On April 3, 2001, after five and a half years of incarceration, Michael Piaskowski walked out of prison a free man. Mike is the only one of six men to have been exonerated of murder in regards to the 1992 death of fellow co-worker Tom Monfils.
It wasn’t until Thanksgiving weekend in 2009 that I met Mike for the first time at a book signing in his home town of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Mike had helped author, Denis Gullickson and researcher, John Gaie complete a book about his case entitled, The Monfils Conspiracy; The Conviction of Six Innocent Men. This project took eight years to complete because of its complex nature.
Author John Gaie, advocate Clare Martinson, exoneree Michael Piaskowski, advocate Joan Treppa and author Denis Gullickson at 2009 book signing
I remember my brief opportunity to speak privately with Mike that day and how ignorant I was about what to say. The kindness of his words coupled with the absence of malice assured me I was in good company. Mike said to me, “I was fortunate enough to have been freed but the other five are still in prison and it is my duty to help them however I can”. I was touched by the lack of shame he exhibited as his eyes welled up with tears. I was moved by his openness about past feelings associated with having been newly incarcerated and his understanding of why inmates are put under suicide watch for a period of two weeks after being locked up. I sincerely believe it was during that encounter that my mind was made up to get involved in the mission initiated by these gracious men.
Mike will tell you that he lost everything he worked hard for because of what happened. He lost his family, his home and a good paying union job with a nice pension. He now has a job that pays little. He lives in modest surroundings but as he points this all out, you never get the sense he is complaining. Mike never goes down that road because of his gratefulness for the freedom that was given back to him. As in most people who’ve experienced what Mike has, he will never waste time reliving the anger he once felt. He has a way of shaming you into dismissing those same feelings and you walk away feeling humbled by his tenacity.
Cal Monfils (brother of decedent in Monfils case) with exoneree Michael Piaskowski at a 2015 Walk for Truth and Justice in Green Bay, WI
Mike’s companion Teresa has helped put joy back into his life and he has reconnected with his family. And just as he tells you that he has no love for those who put him away, you get the sense that he tries to see good in all of them. Mike has not only influenced how I now view our judicial system but has become a dear friend and colleague.
Teresa and exoneree Michael Piaskowski
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