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Former soup kitchen worker Donald Perry remains jailed

Donald Perry, shown here in a file photo working at the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen in Amherst, is currently being held in jail on a parole violation.

Donald Perry, shown here in a file photo working at the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen in Amherst, is currently being held in jail on a parole violation. Purchase photo reprints »

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 the 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 said.

I would defer to the court that found him not guilty. But I still want to know what the parole violation is that's keeping him in jail. The story says there was a hearing but it doesn't say what the reason was for the decision. Is being arrested a parole violation even if the person is found not guilty? Is picking up a hitchhiker a parole violation? This seems like an easy question to answer and the Gazette keeps not answering it with each successive story.

A jury found him not guilty of possessing stolen goods. They must have believed Donald's hitchhiker story. There's no reason not to beleive it. The issue is that even though he was found not guilty, the fact that he was arrested violated his parole of 30 years ago. What reason could the parole board possibly have had to revoke? It's non-sensical to keep a senior citizen, who is positively contributing to his neighborhood, in prison becasue of the inflexibility of parole board rules.

I was just about to sign the petition when I changed my mind. I'm finding it hard to believe the line, "when Perry was arrested in August 2011, he was accompanied by a hitchhiker"... That's exactly what every person arrested with stolen property says - "someone else left it there". Show me some facts that back up this homeless man story. If the police acknowledge that someone else was with Perry in the truck, or that someone fled the truck when it was pulled over... I'll believe it. Otherwise, it sounds like BS. It appears that Perry really tried to do well, and even if he slipped up, he might deserve a break. But don't feed me BS and ask for a break in the same breath.

The very first line of this article clearly states: "A jury in July found him not guilty of charges that he was in possession of stolen property from two Leverett homes..." Therefore, whether Donald Perry stole something or not is no longer the question. Whether he lied about someone else "leaving it there" (to paraphrase your comment) is completely irrelevant as well. For the record, based on what I've read I agree with the jury's decision — I believe he had nothing to do with the robbery. However, it isn't just for that, that I signed the petition. I signed it because if someone is found not guilty than they should not be punished.

Whether the police believe it or not, it seems that a jury believed it -- did you miss the part where he was acquitted before a jury of his peers? Given his documented efforts to help homeless people, his account does not sound improbable. He hasn't been convicted of anything in connection with this stolen property. An acquittal is supposed to count as innocence.

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