Try Getting a Job as a 19-Year-Old Felon

[by Jon Fontaine, a NYS prison inmate]

READ Part 1: From Math Class to Prison

December 26, 2016

No one would hire me. 

When I finally found a job, my family threw a fit about who I was working for: an ex-con.

No one would hire me, but to an ex-con involved in organized crime, I looked like a prodigal son. That’s what he’d call me: his prodigal son.

Through him, I was passed off to two other ex-cons with legitimate businesses as fronts for organized crime. I was 19 years old, sitting around a bar full of a real-life “Goodfellas” cast, themselves each having done 15, 20, 25 years in prison.

To them, I was a “stand-up guy.” I had potential. I was useful. Did I want to take a trip to Chicago? Could I take their Lincoln to get waxed?

It was my first day working for my third boss, and he sat me down and told me,”This is a mob joint. You’ll fit right in.”

Barely into my teens and I’d hit the big leagues in the crime world.

I was kind of a mascot, because I had the same name as a main character in the mobster Bible, The Godfather: Johnny Fontaine.

Dropping my boss’ name got me in places and got me favors. I remember one day, at a local hardware store, I came up short on cash when I was buying stuff for my boss. I was pissed because I thought I’d have to drive across town to pick up more money and come back. In the middle of my cursing, I said my boss’ name and the owner of the store stopped me and asked who I worked for. I told him, and he told me not to worry, that what I had was enough.

I met football players, TV people, a writer for an auto magazine, and even a federal judge; people who wanted to say they rubbed elbows with convicted murderers and mobsters. In my head, it wasn’t a bad life. But I also knew I couldn’t tell my girlfriend what sort of place I really worked for. I wasn’t totally committed to the criminal lifestyle. The line was thin and I was straddling it.

When my six-month waiting period to go to college passed, I again attempted to enroll. I filled out forms and took placement tests. The college gave me forms my parole officer had to fill out by a certain date to be admitted for the fall semester. I gave the forms to my PO and followed up weekly.

He never filled them out.

My admission was denied because of the missing forms.

Where could my life possibly lead? I was a kid with a bunch of criminal role models who all treated me like a son.

I’m now a 34-year-old three-time felon with three parole violations and more than 10 years in state prison under my belt. Now, I preach to the young guys that they don’t want to wind up like me: no wife, no kids, half my family gone, everything I’ve worked for, earned, or treasured – gone.

I went from and 18-year-old freshman in prison to a 34-year-old with a PhD in criminal behavior.

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