To Governor Patrick
The Honorable Deval Patrick
Massachusetts State House, Rm. 360
Boston, Massachusetts 02133
I am writing to you today to request your help for a friend of mine. His name is Joseph Labriola. Joe is an incarcerated Vietnam veteran who is seriously ill and falling through the cracks of the judicial system. It is my opinion that Joe is experiencing a gross miscarriage of justice. I am not alone in this assessment. I hope you will take the time to read this entire letter. I know you are busy and I want to thank you in advance for your time and attention.
Before I go on, I would like to mention that Bob Kerr, a columnist for the Providence Journal, is also a friend of Joe's and has far more information about his circumstances than I do. I am certain he would be extremely happy to talk with you and help in any way. You can reach Mr. Kerr at the Providence Journal office.
Joe's current circumstances are that he is servjng a sentence of life without parole at the Souza-Baranowsky Correctional Center in Shirley, MA. He was convicted in 1973 of first degree murder in a trial without witnesses or direct evidence against him. The trial transcript would break your heart. You should know that for most of the trial, Joe wasn't even allowed to sit at the defense table and couldn't hear most of the proceedings. One witness, a detective who had worked for the prosecutor's office, was allowed to offer hearsay evidence of what the victim, an informant drug-dealer, was alleged to have told him. With only circumstantial evidence linking Joe to the victim, the prosecutor was able to influence the minds of the jury by asking Joe questions along the lines of: "Isn't it true that you are a Vietnam veteran? Isn't it true that you have experience killing people?" The judge made the prosecutor apologize to Joe — a heavily decorated Marine with two tours of duty and a distinguished record. But the bell was rung in the minds of the jury members, whose prejudices and perceptions were fed, as so many people were, by the (media managed) stereotyping of the crazed Vietnam veteran. This case has been a total compounding of one injustice after another and one torture upon another, resulting in a life-time accrual of injury to this unfortunate son.
That was nearly 35 years ago. Joe has been in maximum security prisons ever since — nearly half of that time in solitary confinement, because he has twice tried to escape and is a vocal person who organizes around issues like a prisoner's rights to humane treatment. Joe organized charity drives and the first prisoner political action committee. Joe is a light in a very dark place. Joe has spent his time well, always continuing to educate himself and using his time helping others. Through a long correspondence, I have come to know Joe as a singularly brilliant and compassionate man — a teacher/poet/citizen and most importantly, a friend.
My friend Joe is in danger. Joe was recently transferred to the Medium Security facility in Shirley, MA. While there are some positive aspects to this transfer, Joe is in a situation where he has far less control of his personal environment than when he was in a private, air-conditioned cell in maximum security. This has a severe impact on his quality of life. Joe is very ill with severe C.O.P.D. (emphysema) arid needs much better medical care than he has any hope of receiving in prison. Joe is also a prisoner of post traumatic stress disorder — which is exacerbated by his current physical, psychological, and spiritual environment. I can imagine what it must be like for Joe to live in fear of disturbing his cell mates with his constant coughing and gasping for breath. I know he will be very vulnerable to exposure to virus and bacteria that could threaten his life.
It is a sad fact that the medical unit Joe would be in danger of being eventually transferred to presents an even greater threat to Joe's health than the precarious place where he now resides. This creates an intimidating enVironment where the prisoner-patient is reluctant to ask for the health and comfort measures needed for fear of being sent to the sick ward. Joe's friends are willing to buy a personal air conditioner for him, but there appears to be some obstacles. I cannot begin to fully imagine the pain this man is living with.
Joe's story is far more heart breaking than anything I could tell you: I am enclosing a book of his poetry which tells more of his story and will give you a glimpse into the heart and soul of the man. Joe does not have a legal team that will be able to get him much in the way of judicial relief. He is, in far too many ways, left far behind by the country and people he has tried to serve. Enough is enough, and this is far beyond enough of suffering.
Joe has suffered enough for whatever sins he may or may not carry. I believe that justice requires that he be released through a compassionate commutation of his sentence. He has already served more time in prison than most people convicted of the crimes he is accused of.
Joe needs a powerful advocate. I am hoping you can be that. Joe has a dedicated group of caring people who are ready and able to provide him a permanent home with professional care and constant supervision, should he be released from prison. We have a vision of a different sort of "maximum care." We are all of one mind and heart on this matter — Joe Labriola is a good human deserving of so much more than the mere mercy we are calling for.
Thank you for your kind consideration. There is much more online at www.freeioelab.com. I can be reached at the address below. I look forward to hearing from you on this very important and pressing matter.
With all due respect and gratitude,
Warren, RI 02885
February 20, 2008
cc: Senator John Kerry
Attached: Prisms of War by Joe Labriola