Matthew Jackson for Seen Out Loud Podcast by Institute for Family

Season 2 / Episode 6

The Impact of Community Conditions with Matthew Jackson

One father’s story of how community conditions influenced his life’s path.

In this episode, Matthew Jackson explains how the community conditions he grew up in influenced the trajectory of his life into adulthood, and the difficulties he experienced with leaving “Jungle” in the past and charting a new path for the betterment of his family. Listen as Matthew shares his story as a single father, passionately invested in his daughter’s life, and how he’s helping other dads, with similar beginnings in Boston, MA and Washington, D.C.

WARNING: This conversation contains explicit language


Matt starts the conversation on what he means by child welfare reform. 

“System reform can’t address the root cause issues that are driving child welfare involvement. I think true transformation means going beyond the system. It means actually improving the conditions that families experience; things like poverty, lack of access to health care, and safe housing. These are the things that stress and overburden families.” 


Meet Matthew Jackson, devoted father and native of Boston, Massachusetts. These days, Matthew works as a program coordinator with Smart from the Start, a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote the holistic well-being of young children while empowering families living in the underserved communities of Boston and Washington, D.C.  

“I grew up [during the crack epidemic]. At the time, like, either your mother was on drugs or your mother was working––you seen drug use in front of you every day. You seen the fast money, you seen the fast cars, like, it was a part of the culture of the neighborhood.” 


Matthew talks about parenting his  10-year-old daughter. 

“I tell her [she’s my world] all the time. She’s my favorite person in the world. I always have to love on her––give her a hug, give her a kiss––when I bring her to school and stuff like that. I can tell her teachers and all of them can see it,” says Matthew. 


Matthew’s take on how options presented in his community during his youth strongly impacted the trajectory of his early years into adulthood: 

“Looking out my bedroom window, it was like I was a part of the crew, because they were literally 20-feet away. I could hear conversations I know everything going on in the projects. Me and my friends, you know, we’re children, so we want to be basketball players, baseball players, lawyers, doctors, but in all reality it’s far-fetched,” says Matthew. “As a child it felt like death was on my shoulder all the time.” 


Matthew explains how baseball provided him and his peers a vision of a way out of his neighborhood and the surrounding circumstances. 

“Our culture was really baseball down in the south-end,” says Matthew. “All the fear that I had outside [of the baseball park] when I stepped on the baseball field it was gone.” 


How Matthew arrived at the decision to push his baseball dreams aside and pursue the hustle culture that consumed his community and––one by one––each of his teammates and friends. 


Matthew shares how he received his nickname “Jungle” and how the creation of this persona helped him survive in a community where lives were often cut short. 

“…it would be two worlds for me. And I don’t want to say that Jungle is a facade, but Jungle was a defense mechanism. If I’m going to be doing this, I can’t be Matthew because Matthew’s going to hesitate or Matthew is going to stop. Jungle—he didn’t do that. Jungle—he’s about doing his sh*t and trying to get away.” 


Matthew recalls the beginnings of his relationship with his then-girlfriend and eventually becoming a firsttime dad 


Matthew reflects on the conflict he experienced while wrestling with how he would provide for his family.  

“Honestly, at that time in my life, I didn’t think change was possible. I thought it was too late for me. Being 28, I thought I was old, I just got a GED out of prison, I didn’t have any real work experience. It’s like I didn’t have time to fill out an application, waiting for a response, waiting to go to an interview, just for them to tell me ‘no’,” says Matthew. “Maddie’s still here, Shervonne still has bills and now she has a whole other mouth to feed.” 


On Halloween 2014, Matthew’s life changed forever–– he describes the events that take place which hurled him into the role of a single father. 


Matthew shares how wrestling with the grief of the loss of his girlfriend, as well as his newfound responsibility as the sole provider for his daughter, brought him to the decision to leave hustling in his past and chart a new path.  

“I just knew that in order for my daughter to have a shot at having a great life I have to be here,” says Matthew. “It’s not about me anymore. I always look at [life] like ‘I’m just trying to stay alive’ and I never looked at it like ‘oh selling drugs, I’m destroying a family.’ I didn’t start looking at none of that stuff until the night of November 2, 2014.” 


Matthew explains the difficulties of earning low wages at a retail job and providing for his daughter. He is approached by Smart from the Start and begins his journey with them by attending their fatherhood classes. 


Matthew shares the impact of the district attorneys on his case postponing his trial and later putting Matthew on probation instead of in jail––which was influenced by Matthew’s devotion to showing up for his daughter and involvement with Smart from the Start.   

“It’s crazy to me that I’m praising a DA, right? It’s like, he did something that I never really seen done in court out of all the times I’ve been there,” says Matthew. 


