MADISON — A man who was freed this month from prison, where he was serving a 102-year sentence for a 1991 rape he didn’t commit, is living in a Madison homeless shelter and doesn’t have enough money to buy the medication he takes for several serious health problems.
Joseph Frey, 54, was convicted in 1994 of raping a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student. He was freed this month after new DNA evidence testing linked the attack to a now deceased man who was convicted of sexually assaulting two sisters in Fond du Lac after the attack on the student. At the time he was convicted, Frey was serving a lengthy prison term for an earlier Brown County sexual assault to which he had pleaded no contest.
When he was released July 12, Frey had less than a week’s supply of the dozen or so drugs he needs for a degenerative bone disease, blood clots and other health problems. He can’t afford more or the required follow-up visits to the doctor.
“I’m transient,” said Frey, who is staying at the homeless shelter at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison. “I have no health coverage. Nothing.”
Wisconsin Innocence Project attorney Tricia Bushnell, who helped get Frey exonerated, said the state doesn’t provide social services like they would for someone released on a mandatory release date.
“In those cases, they get a social worker, they help provide them transitional housing, they look into helping them look for jobs or education,” she told the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/1b4WvQY ).
Frey is now relying on the Innocence Project for help in putting his life back together.
Had he been released in 2005 — after completing his confinement for the Brown County assault — Frey would have gotten some help transitioning beyond prison life, Bushnell said.
Bushnell gave credit to Winnebago County Assistant District Attorney Adam Levin for agreeing to the DNA testing sought by the Innocence Project. It implicated a now-deceased rapist who, his mother told Oshkosh police in April, spent the final months of his life agonizing over an Oshkosh sexual assault he committed that was pinned on another man.
“There’s three victims here, the way I see it,” Frey said. “The victim was victimized repeatedly in this situation. The public was victimized by their representatives of law enforcement in Winnebago County, and I was victimized. And so far, there’s been very little accountability for that.”
If he’s lucky, Frey will qualify for the maximum $25,000 that the state can award to the wrongfully convicted, or $5,000 a year for a maximum of five years. Past efforts to boost that amount and to provide health care, housing and other services for exonerated prisoners have been unsuccessful.
“That’s not even minimum wage for one year,” Frey said. “I mean, look, it’s nothing. Is the injustice that shallow it could be wiped away like that, so nonchalantly? I don’t think so. I just hope that it changes. Because it’s not right.”
Frey insisted he is not bitter about the extra eight years he spent in prison. Self-taught in criminal law, Frey said he hopes for a time when he can “pay it forward” and help other inmates get justice.