By Matt Herrington – Collegiate Staff
Going to jail was not something I had on my bucket list of things to do, let alone doing so before finishing high school. All human beings undergo experiences that shape who they are, with some being positive and some being negative. Some may experience positivity and become spoiled, while others remain humble and generous. Others may be subject to negative experiences and let themselves surrender to the opposing forces against them, while others choose to fight for what they believe in no matter what. When the time came for me to face one of the most negative experiences of my life, I knew I would have to choose- fight or flight. I chose to fight for my future.
Before being arrested, I was rather introverted. I didn’t do anything special with my time, nor did I have that many friends. I wasn’t one for social gatherings and found much more comfort in sitting at home every day playing video games with my friends on Skype. I saw myself as an outcast in my high school, and decided to just play into that role; I wasn’t going to try to make a name for myself there since I didn’t see any benefit in it for me anyway. I was an outlier, and I was fine with that.
Or so I thought.
I was a very sad person throughout high school, and most of that could be attributed to my behavioral patterns and the way I carried myself as a person. I didn’t socialize with my peers often, hardly exercised, had a horrible diet, and spent nearly every free moment glued to a computer screen. Take these habits, add a few friends who act the same way, as well as a twisted sense of humor, and the result is a very negative and self-draining mindset.
All of this culminated in me being horribly depressed. I was angry, I was sad, I wanted to give up on everything; I wanted to die constantly. I glorified the idea of my own death, seeing it as a release from these horrible habits I’ve put myself in since I didn’t have the motivation to pull myself out of them. Instead of fixing myself, I would’ve rather had someone just shoot me.
Being allowed to consume negative and morbid media in the past, eventually, my concept of humor became warped and devolved. On the Sunday night of February 22, 2015, I had done something that would inevitably yield to years of mental anguish onward: I threatened classmates online.
In essence, this sounds like an uninteresting occurrence. Threats are dashed out among classmates that know each other all the time, but I was different. At first, I thought nothing of what I had done. My twisted humor led me to see it as nothing more than a random joke with nothing behind it, save for some frustration. However, others did not take my actions, or humor, lightly.
Through an anonymous Instagram account, I uploaded a photo I found online of a masked boy holding up a gun with the caption “Don’t come to school tomorrow” and tagged multiple classmates. The photo was originally uploaded a week beforehand by a boy in Texas who sent it to people in his school. Finding humor in the absurdity of it, I took it upon myself to forward it onto my own classmates.
I didn’t know these classmates very well, if at all. There wasn’t thought put into choosing their names, nor was there any actual intent of carrying out any malicious act toward anyone. However, this was seen as very serious in the eyes of those that received it, and some even feared for their lives. The police were immediately contacted, and a dispatch was sent out the same night I sent out the photo.
I was in a Skype call with my friends when I heard the sound of knocking on my front door, and peering through my basement window revealed many pairs of black shoes standing around near the front door of my house. It only took a few seconds for me to piece together what was going on, and my heart started racing. My mother was the one who answered the door, to which they immediately asked where I was. After leading them to the staircase of the basement where I was. “Sure” was all I could think to say when I was ordered to come upstairs.
My legs wobbled and shook as they carried me to the main floor of my house. Reaching the top of the stairs only made my blood run colder, as I saw just how many police officers were in my home. I had no doubt about what was going on. I was about to be arrested. My head was pounding, my legs were cramping, and my whole body was in a cold sweat. All I could think to myself was, “What did I do to get here?” In reality, I knew the answer to that question perfectly well, but any clear and coherent thought flew out of my head when handcuffs were locked around my wrists.
Looking into the living room, I saw my parents, who were being patted down and checked for weapons. The fear and confusion in their eyes evoked a sense of misery in me. The house was so full of cops that it was difficult to take a single step. Before anything could be discussed, the police removed me from the house. They had to get me off the premises so they could search for knives, guns, bombs, or anything else dangerous. All I heard were three final words from my mother before being taken out:
“I love you.”
Being put into the back of the police cruiser, my hands were crushed between being cuffed behind my back and the hard plastic seat. On the surface, I was not moving much. My breathing was regular, my eyes were fixed, and I stopped sweating. My mind was going numb. As the deputies swarmed into my house, I was being taken away. I can remember looking at the outside of my house in that moment and thinking to myself, “When I can’t see this house anymore, my childhood is over.” Seconds later, the house I had grown up in for 17 years left my field of vision. I was now a criminal.
