When he was released on July 12 after serving 20 years in prison — including eight years for a rape he didn’t commit — life looked bleak for Joseph Frey.
For a month, Frey, 54, was homeless, spending his nights at the Grace Episcopal Church shelter in Madison and his days trying to line up needed services.
Since then, Frey said he’s been overwhelmed with support. He retrieved $700 in prison earnings and got $2,000 from a foundation that gives money to the wrongfully convicted.
He gets food stamps from the government and free medications from St. Vincent de Paul for conditions including a degenerative bone disease. He has free health care through Our Lady of Hope clinic.
Frey also now has a room in a house near the Capitol Square, courtesy of Porchlight. Two independent filmmakers are working on a story about his efforts to prove his innocence and his life after prison.
It’s an astonishing story. An Oshkosh police detective destroyed the physical evidence and police reports prior to Frey’s 1994 trial for the rape of a UW-Oshkosh student.
Nearly two decades later, with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a scrap of bedsheet was found in a Winnebago County court file. DNA tests matched a now-deceased convicted sex offender, leading to Frey’s release.
A few weeks back, Frey had a life-altering encounter with a 28-year-old man after a United Way rally highlighting the work of the Madison-Area Urban Ministry, where he volunteers.
“There were people asking me questions afterward, and this one young gentleman looked a little choked up (and) started cryptically asking me about my family,” Frey said. “He told me then that, ‘I think you’re my uncle.’ He told me his name, and I said, ‘Yes, I think I am your uncle.’”
Frey said he is grateful to the Madison community and Innocence Project attorney Tricia Bushnell for helping him adjust to his new life, which he hopes will soon include a job.
”The community in my opinion has been extraordinary,” Frey said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be.”