This is a post by our friend Matthew Erickson, describing his experiences with incarceration.
My name is Matthew; I’ve been a revolutionary active in Decolonize/ Occupy, and I’m a cofounder of Seattle Copwatch. I’ve been indicted for rioting charges for 2012 May Day.
I’m coming out with this account of my past experiences of incarceration so that we could use this knowledge against the state, and also so everyone can know this about me, which I’ve held with secrecy and shame for years while organizing against the state.
Many people will judge me and I’ll probably loose a few friends but the benefit will outweigh any damage that it does to the way people perceive my character.
I’ve spent a lot of time organizing. I feel like I put as much into proving myself and redeeming myself as possible. Now, because of current interactions, I feel it’s time to let everyone know about this in detail.
Back when I was 19, I caught a federal case for drug trafficking, conspiracy to kidnap, kidnapping, along with other charges, a lot of which was based on allegations which were false. Some, particularly the drug trafficking, was obviously true, given the situation where I was already caught with drugs multiple times and had been incarcerated in state custody for these charges when the feds came to get me.
I remember being the Lower Rs jail cells in Shelton prison when I got called down to a meeting room and the feds informed me that I was being charged with seven different counts, and some of those ranged from 20 to life, to 10 to life. I was very scared, and I said a lot of things communicating with them, incriminating myself and others. It was kind of a blur that day because I was so scared I kind of shut down. This is something that I have found the most shame in throughout my whole life.
When they transferred me from state to federal custody I was then at Seatac, around a lot of people who were doing a lot of time – some were being sentenced to 20 to 25 years; 10s, 12s, but rarely 5 or less. Especially with the ranges I had seen, my fear took deep grips of me.
My codefendants and I had a serious falling out, way before we were ever incarcerated. The only reason I mention this is so that people understand that at that period we were not friends. I do not claim this gives any justification for cooperation with the feds – just context.
When I met with my lawyer, he informed me that the information I had provided could only be used against me, and not against my codefendant, unless I cooperated further. During conversation with my lawyer, he explained to me that nothing I was to say from this point on could be used against my codefendants until I was to go in front of a grand jury. Being scared of my prior actions, and the consequences that could happen to me in prison – especially if I was incarcerated for a long period of time – provided me with the idea that if I could squeak in with a time frame where I could take a cooperative plea without having to go to the grand jury (because others may plead out), then I could slip under the radar.
The main focus of this is what I can remember from the proffer (meeting with the prosecutor) to attempt this. So hopefully you can extrapolate and use the information that I have from this experience against the state, to bring awareness to people. I also want to record my emotional state during and a little bit after the situation, and how hard it was to live with.
So when they called me down to talk to the prosecutor to do the interview to decide whether to give me that plea, they asked me questions in a way that aimed to direct a narrative. They would ask me about the details of the situation, which I would reluctantly go through while they continued to pressure me, seeing my reluctance. They would put this face of “trying to be your friend” and trying to convince you that you’re a victim, as a main way of applying pressure. They tried to demonize my other codefendants and use information provided to them by a different cooperating witness to use physical conflicts between me and one of the other codefendants as a way to make the other two codefendants the “bad guys”. They also used examples of the other codefendant trying to manipulate me and others, and presented these as a way to try to demonize him. They did not make up any of these situations. They just tried to exasperate them, just like an instigator would, but with “sympathy”, to make you feel as if they’re trying to protect you.
Now in this situation, I was no fool. I was just scared. And that’s why it turned out the way it did, instead of me going home, because I was unwilling to lie, or even agree to some things that may or may not have been true, for the prosecution. Because I didn’t feel like they were my savior; I felt like I was surrounded by enemies on all sides, and I was alone.
Yet at the time, I do want to emphasize, I had no political concept, so no understanding of how great an enemy was really standing in the room in front of me. My mindstate would have been much different if I knew then what I know now. If I had the mindstate then that I do now, there would be no room. There would be no cooperation. No matter how much of a conflict I had with the others or how much time I was looking at.
As they interviewed me, they would lead me with the questions. They would insinuate the answer they wanted to hear. It’s really hard to regurgitate a specific question, because it was so long ago. When I would say “that wasn’t how it happened”, all three (the prosecutor and two U.S Marshalls) would ask multiple times “are you sure?” They would ask me about other folks, and show me pictures in a lineup, and ask me if I know any of them. I would say no. They would say “are you sure none of these look familiar”, while casually putting their hand next to a particular picture. I continued to tell them that I did not recognize those folks.
Then, as I went through the situations that were applicable to what had happened, I would tell them there was no pimping or kidnapping because those were untrue allegations. They would ask me why I was saying that and if I was scared of it carrying more time. I would insist that these things didn’t happen. And they would repeat questions multiple times around these areas, then would finally give up on trying to coach me into saying those things.
The whole interview, from what I can remember (which is vague because of the time and mental blocking) persisted like that, until they would take the information they had gotten from me that validated their performance on particular drug charges concerning all of us, including my two codefendants who were not cooperating. That’s when they accepted my plea.
Before my sentencing, I went down with my lawyer to take my plea back because it was close to the date of the grand jury and I wasn’t willing to follow through on testifying against my codefendants. Instead, I was hoping to receive 10 years without cooperation or a plea. Then, my lawyer informed me that my codefendants had plead out, so there was no need for that.
The prosecutor asked for 42 months, and we asked for 24. The judge knocked off 6 months because I had already done 6 months in the state; he then shot between what we were asking for and what the prosecutor was asking for, and gave me 30 months.
I then went to Victorville prison, where I did my time on the yard with that label and somehow made it through the most violent federal prison at the time. It was a miracle. I kept my nose out of shit – I kept my nose clean, out of everybody’s business. And I read a lot.
That reading planted the seeds that made me a revolutionary. It was a process that built over time, after getting out and then going back in for violations for dirty U.A.’s and such. The fear that I felt during prison was great, but I was hard-headed and walked the yard.
The fear I’ve carried as I’ve organized of my redemption being thrown away because of my past actions has had a heavy toll on me. The fear of releasing this is great as well. But hopefully this can shed some light on what it’s like. I wish I could be of more help, and I will try – if I can remember more then I will comment and add it on later to comments and discussion. But it’s hard because this was a long time ago and it’s been a block to remember it, because it’s a source of shame for me. It’s become more of a source of shame over time as I’ve learned what it was – what my actions meant.
My next step is to try to contact my codefendant, who has seen me recently at Black Coffee Coop. I want to follow through on what I wanted to do, and make recompense. If I need to take a bad ass-whuppin’, I’ll do that, because I understand. I wish I could have understood then.
This is why I’m so dedicated to stopping the state – what they turned me into when I did that was shameful. What that experience turned me into is a work in progress of a revolutionary. I am willing to give my life in this fight against the state. That is my redemption. So nobody will have to go through this, or any sides of this coin again, whether it’s being told on, or whether it’s being too weak and breaking, or whether, like me, it’s both. Hopefully, I’ll maintain some friends and hopefully I’ll be able to organize and bear this on my shoulder for life, but let it be a testament to how far I’ve came from where I was.
Thank you to Mamos for helping with this; I dictated it and he wrote it down and helped me edit it.