Matt poses a question to listeners as he reflects on Matthew’s story: “Yes, it’s easy to see Jungle and throw the book at him, and what does that get us? Where do we get to, as a society, when we throw Jungle in jail and not see Matthew, Maddie’s dad? I want these conversations to illuminate these opportunities that we have. There are DAs all over the country, there are social workers all over the country, there are people like me who can make diffeent choices. You’re better to the world as Maddie’s dad than you are in jail.” 

“I feel like by him humanizing me, he actually stopped the cycle right there,” says Matthew. 


Matthew shares more on his involvement with Smart from the Start and his viewpoint on how fathers are treated; in hospitals, family courts, schools, and various places within communities.  

“Smart from the Start opened my eyes to a whole other world of how fathers are out there; really trying. But it’s like, I feel like [fathers] are not being taken seriously or treated as if we are non-existent. It’s really a double standard for the dads, because it’s like if you’re not there then you’re a piece of sh*t, but now you’re here and you’re getting treated like a piece of sh*t,” says Matthew. 


What are some things Matthew is hearing from other dads he works with at Smart from the Start about how they’re viewed and treated as fathers in communities? Matthew describes the experience of one dad in the Focusing on Fatherhood program. 


What exactly does Matthew do when working with fathers in the Focusing on Fatherhood program? 

“First thing I try to help all dads with is letting them know that they’re not alone. Letting them know that I know that it is hard, it’s going to come with some frustration, but you have somebody here to support you and we’re going to get through it, don’t give up,” says Matthew.  


Matthew shares plans for himself and his family, as well as his final thoughts. 


Matt shares final thoughts.

Isaiah: Hey listeners, before we begin, I just wanted to let you guys know that this episode contains some explicit language. So please be advised.

Matt A: Hey everyone, it’s Matt Anderson. Welcome to Seen Out Loud where we bring you the stories and conversations that recognize child welfare transformation starts with seeing families for who they truly are. So what do we actually mean by child welfare transformation? I don’t think it’s actually about reforming or improving the child welfare system that is important, but really system reform can’t address the root cause issues that are driving child welfare involvement.

I think true transformation means going beyond the system. It means actually improving the conditions that families experience things like poverty or lack of access to healthcare, safe housing. These are the things that stress and overburden parents. If we’re gonna meaningfully improve child and family wellbeing, we have to address those broader conditions.

And so I recently met today’s guest, Matthew Jackson. And as we got to know each other, his story had a lot to teach me about these conditions. And this is exactly why I wanted to bring him on the podcast.

Matthew J: I grew up in a crack era at the time, I either your mother was on drugs or your mother was working. You seen drugs use in front of you every day.

You’ve seen the fast money. You’ve seen the fast cars. Like it was part of the culture of the neighborhood. And even though I’m from Boston, Harvard is right across the river from us, it’s a lifetime away to us.

Matt A: We’re going to get into what Matthew’s life growing up was like in a second. But before we do that, I wanna start by painting a picture of his life today. So these days Matthew works as a program coordinator for an organization called Smart from the Start. And even more importantly than that, he’s a devoted father to his little girl, Maddie. What is a day in the life like right now as a dad to Maddie ? What are some of the routines? What does it look like?

Matthew J: So, once my alarm goes off, I’ve never had an issue where getting out of bed or anything like that she jumps right up, she knows how to get herself ready. Most of the time she’s sitting at the bottom of the stairs waiting on me, or she’s sitting on her bed waiting on me, and I’ll always be like, yo, you’re ready. She’s like, yeah, I’m ready. Did I go through a little checklist? Literally everything she’s supposed to have. She had probably done forgot something and I’d be like yo but you’re waiting on me.

Matt A: what does she forget usually. 

Matthew J: Right now, she’s practicing and run a 5k at school. So like she asked to have like, another extra little set of gym clothes with her, it’s like some tights and like a specific blue shirt they have. So she might forget to tights, or She might run out the door leave her snack, but have her lunch box. If she leaves something major. I’ve got to expect a call from work. She really expect me to really go bring it back up to her school. I’d usually get her to school by her school opens at 7:15, you know, I let her get breakfast at the house cereal. She loves fried eggs. So, I make her that whenever she asked for it,

Even though Maddie’s from the inner city and I probably don’t make money, like a middle-class person, she has a lot of the same experiences that middle-class kids will have. Like, you know, go on vacation, trips, like I said, she’s running a 5k. I don’t let anything limit her. And I see that she sees that, but having me as a father, not going to lie and you know, my friends. Maddie has, met them, being a baby, some of them have been murdered.

Matt A: As a dad, I mean, you really have to parent through some difficult circumstances and situations things, not totally unlike what you were experiencing as, as a kid. What do you do or say, or create for her to let her know that?

