There’s an amazing story about a man I know but have never met face to face. His persona took shape through stories told to me by loved ones and later through letters he and I exchanged.
For me, Michael Johnson will always be remembered as a visionary. He’s also one of the five men I advocate for who was convicted of a heinous murder. Over the years I’ve learned to listen to the one thing that I know will not betray me and that will always lead me on the right path. So when I say with certainty that I believe Michael is innocent, it is a belief held deep within my heart.
One other person equally important to this story is also named Joan. Soon after becoming involved in this pursuit of freedom, I met Michael Johnson’s step-daughter, Joan Van Houten. Joan is a ray of light for Michael. She’s done her absolute best to fight for his freedom but she has no illusions about the stark realities of this quest. She has never doubted Mike’s innocence or that one day she will see him come home. But the uncertainty of the time it will take causes turmoil in keeping the demons at bay…demons, she believes will eventually be crushed by the true gavel of justice.
During a weekend in Minneapolis when Joan was at my house, we participated in a very successful book club meeting. Afterwards, Joan had shared the contents of a statement Mike had written some time ago which told of a vision he had had and could not dismiss. After reading it, she said something to me that at the time took me by surprise. Now, in light of all that has come to pass, I understand perfectly. Here is that vision in Mike’s own words….
“I spent approximately eight months in Brown County Jail. While I was in county jail waiting for the jury to return verdict, is when the Lord gave me this vision. This is a very stressful time in my life, having been stripped of everything that was dear to my life. I believe the Lord was comforting me with this vision. The vision was in a time in the future and I did not yet understand it. I believed at the time it was of the Rapture. It was ten years before I correctly understood the vision. It began with me walking amid rubble, as I looked down I wondered why I wasn’t being cut or hurt by what I was walking on. The presence that was with me said: “It is because I am guiding your feet.” I then looked up and it was a summer day, the grass was green and the sky was blue with puffy white clouds. Before me was a blacktop road with a woman running on it up to a Control Tower screaming and waiving her arms in the air. Then I looked up and the clouds were rolled away and Jesus was looking down at me and was smiling. This vision was of the institution I am currently incarcerated in (Stanley Correctional Institution), yet this institution had not yet been built at the time I had this vision. I believe this woman was running to the authorities with some kind of information, the truth about the Thomas Monfils murder. I was reminded that a woman holds the Scales of Justice in front of the courthouse.”
As I searched Joan’s face for answers about what it meant she spoke with a conviction so clear and concise. I suddenly felt vulnerable but empowered. Joan said that she and Mike have talked about this vision many times. The feeling they both shared was that it was she who had always been its subject. She said that although this idea had never been in question before, it has since been shattered. The consensus between them now is that it is not her, it never was and that I am and always have been that person!