Tag Archives: Reclaiming Lives

I’m Dreaming of a Fair System…

  “Every child must be made aware…

               Every child must be made to care…

                          Care enough for his fellow man…

                                   To give all the love that he can…”    

–Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy lyrics                                                                                                           (By Bing Crosby and David Bowie) 

I’ve always been fond of this verse. Pick any time in our history and it rings as true as the day. These days, as I strive to regain composure from the devastating blow handed down from the U. S. court system earlier this year to Keith Kutska, Michael Hirn, Reynold Moore, Michael Johnson, and Dale Basten; five men victimized by a corrupt system for close to twenty-two years now for a crime they did not commit, I’m reminded of Keith’s spirited and powerfully truthful words in his forward for my book…

                              Keith (in background) with his attorney on front page                                                                        of the Green Bay Press Gazette on October 29, 1995

            “…an innocent person can choose to maintain his own integrity. It is one                                                  thing the system cannot take.” – Keith M. Kutska

We all have a choice in how to live meaningful lives no matter where circumstances take us. I say, let us never disregard the powerful messages coming from the unfortunate victims of our criminal justice system who’ve been silenced but have still found the fortitude to teach integrity through example.

Homemade Christmas card from an innocent incarcerated person

As a show of support for a handful of these victims, I write letters to let them know they are not forgotten. During this holiday season, I’m sharing one such letter I wrote recently in an attempt to keep alive, the one thing that can elevate an individual’s spirit if present or completely shatter it in its absence…HOPE.  Because without hope, all that is left is despair. And isn’t there enough of that in this world already?

Dear —–,                                                                                  12-28-2017

This is a bit late but I’m writing to wish you Merry Christmas. I’m a social justice advocate who became aware of your case through social media. I’m saddened about your situation but grateful for the support you have to carry you through the darkness. I have a number of friends who’ve been victimized by corruption within our judicial system. Some have been exonerated while others have not. I’ve learned so much about life from all of them, especially about appreciation for what I have and how easily a wrongful conviction could affect my personal life.

For the past eight years my focus has been from an outsider’s point of view of a wrongful conviction case involving six Wisconsin men. They were sentenced in 1995 to life in prison for an alleged murder that took place in 1992. I didn’t know the men or their families or even about the case until my sister, Clare, a long-time resident of Green Bay, brought it to my attention in 2009. She had met someone co-writing a book that documents all of the facts in the case. She also knew one of the six men and never believed he was party to a murder.

I eventually read the book and decided to get involved because of how ludicrous the whole scenario sounded. It was clear to me that this was bullying by the law enforcement community. Like yours and so many other cases there was no credible evidence or eyewitnesses to positively confirm that a murder took place. The entire investigation was about building a case around a suspect rather than allowing the evidence to lead them to the truth. I wrote my own book about my observations of what I saw and the similarities of this case with many other wrongful conviction cases. As a non-legal person I also disclosed my personal mission and the process of finding new legal representation for these men and why that was my only option moving forward. I self-published this year and actually won a national book award soon after. Unfortunately, although I found amazing attorneys to reopen the case, the legal process has gone south due to politics and the established ties to the case in the higher WI courts. However, one of the six men was exonerated in 2001 which gives me hope that the others also have a shot. So my intent to find similar relief for them remains steadfast.

On this journey I’ve learned the importance of writing to the men. I understand how much it means to anyone behind bars, especially those incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, to have a link to the ‘outside’ world. So here’s my contribution to the writing campaign set forth by those representing you. It is also a tribute to the vast need for more folks to get involved in this issue or something equally important rather than merely complaining about the ills of the world. I am hopeful that this and the message of how destructive wrongful convictions are to our society also becomes an adequate example to follow for those who read my book. 

                                                                                                 Best of wishes to you, my friend.

                                                                                                                             Joan

 

 All the best to all of you this holiday season and throughout the New Year! 

Personified Images…

Sincere apologies are in order regarding my blog which continues to suffer as I focus efforts on the final stages of my book. It’s still a few months away from being published but when considering this project has been in the works for approximately four years, that’s no time at all.

I am proud to present to you the latest progress-the front cover design which portrays all of the victims in this tragedy; (LtoR) Decedent, Tom Monfils, convicted men; Dale Basten, Michael Johnson, Michael Hirn, Reynold Moore, Keith Kutska and exoneree, Michael Piaskowski.

