Corey Regal Jones came to St. Johnsbury in the summer of 2013.
He’d been in town for just three days when he walked down Eastern Avenue and turned left into infamy on Railroad Street.
The so-called “Railroad Street Bawl” was already underway when Jones rounded the corner in front of Depot Square Apartments just as Tod West joined in on a sidewalk fist fight between his girlfriend, Emily Lussier, and a second woman identified at Lisa Duprey.
According to court documents, West struck Duprey in front of dozens of onlookers raising the ire of Jones who later told police he didn’t think it was right for a man to hit a woman. Jones then punched West and held him until police arrived.
It might have have been just another downtown fight that was over before police arrived but the entire incident was captured on film by a passing newspaper photographer. The picture of West striking Duprey as Jones approached in a blue tank top and white sunglasses landed on the front page of the Caledonian-Record the following day and Jones was suddenly a household name.
“I thought I was doing something good,” said Jones as he settled in for an interview Tuesday at the St. Johnsbury McDonald’s Restaurant on Railroad Street. “The two girls were fighting. And then, I think it was Tod West, stepped in and punched the lady and I just went over there and said “Hey, let the girls fight” and pushed him off and then we got in a little whatever…”
Since then, Jones has been in and out of the Vermont court system and its prisons.
Jones is currently appealing a felony conviction for allegedly providing a small amount of drugs to a friend who turned out to be a police informant. At his trial in March of 2017 Jones was found guilty and sentenced to prison. During that trial the police informant was publicly identified as his fellow Railroad Street combatant Emily Lussier.
Three months ago Jones, 42, got out of prison on furlough and now he’s using his experience from within the system to try and change it. He’s living in a half-way house and wears an electronic GPS device on his ankle 24 hours a day.
Alcohol was often a contributor to Jones’ problems with the law. But he says he’s now been sober for two years. He has extensive experience working in construction and said he wants to be back at it as soon as possible. But landing a job, said Jones, is proving to be a lot more difficult than he ever imagined.
Jones says the Field Service Unit (FSU) that monitors furloughees is broken and creates obstacles for convicts trying to get their lives back in order after serving their time behind bars.
“FSU is a failed system,” said Jones. “It’s just a broken system and it needs to be addressed.
Jones had been on probation before.
But this is the first time he’s been on the far more restrictive furlough status and he doesn’t like it one bit. He says he speaks not just for himself but on behalf of many other local furloughees who are too afraid to come forward due to fears of retaliation by corrections officials.
“I’m standing up for what I believe in,” said Jones. “I’m prepared to accept the repercussions.”
Probation is a status of supervision for convicts who are no longer incarcerated.
Furloughees, however, are still technically inmates serving part of a prison sentence in the community instead of a jail cell. And as quickly as they are released, furloughees can be yanked back into prison by community corrections officers for any number of allegations.
Jones says a phone call from the St. Johnsbury Department of Probation & Parole can happen so fast that he always carries what he calls his “anxiety bag” with him.
It’s a backpack he’s brought to the interview containing the basic necessities for prison life should Jones suddenly find himself back in a cell at Northeast Regional Correctional Facility (NERCF).
“We got sweat pants, change of clothes, boxers, socks,” said Jones as he goes through an inventory of the bag sitting on the restaurant floor next to him. “Because you gotta wear your own clothes down there. So I don’t wanna wear the ugly green outfit. There’s nothing in here except for stuff I can wear in jail and my court work and applications that I’ve been trying to fill out and a resume for trying to get a job.”
It’s getting a job that Jones says is especially difficult due to FSU requirements including mandatory risk reduction and substance abuse group meetings as well as required meetings with FSU supervisors.
“They don’t tell you this when you’re gettin’ sentenced,” said Jones. “It’s not part of your plea deal. It doesn’t say, ‘We’re gonna program you for nine months. I’ve got 18 months left and there’s five classes over there that are three months each. Fifteen months of my remaining 18 I have to go to classes for two days a week. So for the next 15 months I can’t work but three days a week. Who wants to hire someone that can only work three days a week?”