Matthew J: First I lead by example, I explain a lot to her because I don’t pour too much on her because I do know that she’s a kid, but I know she’s very inquisitive and she’s a thinker. She asks a lot of questions and I feel she knows that she’s going to get a real answer. I just really try to let her know she can do anything that she wants and she has options to be whatever she wants, nothing could hold her back. regardless of, her being a woman, her being black. She’s very smart 

Matt A: Are there things though, as you guys have those conversations where does she go with that? Does she have dreams at this point as a 10-year-old? Are there things that she’s, starting to think about and talk to you about?

Matthew J: Yes, like right now she just says she wants to be an entrepreneur. Something about like a boutique type thing, like glamming people up or something like that. And she always says she wants to travel the world. 

Matt A: So this is where we are going to see her one day as some big fashion icon and, influencer and the business and fashion and industry, maybe.

Matthew J: Yeah. And I felt like, when I grew up, my mom was poor. She wasn’t able to do things with me, like Disney world, or take me like out the country, stuff like that.

Matt A: Matthew you’ve, you’ve had a smile on your face this whole time talking about Maddie. So this is, I mean, it just makes me think, Maddie and probably some real way is just your, your world, your life right now. It seems like.

Matthew J: Oh, definitely. Definitely. I tell her this all the time. Like she’s my favorite person in the world always have to love on her. Give her a hug, give her a kiss. When I bring her to school and stuff like that, like I could tell her teachers and all of them could see it because I don’t care every morning. I don’t care if she want to shuffle off and run off. Like I got to give her a hug. I got a kiss. I got to tell her, I love her. 

Matt A: Creating opportunities for Maddie is incredibly important to Matthew. Because as he told me growing up, he didn’t see the opportunities that most of us, that I take for granted. When we first met, I remember Matthew saying to me, if you grew up in my neighborhood, you would’ve done the same things that I did.

And I remember saying to him, yeah, you know, I think you’re right, because on some level, this really all does come down to a question of options.

Matthew J: The easiest option is what’s right in front of you. So tell me more like where, so where exactly did you grow up in Boston and like, what, so when you step out into the hallway, what are you stepping out into I grew in Linux street, housing development, coming out the door at that time, I see people smoking crack. The older guys who were, selling drugs, pimpin shootin’ and getting shot at.

I lived in the middle of the projects, And I lived on the first floor So looking out my bedroom window was like, I was part of the crew because they were literally 20 feet away. Like I could hear conversations, I know everything going on in the projects.

Me and my friends you know where children, so we want to be basketball players, baseball players, lawyers, doctors, but in all reality as far-fetched, I mean, my childhood, I was afraid like I was scared of what’s going to happen. What could come next. Because back when I was younger, like, it felt like death was on my shoulder like all the time. 

Matt A: Were you seeing that play out as a little kid, 6, 7, 8 years old, like you were seeing, or somehow experiencing people dying in your neighborhood.

Matthew J: Yes. So might just might hear shooting in a projects, and then, such and such is dead. I used to have the realization, like I could really see you today and you’ll be dead the next night. And now, like being older, it trips me out because like being a kid, I feel like I had a hard upbringing with that alone because that was something that I couldn’t express to everybody.


Matt A: Thats interesting, yeah. I mean, cause as a kid, you’re trying to just figure out the world around you and it’s like, okay, this must be normal because this is what we’re all living with. I mean, I’m just thinking about like back to your comment of like, if you grew up in this neighborhood, you would have ended up doing the same things.

And I’m thinking, man, my neighborhood was so different, I looked out my window to like the front yard of the house, I just can’t imagine like, as a kid growing up, trying to make sense of all of this then still like, okay, so I got to go to school and grades and sports and friends, and like trying to do all of that in the midst of something that you can’t even really wrap your head around.

Matthew J: Where you said your neighborhood was like, that was a dream to us. That’s where we want to be at. But you know, my mom would always, have to tell us the realities. Like, yo I can’t afford that. I’m trying.

Matt A:So, you’re seeing as like this 8, 9, 10 year old kid there’s this kind of limited set of options that you start to realize at that young age, that man yeah I’d like to be in different environment, but maybe we don’t have choice. Maybe we’re kind of trapped here.

Matthew J: Yeah. And that’s exactly what it was. 

Matt A: Matthew’s neighborhood was clearly stressful, even dangerous, but as a kid, there was one other thing competing for his attention, baseball.


Matthew J: Our culture was really baseball down in the south end, back then, we had like the Deion Sanders and his Barry bonds and these type guys to look up to. All of us wanted to be like that because at the end of the day, they did look like the guys outside with the jewelry on the girls, but, they played baseball. And they had south end little league. So now it’s my turn, old enough to play. Cause it was like 9 to 12, go to try outs. I remember like. Not being able to sleep like, oh, I cannot wait to see what team I’m a be on. And my first season, I’m not gonna lie  we did not win one game, but me and this other kid on the team did so good. I was convinced I could go to a major league, and I’m talking about at 10, Like all the fear that I had outside, when I stepped on the baseball field, it was gone. 

