed through the doorway, I saw Shadow’s feet. Then, I saw his arm dangling from it, like his locker, cold and gray.
“Look at how bruised he is!” someone shouted.
He wasn’t bruised. He was dead. I knew it, and I hollered it back.
The stretcher gone, we were allowed to make our way to the bathroom one at a time. We would have to walk past Shadow’s room, squeezing by the metal locker splattered with blood.
When I got to Shadow’s room, I gawked.
Blood spray ran down the wall where the locker used to be, leaving a blank outline. Shadow’s chair was in the far corner. A huge pool of blood was on the floor and leading from it, trails of bloody footprints.
I moved on to the bathroom, but stopped again on my way back. This time, I looked at the locker blocking my way. On the side that would’ve been closest to Shadow’s chair, was a message written in blood:
“Now how do I feel?”
Later, we learned what happened. In the early morning hours, an inmate on his way to the bathroom passed Shadow’s room and saw him slumped on the floor in blood. The inmate ran to the officer on duty and found him sleeping in his office, so he woke him.
Shadow, who’d been miraculously cured of bi-polar disorder and no longer needed medication to control his mood swings, had sat in the chair in the corner of his room and, with his state-issued shaving razor, cut his wrists and used the blood to ink a final argument for treatment.
Now, how do you feel?
[by NYS prison inmate Jon Fontaine, at Monroe County jail awaiting a hearing]
At the end of summer 2016, a new corrections officer at Mid-State prison became “the regular” on my housing unit. I helped him move a refrigerator into his office. He’d purchased the fridge himself, which was twice the size of a mini fridge, about chest high with a separate freezer.
It was still sealed in the box, and as I helped him take it out of the box, I realized – not only were his bags not searched, but a box holding a fridge was not searched.
I knew this officer could have hidden a dozen fully-loaded assault rifles in the fridge section, another dozen fully-loaded handguns in the freezer, and walked them right into the prison. It occurred to me this could’ve been the way escape tools were smuggled to Clinton escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat in 2015.
On today’s Rochester news – a heroin overdose at Groveland Correctional Facility in Upstate New York. An inmate overdosed on heroin and was saved by father and son officers. The reporter read the Department of Corrections’ (DOCCS) official statement that drugs are brought into prisons by people visiting inmates.
I personally know of dozens of inmates who spend nearly every moment of every day high. The reality is that a miniscule percentage of the drugs come in by visitors.
Knowing how easy it is to get drugs in prison and the vast amounts, it is impossible for inmates’ families to be responsible for even half the amount.
Drugs smuggled in during visits are passed mouth to mouth during a kiss. The drugs are packed in a balloon the size of a thumb. After the kiss, the inmate goes into the bathroom and hides the balloon inside his rectum.
In Mid-State Correctional Facility, one of New York’s biggest prisons (nearly 1600 inmates), every inmate would have to get a visit every week and smuggle back a balloon… and the total still wouldn’t come close to supplying the drugs prisoners consume in a week.
I would guess roughly 200 inmates get visits at Mid-State on a busy week. So where do the drugs come from? The same officers who think nothing of murdering inmates, committing gang assaults, committing rape and gang sodomy think nothing of supplying drugs to prisoners.
What’s the incentive? Money. The inmates pay them.
There are no searches of officers when they enter the facility. Most come to work carrying a book bag and lunch cooler big enough to hold two 12-packs.
Bullets – yes, firearms ammo – turn up in prisons. How? Guards.
Inmates are subjected to full body metal detecting after visits. Every rectum gets scanned in the “body chair.”
If an officer thinks nothing of smuggling in escape tools (ala escapees Matt and Sweat), bullets and cell phones, they won’t hesitate to smuggle in drugs.
Without regular searches of prison staff, there will continue to be heroin overdoses and escapes.
[Jon has been blogging from behind bars at the Monroe County jail, while awaiting a hearing.]
New York Post
The Daily Beast
[by Susan Ashline]
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.”
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.
[by Jon Fontaine, a NYS inmate who has been transferred to the Monroe County jail from Mid-State Correctional Facility, awaiting a hearing.]
There were two holding areas. In the first were guys in street clothes. In the second were guys in jail jumpsuits. Other than the deputies, I was the only white guy in booking. Everybody was staring at me because I was in prison clothes. They were stating the obvious:
“He just came from prison.”
“He’s a white guy who just came from prison.”
