A Man of Integrity
It is with the greatest pleasure that I share with you my story about Joe Labriola. I fIrst met Joe in the fall of 2001 while he was incarcerated at Walpole State Prison (Cedar Junction), in Walpole, MA. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend and had no idea what to expect, nor do I believe that I entertained any sort of preconceived notions. All I knew was that Joe had been in prison for almost 30 years and that he was serving a life sentence without parole for murder. In fact, I accompanied my friend with the expectation that this would be a one-time visit.
But a one-time visit this was not to be. Separated by glass as we spoke via phones, I was overwhelmed by his presence, his attitude, and his passion for living. I felt compelled to return again and again, each time finding myself in the presence of a man filled with an aura of inner peace while living in an environment of profound constraints; a man humbled by the promise of redemption — atoned not for the crime of murder, but for the guilt of out-surviving his frlends and comrades through two tours of duty in Vietnam; a learned man eager to engage in thought provoking conversation on most any subject, yet grounded by the ability to laugh at himself — and quite heartily at that!
Yes, I felt compelled to return. My one-time visit turned into weekly anticipations. I was mesmerized by Joe's knowledge and depth of thought. I wanted to know how a man of such substance grew from a life of poverty on the streets of Philadelphia. I wanted to know why he chose to serve his country during a time of war. I wanted to understand how a war hero feels coming home to an ungrateful country, and how he coped with the demands of his physical and emotional wounds.
I was deeply touched hearing Joe profess his love for his late wife Lynnette. She died from colon cancer about one month before I met him. Their relationship was one of beauty and sacrifice; yet, despite the constraints of prison, they had reached a level of intimacy most couples only dream about.
She died at home. Her soul mate, unable to attend her funeral, said his goodbyes chained and shackled, surrounded by armed guards, standing next to her cold lifeless body at the funeral home after everyone had left.
Joe professed his innocence, but then who doesn't in prison? Yet, he didn't fit the mold of the others I saw every week in the visitation room. There was something different, something exceptional about this person. And though I couldn't quite put it into words, I knew I wanted to know more. So, I was driven to read the transcripts of his trial and appeals, and I was startled to learn the truth. As stated by the judge, "Now in this particular case, the case of the Commonwealth vs. Labriola, if this case is to be proved at all, it is to be proved by circumstantial evidence because it is not suggested that any direct evidence can be given or any witness can be called to give testimony ..."
The trial records revealed prejudice, hearsay testimony, and police and attorney misconduct.
But what I found even more reprehensible were the words of the Assistant District Attorney grilling Joe on the stand: "Is it true, Mr. Labriola, that you served in Vietnam? Isn't it also true that you killed lots of people? Isn't it true that to someone like you, killing is no big deal? That's what you were trained for right?" The Assistant District Attorney did not so much ask these questions as he literally screamed them at Joe. He survived the horrors of Vietnam, to come home scourged, wounded, and have his honorable record and medals of valor used to betray him in his own country.
And in the year 1973, with not a single eyewitness, without anyone coming forward to say they heard Joe admit to the crime, and without a single shred of incriminating forensic evidence whatsoever, Joseph Labriola was convicted of murdering Arthur Motsis, a known drug dealer and FBI informant, in the fIrst degree, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
I stand in awe of the personhood of Joe Labriola. He has accomplished more during his 30 years in prison than most people have throughout their lifetime. He is a man of integrity, a man of truth, a man of honor. It is my greatest fortune to know him and be counted as one of his good friends. It is my greatest desire to prove his innocence.
Free Joe Labriola!
P.O. Box 84
Hopeda1e, MA 01747
June 25, 2004
P.S. Joe's depth of grief, love, confusion, suffering, isolation and confinement are powerfully expressed through his prose. I am proud to have been able to compile his poetry into a book entitled, Prisms of War. Contained in this explosion of thought and emotion are poems about war, imprisonment, and love poems to his wife Lynnette. I have also published a poster containing his writing entitled "Redemption." All of this has been accomplished to share Joe's story with people like you and to raise money for his freedom.