Getting to the police station downtown, I was brought into a small room for questioning. The room was empty save for a security camera, a table, and three chairs. After being read my Miranda rights, I chose to speak without a lawyer and confess to essentially everything I was accused of. There was no argument I could’ve possibly made in this situation, as I was essentially caught red-handed. I didn’t even fathom forwarding out the image would be a crime, and as such there was nothing I could say in my defense except for, “It was a joke.” The officers interrogating me seemed to be understanding of my situation, saying that these sorts of incidents happen all the time, which put me at some ease. After speaking with me, the investigators left the room to see where I was getting sent. I was told my options were either back home or to a juvenile detention center. Eventually one of the investigators came back, and he informed me of where I’d be going that night: jail. The Kent County Correctional Facility.
At that point, I was numb to the situation and just went with what I was told. I didn’t refuse or question what was going on, rather I simply went into the other police cruiser and waited as I was brought to jail. There, any and all of my remaining belongings were taken, leaving me with nothing but some black foam sandals along with a green shirt and pants. After receiving a bagged lunch, I had to now sit in a holding cell overnight as I was booked into the facility’s system. I waited in that room with gang members and accused murderers alike. I was placed as the equal of such people. I, a 17-year-old honor student was reduced to the same level as a common criminal in one night. With this thought, my body began to uncontrollably tremble with fear and anxiety for what would come next. I was never given the chance to make any phone calls, and eventually, the exhaustion of everything took over, and I fell asleep.
I would periodically wake up to officers opening the door that locked us criminals in that room, and every time I woke up I would think of how pitiful I looked; wearing a jail uniform, passed out on the concrete ground with drool coming from my mouth.
By the time morning came, I was fully processed into jail. With every step I took going deeper into that place, I felt like I was slipping deeper into a hole I’d never be able to get out of. I can still remember the horrible smells of the rooms there. It didn’t take long for my parents to post my bail with the money that would’ve been my tuition for my senior year.
Coming home, I felt slight hope. Despite the fact that I had created a major case and had news articles being written about it and my name was plastered all over the television, I had hope that the lawyer we found would set things right. Being home for 15 days, I was then arrested again. This time for something that I didn’t do, but the police seemed determined to make an example out of me. It seemed that upon investigating my computer, they found that I had visited a website that had had child pornography on it. Without having sought them out or knowing they were there, three photos were stored in my computer’s RAM and subsequently put on my hard drive, which was enough for me to be charged with the possession of it. Being brought in a second time now, the investigator told me that I was now facing charges that totaled a maximum prison sentence of hundreds of years/ natural life. It was at this point that the judge raised my bond from $50,000 to $100,000. Even with only paying 10 percent of this through a bondsman, my parents could not bail me out. I was in jail for the long haul during this case.
This is where my entire demeanor changed from how I was before I was arrested the first time. Before, I was a loser kid who felt like I had nothing to lose, with no will to go on living. Now, the harsh realities of the world had violently shaken me awake, and made me aware of how much there was to fight for. I wasn’t about to give up on life now- not just because life got harder. If anything, this situation motivated me to push even harder, and that’s exactly what I did.
I did everything I needed to in order to get out of jail. I followed all orders without question, read books, exercised, and never lost sight of my goals while in there. However, my experience there was supposedly even more abnormal than what a place like jail is known for. When processed into jail the second time, I was placed into a solitary confinement cell and put on suicide watch. In there, I had nothing but a red jumpsuit. I was not allowed out of my cell, which was no smaller than the average bathroom, for seven days. I was essentially starved as they fed me less than usual even for jail, I was not allowed to have any hygiene materials whatsoever in my cell, and the light that flooded the room never turned off. The only reason I was ever given as to why this was done to me is that my situation was so bad now, they presumed I had to be suicidal. Upon the department of corrections realizing I was not suicidal, I was granted the privileges of the common prisoners.
In jail, I resided in the mental health unit, meaning everyone I was housed with had severe mental disorders. I was pretty much in the objectively craziest part of the jail, making everything I saw all the more maddening.
Time passed in jail, and things only got worse. In an attempt to lower my bond, the judge, in fact, increased it tenfold to $1 million dollars instead. At this point, my mind had entered survival mode, and I was just living out each day as it came. I did whatever I had to ensure that I stayed as mentally healthy as I could.
As the case progressed, I was eventually diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. The goal that both my attorney and the judge was to have me admitted to a mental hospital for treatment, as a focal point of my case revolved around my mental health. However, there was no facility willing to take me, as I was too high profile of a case for any mental health facility to be willing to be responsible for me.