The deputy led me to a room full of jumpsuits and property bags. I found a pair of new, jail issue, generic blaze orange clogs. I was not issued a single undergarment, nor were there any in sight – no socks, no under Ts, no underwear. My previous stay was the same. Monroe County jail does not issue any undergarments.
I sat in the holding area for probably an hour before a deputy came around saying, “I have to lock you guys in a holding area. We have a crazy guy coming through.”
We got moved to a holding pen the size of a living room. I took the coveted corner spot where two wood benches met, and put my back against the wall and my feet on the bench. Four other guys napped in the hard chairs, while one paced the holding area. And one kept popping up and down from his chair saying he hadn’t gotten to make a free call.
On the far side of the pen was s stainless steel toilet and sink combo. From 20 feet away, I could see both were totally covered in filth. Flies buzzed over the scum. The floor was littered with trash.
A deputy was locking the guys dressed in street clothes into a second holding pen. A few of them started complaining about being locked up.
“There’s no crazy coming through.”
“Yeah, they’d bring him in cuffs and lock him in isolation.”
“They just wanted to lock us up.”
“It’s two o’clock,” I said. “Shift change is in an hour. A crazy is coming through, but he’ll be wearing a badge, and these deputies want us locked up until their shift is over.”
The guy complaining about not getting a call asked, “You’re the guy who just came from prison, right?”
He sat down next to me, two mystery meat sandwiches wrapped in plastic in his hand. “What were you in prison for?”
“I beat a guy to death.”
“Damn! What’d you beat him with?”
I held up my hands. “My fists.” I touched a scar in the center of my forehead. “After I head butted him in the face.”
“Holy shit! You’re a bad dude! Why’d you kill him?”
“Last time I was in prison, he asked me what I was in prison for.”
His eyes got wide and his jaw moved around. I couldn’t tell if he knew I was joking.
“You want a sandwich?” he asked.
“Can I have both?”
“Sure,” he said. “Take both.”
The guys spent the next five hours asking about prison, talking about their cases and telling stories. The oldest guy, the one who gave me his sandwiches, would get up and pace around, and then sit back down next to me. When he’d talk, he’d wave his arms all around and I’d have to tip my head to avoid getting smacked in his excitement.
Every time he moved his arms, I’d get whiff of rancid body odor.
Finally, I got up and stood in a corner by the door like I was looking out into booking. I was near a vent and could still smell the rancid BO. I started sniffing my own jumpsuit. It reeked. “Do they wash these things?”
“No, they just put them in a dryer.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. It kills bugs but saves money on water and soap.”
“My God this jumpsuit stinks.”
Despite a few dozen requests, it would be seven days before I got to exchange my jumpsuit.
[by NYS prison inmate Jon Fontaine, who is in the Monroe County Jail awaiting a hearing, after being transferred from Mid-State Correctional Facility.]
They call it Gumbo. It looks like slop in a garbage bag, which, basically it is.
Inmates in the Monroe County Jail will pool their food to “cook” together each night.
They start with a garbage bag. That’s their cooking pot, casserole dish and serving tray.
They’ll break up a few Ramen soups and toss them in the bag, and then add a couple of packs of cheese crackers, or maybe a few small bags of Doritos. Someone will break up a dill pickle, which comes individually in a pouch, and then someone else will break up a greasy summer sausage. Into the bag they go.
They’ll scoop Jalapeno cheese out of a small, chip-dip sized tub, and then sprinkle in all of the seasoning packets from the Ramen soups.
Then, they shake the bag; mix it all up before adding a teaspoon of warm tap water. They tie the trash bag and wrap it in a bath towel to keep it warm.
A half-hour or so later, when everything has softened and expanded, the “Gumbo” is ready to serve.
A half-dozen bowls are set out. An inmate tears off a corner of the bag, turning it into what looks like a giant cake icing bag. The inmate squirts the Gumbo into each bowl in equal proportions, and then the inmates enjoy their meal, which has eight times the daily limit of sodium and four times the daily limit of saturated fat.
This is an overpriced heart attack in a bag.
In jail and prison, inmates can buy food, cosmetics, writing supplies and a few other items off commissary. There’s no healthy food on jail commissary. It’s all cookies, cakes, chips, candy and Ramen soups. Everything is overpriced. A 10-pack of Ramen soup at a retail store is $1. Here, that’s the price for just a single soup.
