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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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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Hear My Interview on Utica Radio

Listen to my interview on WIBX 950 radio/Keeler in the Morning.

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.

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