It took months, but come summertime, I was released to a mental hospital for professionals to determine my sanity. If I was determined to be sane, I would be allowed to go home. My first day there, I already knew what kind of experience I was about to have. The doctors I met with told me that it was best that I don’t discuss my situation in any group therapy sessions (which largely made up what we did during the day) as it would be too traumatizing for the other kids to hear. I was basically admitted to a mental hospital but did not receive therapy. I would just sit down and shut up for nearly the entire time. I had a few opportunities to speak with some of the adults there personally, but it was all just explaining my current legal situation to them as paperwork was filled out, with no real therapy session taking place.
The hospital did put me on some antidepressants while I was there, and they were medicines I’d never heard of before: Remeron and Zyprexa. Both function as an antidepressant and antipsychotic medications and both carried rather high-level doses.
Looking back, I find it insane that both of these were prescribed for me, as I never exhibited any psychotic behavior, or even any depressive behavior, even under the context of my situation. However, I continued taking the medicine, as I saw it as another step toward achieving my goal of crawling out of this hole I’ve dug myself.
It didn’t take long for the medicine’s latent effects to kick in, and things only got worse. These medications didn’t resolve depression, but rather removed my ability to feel anything. Along with this, visual and auditory hallucinations came with them as well. Despite this, I continued taking the medication and performing normally in all of the activities the hospital had us do.
When the time came for my assessment at the hospital, it was like another kick in the gut. Three days beforehand, I had met with the doctor who would be submitting the assessment, when he told me he would be marking me as a threat to society, or more specifically stating that I couldn’t NOT be considered a threat, ergo that I was. When I asked him what led him to believe so, no answer could be given whatsoever. I believe this to be a result of the high profile nature of my case, as the doctors and facility did not want to be responsible for falsely reporting my mental state and releasing me, and chose to take the safe route instead.
Without receiving any mental help from the hospital besides some new very unhealthy prescriptions, I was brought back to jail for the third time.
Three times processed into jail, I still showed no signs of wavering in my stance to keep fighting these opposing forces against me. I cried, but I never had thoughts of suicide.
I eventually had a personal doctor that my parents hired come to the jail to give me another mental evaluation in the form of a four-hour interview. Weeks after the interview, the doctor then claimed he was unable to formulate a solid statement on my current mental state, and wouldn’t be making further contact with me on the subject.
It took more time, but eventually, my parents and attorney found a doctor willing to truly evaluate me. There was not a single local doctor willing to do so, and my parents had to reach out to Lansing to find one willing to assess me. Finally, he did, and after even more weeks of this doctor compiling the information, I was determined to not be a threat to society.
The judge who ruled my case went on to allow me to come home on house arrest following this development. I plead guilty to all of my current charges, which carried a total sentence of life in prison. I was put under house arrest in September and awaited sentencing in November.
From home I finished my junior year of high school, which looked good to the judge in all respects.
When the time for sentencing came in November, as I stood in front of the judge awaiting my sentence, listening to him give his speech for all the television cameras in the room, I could feel every vein in my body as blood pumped through them. Everything around me slowed down as I stood there, waiting for what this man had to say. When the judge, in front of the cameras and in front of the full courtroom, sentenced me to six months in jail and gave me credit for my six months already served, I knew I had won.
No more jail, four more months of house arrest, and three years of probation was the final judgment made for me. This is, I believe, despite the severity of my charges, because of who I am and how I carried myself through the whole situation. The judge recognized the mistreatment I was subjected to and the fact that I was only 17-years-old, but most of all he recognized my will to struggle on despite true adversity and become a better person.
Since my sentencing, I’ve turned my life around. have graduated high school, am working two jobs, and have taken enough college classes to be considered on track with my old classmates from high school despite the time lost. I’ve retained friendships with my best friends and family through all of this, and I can’t thank them enough for sticking with me.
Getting to where I am now has taken the help of others, and a whole lot of internal drive, but anything is possible with the right amount of motivation.
My past actions are going to burden me for the rest of my life, with the memories following me wherever I go. There are still some old classmates from high school who harbor feelings of fear of me because of what happened, instilling a sense of guilt within me that I can never shake. Despite this, I see no other option except continue to prove these negative notions about me wrong.
I still struggle with happiness, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let these feelings control me like I used to. I’ve finally gotten a grasp on my life, and have done so through willpower and perseverance.
Life isn’t easy, and there’s going to be adversity no matter what situation you’re in. Even when faced with the most negative experience I could imagine, the burning will to survive inside me exploded, leading me to where I am now.
I hope that more people realize the power that resides inside them. Human beings have the power to recover and accomplish amazing feats – even after making big mistakes. For even on the darkest of nights, all hope is never lost.