It’s a captive audience, so commissary companies can charge outrageous prices. The sad thing is most inmates’ loved ones are poverty stricken and they’re the ones getting gouged by multi-million dollar companies to buy soap, deodorant and toothpaste for their loved ones.
Hey commissary companies – How about some dehydrated blueberries, or apple chips, or trail mix? Then, we could make “fruit salad” in a bag.
I tell the story of Jon Fontaine and A Jacket off the Gorge.
We talk about Jon’s lawsuit against two New York prisons (Mid-State and Groveland).
I answer why people should care about guards abusing/neglecting inmates behind prison walls.
Groveland Prison Inmate Left Naked and Coughing Up Blood for Weeks
Seeks $2M from State
Sonyea, NY – A former inmate at Groveland Correctional Facility says staff neglected his medical needs to the extent he began hallucinating and wanted to confess to the Boston Marathon bombings.
Jon Fontaine is suing New York State for $2 million and the federal governmet for an undetermined amount of money. Pre-trial testimony begins in December 2016.
The lawsuit alleges Fontaine’s suicidal cries for help went ignored, resulting in near-fatal consequences, and that following a miraculous survival, staff at Groveland ignored his medical condition in what amounted to torture.
Among the defendants are a social worker and nurse practitioner at the prison in Livingston County.
Fontaine, 34, is serving a five-year sentence for stealing a quarter-million dollar treasure of ancient gold and silver coins that has never been found.
Incidents detailed in the lawsuit are depicted in an unpublished manuscript by former Rochester news reporter Susan Ashline, who dated Fontaine briefly before learning of his crimes. A Jacket off the Gorge (AJacketOffTheGorge.com) tells the story of their complicated relationship as well as Fontaine’s crimes. In a twist of irony, in 2004, while awaiting trial for an unrelated burglary, Fontaine staged his suicide at the Letchworth State Park gorge, leading to a search and rescue operation involving helicopters and hounds. While Fontaine was fleeing to the Pacific Northwest, authorities declared him dead after finding his jacket in the gorge.
The lawsuit alleges that while serving his sentence for the subsequent coin theft, Fontaine tried to commit suicide for real, after his mental capacity diminished and prison employees ignored his repeated requests for mental health care.
“The lawsuit reads like torture,” said Ashline, who remained a source of support for Fontaine after witnessing abuses in the criminal justice and penal systems.
According to the lawsuit, Fontaine had been taking the anti-depressant Remeron when he began serving his sentence in November 2012.
“His mental health spiraled downward,” said Ashline. “Soon after he went to prison, he would call in a panic, telling me he was putting in requests for help, but they were disregarded.”
The lawsuit claims prison staff eventually responded by telling Fontaine a psychiatrist wasn’t available for several months and to “tough it out.”
After being transferred to Groveland prison, Fontaine’s depression worsened, said Ashline. The lawsuit claims he told staff he believed the medication was causing him to feel suicidal, and a psychiatrist responded by increasing the dosage and adding new medication. Prison staff allegedly failed to monitor his mental state and his reaction to the medications.
When Fontaine relayed to prison social worker Mary France that he’d been having “daily death wishes” and believed it was tied to the medications, she allegedly brushed it aside and told him he could not let himself think that way. At about the same time, after reporting suicidal feelings for months, nurse practitioner Michael Cornwall prescribed Fontaine a two-month supply of a muscle relaxer for back pain and allowed him to take it his cell.
On April 12, 2013, in an attempt to kill himself, Fontaine swallowed almost all of the medication.
“An inmate should never be handed more than one pill at a time, let alone an inmate with a documented persistent and severe history of depression and suicidal behavior,” said Ashline, who was called to Wyoming Community hospital to pay last respects to Fontaine, found clinically dead.
Though he regained consciousness, Fontaine was removed from the ventilator while suffering pneumonia, severe pain and a disrupted heart rhythm. The hospital discharged him on April 17 with orders for medications to treat those issues.
According to the lawsuit, he was immediately returned to Groveland and put in a cell for nearly three weeks with no clothing or bedding, and the lights on 24 hours a day. He began coughing up blood, as documented by corrections officers, who reported they told medical staff.
Though Fontaine repeatedly requested medical attention and reported his symptoms to staff, including nurse Cornwall, staff allegedly failed to give him his prescribed heart medication and did nothing to address his pain and his continued coughing up blood.
