This morning I came across a very touching email from my exonerated friend, Michael Piaskowski. I’ve been fortunate to receive similar messages in the past, from other unsung victims of wrongful convictions. They never cease to affect me deeply and their words wind up staying with me throughout the rest of that day. A person’s life is only enriched by messages like these, by friends like these, whose lives were devastated and nearly destroyed.
Exoneree, Michael Piaskowski and Joan Treppa
I will only say that Mike’s message contained thoughts of feeling humbled and awed by what I do and of the sincere appreciation felt by all involved in the Wisconsin Monfils case. I’ve been told many times what these amazing people feel. They never let me forget. And theirs is the driving force keeping me focused. But it’s equally important to understand the root of these feelings. For them it’s a way to show their trust which may be all they have because of having been stripped of everything else both emotionally and financially. To me, this gift is priceless and is only awarded to those who’ve earned it. From the very beginning, it was my intent to earn it. That would mean I succeeded in provided hope where it mattered most.
When I first met family members of the five incarcerated men, I was struck by how calm they were. Where I expected anger and cynicism, I saw longing. In what should have been expected lacked an understanding that things could change. When I look back on those earlier days, the shift I see in their attitudes is evident. In their faces and in their words a more hopeful future resides.
Family members: Brenda Kutska, Kim Johnson and Deb Johnson*
Throughout this ordeal, Kim Johnson, inmate, Michael Johnson’s wife, has remained steadfast. She had expressed to me her most heartfelt thoughts, saying, “…you go to work and you bring home the groceries for the ones who are still with you and you do the best you can.” Few family members of these men are able to visit them because of having to take time off of work or coming up with the funds to make the trip. These everyday realities are cruel and unrelenting. It’s sad to witness the many hardships they face. But what stays with me is how very little they ask of a society that has taken everything from them.
*Deb Johnson, inmate, Michael Johnson’s sister, died in December of 2016. Michael had fortunately been transferred to a minimum security prison before her death and was able to attend the viewing…but not the funeral.