Bleeding hearts who read this blog and post anonymous responses to it like to accuse me of having neither sympathy nor empathy for those they feel have been dealt "an unfair hand" by society or life in general. They wonder why I wouldn't want to pay for everyone's health care, child care, transportation, lodging, food, college education and cell phones. They wonder for whom do I actually "feel sorry"?
Well I can tell you that I definitely feel sorry for James Frey. Frey was just recently released from prison after serving more than 20-years for a rape on the UW Oshkosh campus that he likely did not commit. Reports over the weekend detailed Frey's new life as a "free man": living in a Madison homeless shelter and inelligible for unemployment. And after 20-years of the state picking up the cost of all his medicines for a myriad of health problems--he can't get those anymore either.
It takes a series of conscious decisions to be a twenty year old with three kids, or a six-time drunk driver, or a heroin addict or a high school dropout with no job, or middle class kid with his own car, cellphone and acne-free skin--but no money for college, or a morbidly obese member of the McDonald's customer of the year club. However, nobody wakes up and says "I think I'm going to be wrongly convicted of a brutal rape today." And while we have program on top of program to help all of the people who make all of the bad decisions I listed before, we have virtually nothing for people like James Frey.
The Department of Corrections likes to tout some of the vocational and educational programs it offers convicts nearing the end of their sentences. But when the doors to the cell open suddenly--and men who have known no other life for decades are suddenly thrust back into a world that has changed immeasurably since they first went in--they get nothing more than a pat on the back, a "sorry about that" and--if they are lucky--25-thousand dollars from the state. For James Frey, $25k will be just over a thousand dollars for every year of life that he lost due to the mistakes of police, prosecutors and a jury of his peers.
There was once another high-profile, wrongly convicted rapist set free years after his initial conviction here in Wisconsin--who was also sent back into the world ill-prepared for the "freedom" that awaits the wrongly-convicted and newly-freed. His name was Steven Avery--and we all know how that story turned out. Let's hope that the society that put James Frey away for twenty years do better this time around.