Fontaine’s symptoms and lack of sleep became so extreme that, according to the lawsuit, he began hallucinating and told guards he was being tortured by the CIA and was ready to confess to the Boston Marathon bombings.
Three weeks after his suicide attempt, Fontaine was transferred to Mid-State Correctional Facility, north of Utica, where he repeatedly told staff of his ongoing symptoms. The lawsuit alleges the staff physician did not perform any medical assessments and told Fontaine his symptoms were all in his head and to take Tylenol.
According to the lawsuit Fontaine continued to cough up blood for more than a year after the suicide attempt, and continues to suffer heart, chest, hip and knee pain, and memory loss.
A lawsuit is also pending in federal court seeking an unspecified amount of damages for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violations of constitutional rights.
Fontaine is scheduled to be released from prison in September 2017.
[by Jon Fontaine, who has been transferred from prison to the Monroe County jail for a restitution hearing after County Court Judge Vincent Dinolfo wronfully denied him one four years ago.]
December 14, 2016
I spent my first six days locked in a dungeon known as “reception;” 23-hour a day lockdown, no TV, no radio, no windows. No nothing – but war stories, jokes, walls and sleep.
Everyone just arriving at the jail had to go through reception.
I was the odd man out, because I’d been locked away in prison the past four years while everyone else was fresh from the street.
Almost everyone in reception was a heroin addict; a “dope head.” I’d only heard about the epidemic. I had no clue about the drug, withdrawal, any of it. The epidemic is apparently so bad the jail now has a “detox” nurse who does nothing but handle addicts who are detoxing.
I could see or call out to roughly 15 other guys. About half were in the processing of detoxing and going through withdrawal. At least 10 of them were full-blown addicts.
I listened to their stories.
Pretty much all of them became addicts after being prescribed opiates for pain.
I listened to a just-turned 20-year-old who committed three burglaries to support his habit. He was excited his dad sent him money so when he’s released this week, he can go to Florida where his dad lives and go into a rehab facility.
I listened to a 26-year-old guy who committed burglaries and car break-ins to support his habit cry on the phone to a loved one about how he wants to get tattoos to cover up his needle marks so he doesn’t feel like shit about himself.
There was an Iraq and Afghanistan war vet, and a second 20-year-old on the far side of the vet. The one thing they all had in common was they were all treated equally as non-humans by the staff.
Any of those addicts who wind up in prison will be equally treated as punching bags and animals to be abused by state prison staff.
Each one of those addicts talked about how desperately they wanted to be done with heroin; how they wanted to be clean and have a normal life.
Withdrawal and detox was step one – something painful and traumatic in general, but easiest to do locked in a cage away from heroin.
A few days into my stay in reception, an older man pushing 60 got moved to the cell directly across from me. He looked like he could be a math teacher, or someone’s grandfather. Turns out, he was an addict.
He looked shocked when I told him I knew nothing about heroin.
To support his habit, he, too, was stealing. He wanted to kick his addiction, he said.
I had a front row seat to his withdrawals, standing at my bars for two days, watching him twist up in sheets, in pain. He’d beg the deputies to see the detox nurse. Their answer was always, “She comes when she comes.”
Yesterday, he kept begging to see the detox nurse. The deputies’ responses were consistently indifferent, and one even got mad that he kept asking to see the nurse.
Finally, after hours of yelling and moaning, a deputy came and opened his gate.
The deputy told him, “Pack up.”
I assumed he was being moved closer to medical services.
The old man moaned and said, “I need to see the detox nurse.”
“You’re being released,” the deputy told him.
”No, I need to see the detox nurse,” the guy pleaded.
“Listen, guy,” said the deputy. “You’re getting out. You don’t have to worry about detoxing. You can go get high.”
The old man sat up in his bed, eyes wide, balled up his bedding and dashed out the gate.
I thought – He got caught stealing so he could support his addiction. He was half-way through withdrawal. How is he going to afford getting high now? Commit some crimes.
No rehab. No assistance. Just – “Go get high.”
[by Susan Ashline]
Mid-State Correctional Facility employees are not happy I wrote a book.
And the way they retaliated affects you.
Some of the incidents depicted in A Jacket off the Gorge are subjects of lawsuits against the prison in Marcy, New York. I’ve had direct communication with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision about the book and have been publicly vocal about the lawsuit, including appearances on the radio in the very community where the prison is located.
And they don’t like it.
