Former Amherst soup kitchen worker Donald Perry remains jailed
AMHERST — A jury in July found him not guilty of charges that he was in possession of stolen property from two Leverett homes, but Donald Perry, a former coordinator of Not Bread Alone soup kitchen, is still in prison on a parole violation.
For family, friends and acquaintances, an effort to get Perry out of jail is coming through a petition they plan to send to the Massachusetts Parole Board prior to his parole hearing March 12. The hearing takes place at 2 p.m. at 12 Mercer Road, Natick.
Using change.org, Perry’s girlfriend Elaine Arsenault of Montague, started a petition that has drawn nearly 800 signatures from people.
The petition reads: “We respectfully request that you make the right decision and immediately release Donald. This petition is in full and complete support of Donald Perry’s release. It’s time for Donald to come home to us now.”
The petitioners note that when Perry was arrested in August 2011, he was accompanied by a hitchhiker, a homeless man who left behind his possessions, which included the stolen items.
The arrest came after a resident whose iPad was stolen alerted state police to a tracking device in the iPad. This led to the stop of Perry’s vehicle by state police in Northampton and the discovery, inside his vehicle, of a black bag containing the stolen iPad, as well as a laptop computer.
Perry was employed as program manager at Not Bread Alone and as project coordinator for the Single Room Occupancy Outreach Program in Northampton.
Despite that, and spending nearly a year in jail awaiting trial, he was transferred to the state penitentiary at MCI Shirley. He remains there because in 1983, he received a second degree life sentence for an armed robbery.
“Donald now finds himself still incarcerated and at the mercy of the parole board for his freedom,” Arsenault writes.
Perry spent 18 years and seven months in prison, with a record that included the armed robbery, along with assault on a police officer and minor larceny charges. He was released in 2001. The parole department filed a detainer on Perry shortly after his arrest in the Leverett burglaries, allowing the state to maintain custody of Perry. In September, two months after the jury rendered its decision, a hearing was held and his parole was revoked.
Caitlin Casey, chief of staff for the parole board, said the review hearing will take place before the six current board members. Perry will be allowed to make an opening statement and his supporters will be able to provide information to the board.
The decision usually comes in one of two forms, either denied or paroled, Casey said. Under the denied scenario, the parolee can be given anywhere from a one- to five-year setback, depending on severity of the case, before another hearing is held.
If the parolee is paroled, a vote is taken under which conditions of release are set, Casey said. The person can be released more quickly if there is a stable family situation outside the jail.
Casey said it typically takes several months to write the full decision of the parole board.
Among those who have signed the petition are Joanne Sunshower of Shutesbury, who volunteered at Not Bread Alone with Perry.
“Don was a great cook, supervisor, and guardian, making sure that volunteers from area faith communities and schools were well organized, the food fresh and delicious, and everyone who came in was welcome,” she wrote.