Jones, who has done prison time in his home state of Florida, has some suggestions to streamline the process.
“How about having all the applications down to P&P?” said Jones. “Have ‘em all there for us. Have a list of ten places that will hire ex-felons. In Florida, they have a paper that says who will hire ex-felons. Places get a grant to hire ex felons that cover us in case somebody does try to do something stupid.”
Jones says many furloughees need help with basic skills such as filling out job applications and that interviewing for jobs can unleash huge anxiety issues about job prospects drying-up when an employer finds out an applicant is on furlough.
“It’s ‘Hey, I also gotta tell you. I’m a felon. I really need this job but these are all the things I have to do for them all week long so they’re my priority. You’re my job but you come second. Will you still hire me?’”
As he talks Jones is interrupted by an email alert on his smart phone. He reads it and says it’s from a Lyndon business informing him that the position he just applied for has been filled by someone else.
“I’ve got applications in all up and down this street,” said Jones. “You think anybody’s gonna hire me on Railroad Street when I’m the Railroad Street Brawler?”
Jones says the programming that takes so much time now should have happened while he was still in prison and he displays an Internet post on his cell phone he made about problems with FSU. It is followed by a long line of comments from local furloughees expressing support for Jones’s efforts on their behalf and presenting their own problems with the system.
One of the most frequent concerns expressed is the difficulty in getting furlough housing approved by the DOC.
Jones says that’s created a prison back-up at NERCF.
“Half that work camp is a homeless shelter for people that can’t go home because they don’t have a residence,” said Jones “They have to approve your residence. If you’ve got a pit bull or a neighbor that’s been suspected of selling drugs they won’t approve that residence. So you can’t get outta jail.”
And according to several of the Internet posts that lengthy housing process has to start all over again if a furloughee is suddenly sent back to prison by FSU.
”It’s hard for people on furlough because the process to get approved for a residence is so strict,” wrote one commenter. “Then they can and will throw you in jail without any proof of wrongdoing… example your ex calls and says you threatened her new bf. Bam violent and threatening behaviour without any proof but still your residence gets pulled your back in jail and have to go through the entire process over.”
Another wrote they felt like they were being set up to fail by the FSU system.
“I’m 5 years into a 10-year sentence,” wrote another. “I’m afraid to sneeze too loud for I may be thrown in jail. For a long time I fought the system and all’s it got me was in and out of jail too many times. Every time starting over. They make people go to half way houses knowing that it may not be the best choice for that individual. They revoke residences and incarcerate people for minor reasons if any at all. Take your home from you and Bam your back in jail. How many times does one truly have to start over?”
The Vermont Department of Corrections responded to the concerns raised by Jones. They said they couldn’t comment on Jones’ case specifically but provided a general response to email questions.
“There are some situations or circumstances where the offenders work schedule conflicts with program or supervision requirements,” wrote Mike Touchette, Deputy Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections. “It’s our expectation that the supervising officer will, when appropriate, work with both the employer and the person under supervision to find a mutually agreeable schedule for all.”
“More often than not, we have success in doing this,” wrote Touchette. “Certainly there are some unavoidable conflicts, but we do our best to accommodate not only employment schedules, but a wide variety of other needs of the offender (doctors appointments, child care, etc.). We have many offenders throughout the state who are employed fulltime who also have required programming.”
Touchette also responded to Jones’ suggestion of a corrections friendly employer list and other concerns.
“Many sites do maintain a list of available jobs in and around their areas,” wrote Touchette. “Our staff have developed relationships with business owners throughout the state to foster employment opportunities for offenders.”
He said DOC also has educators and staff who assist in finding employment that support the offender’s skills and strength areas, resume building and interview preparation.
Touchette said the DOC appreciated Jones’ feedback.
“Mr. Jones’ ideas on how we can look to improve are warmly welcomed and we value the feedback and suggestions he has. I would encourage him to work with the District Manager of that office to share his ideas and concepts.”