On November 15, 2016, the subject of my book, Jon Fontaine, met with his prison counselor, Lawrence Zick. Zick informed Jon that as a condition of his release, he would not be allowed to have contact with four people: individuals with orders of protection issued by the sentencing judge. Those individuals were connected to the case as witnesses, but only one, Dora Rosser, was the actual victim of Jon’s theft.
Pay attention. That comes into play.
Two days later, on a document dated November 17, that “no communication” list changed. Within just two days, a mysterious, unnamed state employee swapped my name for the name of Fontaine’s only victim, Dora Rosser.
Got that? A prison employee surreptitiously put my name on the list of individuals Jon is not allowed to communicate with upon his release. At the same time, they removed Rosser’s name (Jon’s only actual victim).
Why? No one can tell me. They claim they don’t know. And here’s the part that should concern you: state employees do what they want, outside the bounds of their authority, with no oversight. And there is nothing you can do about it.
When I first obtained the document with the “no communication” list, I didn’t notice my name was substituted for Rosser’s. I first called the New York State Parole Board to inquire why my name there. After looking up the file, they told me they had no idea; that there was no reason given on the request. They said the recommendations originated from the prison. Without so much as questioning why my name appeared, and why Rosser’s was glaringly absent, parole board members approved the document. They simply rubber-stamped it.
I contacted Mid-State prison to inquire why my name was on the list. I first spoke with a “Counselor Picente.” He seemed puzzled. He looked up information on his computer and said there was no reason given. He looked up other information and confirmed the facility had clearly approved me unhampered communication with Jon, and indicated that made it even more puzzling. He transferred me to the supervisor of the department, Ron Meier.
Here’s where things get… bizarre.
After looking up information on the computer, Meier stated he, too, had no idea why my name was on a list stating Jon will not “communicate” with me in any way. I told him I wanted my name removed. I told him a state employee has no right to revoke my civil liberties; I have a constitutional right to associate with whom I please.
He argued the “communication” restriction wasn’t on me; it was on Jon. However, by its very definition, “communication” is interactive. I told him I could talk to a tube of toothpaste all day long, but if it doesn’t respond, it’s not “communication.”
Ronald Meier stated he couldn’t do anything about it. He also said he had no idea who put my name there, or why.
Then, I received an official copy of the document. The only name on it is: Ronald Meier – the very person who feigned ignorance of the entire thing.
So I sent Meier a polite but firm email (read it here) stating I had the document – with his name printed at the bottom – and that I would like him to correct the document and send it to the parole board for amending. I said I would follow up with a phone call.
A week after no reply from Meier, I called him. He was waiting for me. He verbally ambushed me, chastising me for sending him an email. He kept nervously repeating I shouldn’t email him at the facility.
I can think of only one reason.
Needless to say, as a state employee, he is a public servant. We pay his salary. I told him my preferred method of communication was email, as I like to have things documented in writing. Evidently, he does not want anything documented in writing.
He then claimed he could not adjust the document, and would not. It was then I pointed out that the name of Jon’s actual crime victim was omitted. After stuttering and stammering, Meier said that was “odd” and tried to come up with a justification. There is none. The names of the other three individuals with orders of protection are there; Rosser’s is omitted. My name aside, it is a fact the document omitting the victim’s name is incorrect. Yet, the state employees at Mid-State prison refuse to correct their error.
This is why you should care. We pay their salaries. A single individual is making decisions, without oversight, that affect your life. And even when the documents are in error, no state employee is willing to correct it.
They are not doing their jobs. There is no way to make a state employee do his/her job.
Meier left it as – regardless, he can’t change the document and is unwilling to take steps to correct it. I asked to speak with his supervisor and left a detailed message. Anne Joslyn, a deputy superintendent at Mid-State, has refused to return my call or address the issue in any way. I have also emailed the interim Superintendent, Matthew Thoms. This is the person inserted in the Superintendent position after the NY Times reported a rogue band of guards raided a dorm and urinated all over the floor, beat the inmates and sodomized them with metal objects.
The state employees at Mid-State think they have power. And as long as no one reins them in, they do have power. Simply by pushing it across the desk, they got the parole board to sign a document that makes no sense and is actually dangerous to a crime victim (Rosser).
And that kind of unbridled power is dangerous. Trampling a citizen’s constitutional rights, with no recourse – is dangerous.
Today it’s me, tomorow it will be you.