New book captures the behind-the-scenes work of a Parole Officer
By DEBORAH A. MILES
Not everyone can say their day job presented an opportunity to be in the thick of things when the FBI, state and federal police performed a sting operation to get Antonio Fernandez.
On the streets in East Brooklyn, Fernandez was known as “King Tone.” He was head of the Latin Kings, one of the most violent and largest Hispanic street gangs in the U.S. that operates with the efficiency and structure of a large corporation. Its members are known for beatings, murder and arson, and to prevent cooperation with law enforcement.
And not many people can claim to know Vincent Gotti, the youngest brother of John Gotti, the Italian-American gangster who became boss of the Gambino crime family in New York City.
But Anthony L. Johnson, a retired PEF-represented parole officer, can describe in detail what it’s like rubbing elbows, or perhaps in this case handcuffing, some well-known criminals as part of his job. That sparked the idea for Johnson to write a book.
“One Man’s Journey: The Experiences of an African American NY State Parole Officer” was self-published in September 2016. Johnson wrote the book over a three-to-four year period, taking real events and encounters and weaving them into a fictional story. The main character is Terrance “End Zone” Jackson – a boy born with God-fearing values but raised in a neighborhood lined with streets to nowhere.
“I started writing the book because I supervised some pretty famous criminals over the years,’ Johnson said. “I also wanted to portray the skills required to be a parole officer and the interesting, challenging and adventurous role we play in communities. We wear many different hats in the performance of our jobs such as social worker, peace officer, investigator, prosecutor, addiction specialist and mentor. The general public knows little of what we do.
“Being a PO is like being in a hidden law enforcement agency. I was involved with helping to solve some very serious crimes. I got no credit outside of the agency. That happens to many parole officers. My motivation was to let people know that parole officers play an integral role in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. When they took down King Tone, there was a special about him on HBO. But they didn’t interview me,” Johnson laughs. “I had the case for two years. King Tone would bring Ron Kuby, a well-known American criminal defender and a civil rights lawyer, into the parole office with him. King Tone was an extremely dangerous guy.”
One of the characters in his book is modeled after Vincent Gotti, who Johnson described as “very interesting.” The FBI arrested Vincent in 2008, in a plan called Operation Old Bridge, for engaging in crimes of violence, narcotic offenses, loansharking and ordering a botched murder attempt of a Howard Beach bagel store owner, Angelo Mugnolo, in 2003.
“I used a lot of experiences I had over the years, and some from fellow parole officers, and wrote a fictional story with a message,” Johnson said. “My book is dedicated to all parole and probation officers.”
There is more in store for “End Zone” Jackson.
Johnson is writing a sequel where his main character takes a leave of absence from the job to search for the missing daughter of his female parole partner, who was killed in the first book. The working title is “Girl Gone Missing.”