In my opinion, no words amply characterize the emotions conjured by this image…

book_cover_final_revision

I thought it fitting to also include something I shared in a previous blog–the book’s Foreword written by one of these men, Keith Kutska:   

While at the James River Paper Mill on the morning of November 21, 1992, Tom Monfils disappeared from his work area and was later found dead at another location in the mill. Despite the evidence pointing to suicide, the police assumed that an “angry mob” of his co-workers had murdered him. The investigation soon centered on six men who had been working at the mill that day. I know this because I am one of those six.

Few people, unless they or someone close to them has experienced what the “Monfils six” and their families have endured, are likely to understand the anxiety and sense of helplessness that overtakes an innocent person while he cooperates with law enforcement, only to have it call him a liar, a thug, and a murderer. Few can know what an innocent person suffers as he loses his job and becomes the subject of media stories and public contempt for a crime he did not commit. They will not experience or know the frustration that an innocent person experiences watching his family suffer as the investigation and trial continue.

Few people, unless they or someone close to them has experienced what the “Monfils six” and their families have endured, are likely to understand the anxiety and sense of helplessness that overtakes an innocent person while he cooperates with law enforcement, only to have it call him a liar, a thug, and a murderer. Few can know what an innocent person suffers as he loses his job and becomes the subject of media stories and public contempt for a crime he did not commit. They will not experience or know the frustration that an innocent person experiences watching his family suffer as the investigation and trial continue.

Staying hopeful is difficult. Because I have been convicted, the struggle is uphill. That is something that every wrongfully convicted person soon learns. What I have also learned is that an innocent person can choose to maintain his own integrity. That is one thing that the system cannot take. I will continue to speak the truth and declare my innocence, just as the other members of the “Monfils six” have.

After I had been in prison for more than fifteen years, I received a letter from Joan Treppa, a woman I had never met, but whose life was also changed by this case. She became a champion for all of us and for all wrongfully convicted people. If we regain our freedom, it will be because Joan cared and acted when she saw an injustice. I hope that this book inspires others to follow her path and become advocates for the wrongfully convicted.

–Keith M. Kutska

Visit this new site for indepth information about this case:

Lastly, thanks to all of you for accompanying me on this journey!

 

The Power of One…

As I walked past a small grocery store on main street a woman exited carrying an impossible load of groceries. Also dangling at her finger tips was a six pack of beverages in glass bottles. It was obvious that she was struggling to contain everything. But I kept on walking. The sound of glass crashing to the cement behind me seconds later still did not compel me to lend a hand. Instead I chose to feel ashamed and embarrassed and I feared retribution from her because of my failure to come to her aid.

When I share this story some ask why she didn’t use a cart. I say, “Why didn’t I help?” When others suggest I should let it go and move on I say, “Not in a million years!”

Joan Treppa reading the forward* for her upcoming book Reclaiming Lives; Pursuing Justice for Six Innocent Men at the 2016 Walk for Truth and Justice in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

There are many problems too large for me to change but if I can at least make a difference in my tiny corner of the world hopefully it will filter up and affect the bigger picture. Five years ago I was given the chance to put that idea to the test in a big way. I learned of a real legal case in which six innocent men were sent to prison for a crime they did not commit. After learning more details, it became apparent that I cannot and should not walk away this time. I became a public voice for these people and I focused my efforts on seeking out legal representation for them.

Many in similar situations typically have no money to seek adequate legal help so they sit in prison, praying for someone to care about what has happened to them. Many of them write letters trying to find help but with very little luck which only serves to bottom out an already defeated soul.

I learned of an organization called the Innocence Project (IP), an organization that charges nothing to represent incarcerated people with legitimate claims of innocence. The great thing is, the IP is more than willing to help if they can. The bad thing is, they rely heavily on public donations to fund their work. Those funds are often inadequate forcing organization staff to turn away many desperate cries for help.

Late last year, an idea by my artistic son, Jared Manninen, to “get me out there” was the motivation to create this website to highlight what I do on behalf of six Wisconsin men, especially when things started to progress favorably for them. I felt I was taking a leap of faith and I honestly didn’t think that my site would solicit much attention. I could not have been more wrong!  Thanks to all of you for showing unbelievable compassion and for caring enough to listen to and share my message.

Update: Book was published in June, 2017. It won a national book award in November, 2017. Available on Amazon or through this website.

*Forward was written by one of the six men, Keith Kutska. View a recording of Kutska being interviewed by the Green Bay Press Gazette in 2009.