When Joan Treppa, author and social justice activist, first heard the story of the six men who were put in jail for a murder they didn’t commit, a fire ignited within her. She didn’t know these men, had no idea who they were, but something deep within her told her that their story needed to be told and their innocence proved. The story of these six men and her past experiences with childhood bullying sparked her inspiration to compose her nonfiction true crime book Reclaiming Lives: Pursuing Justice for Six Innocent Men.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Treppa about her story, her experiences with pursuing justice for the men, and her life. She was kind enough to sit down and talk with me about her efforts and her pursuit of justice. While listening to her story as we spoke, I couldn’t help but think about what a special kind of person it takes for someone to pursue such a complex yet so important thing for people she’d had no prior contract or even a distant connection to. These men were strangers to her, and she was a stranger to them, and yet she was the one who listened to their claims of innocence and decided to believe in the best in them. It really goes to show the type of person that she is.
When I asked her if she’d always been interested in books, especially in her childhood, I was surprised at her response. She said that she was the type of kid who would rather play in the dirt than sit down and read a book. She was the child who couldn’t sit still long enough to read a book from start to finish. So, no, she wasn’t a reader, but she still was able to sit down in her adulthood to write a book dedicated to exposing the innocence of the wrongfully convicted men.
One of her biggest helpers throughout the process of creating her work was her son, who is a writer. Ms. Treppa said that he’d helped her with the mechanics of writing since it wasn’t something she could do well on her own. She originally began writing a blog about the wrongfully convicted men; then, her son told her to turn the posts into a book. At first, Ms. Treppa was reluctant to assemble a book, but her son helped her through it all. In addition, she received a great deal of encouragement from her spouse and the rest of her family. They became her support system throughout the creation process. Ms. Treppa was surprised at how much she enjoyed the entire writing process. Ms. Treppa said, “I think my favorite moment in the writing process was when I gave my son my manuscript, and he started giving me critical and constructive feedback. That’s where my excitement really picked up because I started to see my manuscript turn into a real book.”
Ultimately, the final message that Ms. Treppa hopes her readers walk away with after finishing her book is, in her words, “I hope to create an awareness of wrongful convictions. They can happen to anyone at any time. We all need to be aware of that to protect ourselves. I also want to inspire everyone to follow their calling as I did with the belief that goodness exists if we take the time to look at it. Never say never, never believe you can’t achieve something until you give it your all. I want people to think, ‘Wow, she did that? Maybe I can do this.’” I thought that was a wonderful message. Following your calling and fighting for what you believe in is always important, no matter the situation. Ms. Treppa clearly lives out her message in her belief that these men imprisoned are innocent, and she fights for that.
I also asked her about a favorite line from her book. She then got out her book and read the passage out loud to me. The passage is about one of the men, Dale Basten, who was released due to health complications. Unfortunately, nine months after his release, he died. The passage is from chapter 39 and is on page 214. The passage reads, “Regardless of the dire circumstances of his life, regardless of his death, in his final days, Dale Basten was loved deeply by a family who will never escape the grief and despair of this entire experience. But gratifying to them is the serenity that in death, their loved one, Dale Basten, is now at peace and has gallantly and permanently preserved his absolute innocence.” Throughout the entire time she was reading the beautifully worded passage aloud to me, I could hear the emotion in her voice. It illustrates how deeply Ms. Treppa cares about these men and their journey to claiming their innocence and, as the title says, reclaiming their lives.
When I asked her what else she’d like to share about her book, she said that she was able to grow as a person while she was writing the book and while she was engaging in fighting for these men’s innocence and release. She’d wanted to share how focusing on something outside of oneself can help one heal their own traumatic wounds, like how Ms. Treppa was able to heal some of the pain of childhood bullying by fighting for the six wrongfully convicted men. When she spoke, I couldn’t help but admire how passionate she was about something much bigger than just herself. She inspired me to look at my own wounds and see if I can heal by helping others. Another thing I noticed is how humble she is. She didn’t brag about her accomplishments in advocating for the men’s innocence; she allowed their stories to be told through her words. I admire her so much for that. It takes a special person to be able to do that.
Towards the end of the interview, I got to ask my favorite, and the final, question to ask any author that I may meet: what advice would they give to someone like me, an aspiring author who is just starting out? Ms. Treppa had a very simple yet profound response: “Just start.” She then explained how important it is to write about what you’re passionate about and know a lot about. Write about what moves you. I must say that this advice spoke to me in a way I’d never experienced before.
Ultimately, Joan Treppa is a humble social justice activist with a passion for seeing the wrongfully convicted released and reclaiming their innocence and their lives. I learned so much from her, and I hope you all did, as well.
To purchase the book Reclaiming Lives by Joan Treppa