And anybody who coached me or came in contact with me during those years, they could tell you I was not scared of anything on that baseball field.And just being real, like in the whole neighborhood, not just in my projects, but like throughout the whole south end, then if you were good in baseball everybody knew you and you did get that little bit of respect. Back thenI didn’t know the whole concept of a student athlete. I just knew to play sports you had to get good grades and good grades was easy for me. I really did like, oh, all I gotta do is get on teams And keep my grades up.

Matt A: And like there’s motivation. Right? You’re thinking, man, I can get the grades I can perform on the field.

Matthew J: Yeah.

Matt A: This better than what’s happened in the neighborhood gives you a vision of, a way out.

Matthew J: Exactly like I really thought we’re going to be out the projects. This is it. I found something I could do that I’m going to be good at. And I know that it pays, that’s what I really used to think in my mind. 

Matt A: So what happens? Cause you know, if that’s, if, if that plays out you and I probably aren’t sitting here having this conversation. So what happens to that, that dream? 

Matthew J: At the time even though baseball is going on, I’m always coming back to the neighborhood and coming back to the neighborhood, well, now that I’m 12 turning 13. Most of these kids is probably like 14 turning 15 and 16. And I’m seeing them with all the sneakers, I’m seeing them in cars. and I’m like, yo, I gotta get that.

I’ll say out of eight of my friends, two of them’s hustling. So there’s six of us doing the right thing. Then I might go do traveling baseball, comeback, three of my friends is hustling.

Like the other five of us don’t I have money like these three. So they be like, yo, let’s go out to eat. We’re going to restaurants And when you’re not able to do that and you see everybody else doing it, it’s like, damn man, I do want to get some money like that. But I’m going to play this baseball or go be a catcher then I come back. I swear, six of my friends are selling drugs now. That is only two of us who aren’t, The girls liked them. We’re the corny dues that just played baseball. Like, so now I’m not even going to lie. I’ll make it a choice. Like I don’t wanna do this, but not as much as they’re doing it. And then that’s how I begin.

Matt A: You talk to me about, when you were really kind of in it, your name on the street was Jungle. I’m just curious, Who was Jungle? How do you get that name?

Matthew J: Like, I’ll say jungle started like 16 going into 17. From ages 13 to like 15, more or less. Um, it was just the drug dealing. Then one summer, 2000, I just turned 17. Somebody really jumped out a car and I just happened to be on a bike and it just starts shooting at me.

So, I took off running and after that shit, it’s like, yo, I’m not trying to let nobody do this shit to me again. And I’m like, yo, I got to get a gun I ended up getting one. One of my friends he ends up getting shot, later on that summer. And I never forget, like, just being upset, going to see him in a hospital like, yo dog, let’s go find these dudes, who did this shit? You know, just wanting revenge.

And I never forget going to another neighborhood, looking for people, you know, created a sense of power. That day, not to get too much into details, but we did go around shooting.

And I used to be like, I need this, because I’m not trying to die. I rather be the one scaring everybody else. They call the a the concrete jungle, a lot of my friends, they used to be like, yo man, yo, you wild you don’t give them a fuck, man.

And one of my homies he’s dead now, but he gave me the name. He was just like, yo imma just I’ll call you Jungle. And everybody just started calling me that

Matt A: What’s interesting though, with, with all of what you just said, there’s like Jungle kind of originates out of this place of childhood fear. The fear of like, I don’t want to die. I don’t want all this violence that, that I’m seeing to come back to me. So I need to be the wild one. I need to be the aggressor. Was there conflict around that?

Matthew J: All the time, like I would have that because it’s like, it would be two worlds for me. And I don’t want to say that Jungle is a facade, but Jungle was a defense mechanism. if I’m going to be doing this, I can’t be Matthew because Matthew is going to hesitate or Matthew is going to stop, Jungle, he didn’t do that. Jungle is about doing this shit and trying to get away.

Matt A: It’s an interesting reality to have play out for really into your twenties. Right? 

Matthew J: It continued on. 17 I committed the crimes that sent me to prison at 18. I went to prison for masked armed robbery and distribution of class B. I had got five and a half years. So when I actually went, I was 18 all through prison. Nobody called me Matthew at all. Jungle through the whole state prison. So when I get out, for the first few weeks I started trying to work. Wasn’t going my way. People wasn’t calling me back. I was feeling embarrassed about even putting felony on paper. And when I left some of my friends that didn’t go to jail, are doing excellent now. So now they want to give me more drugs like, oh bro, if you want to come, here man.

Matt A: it’s like right back into that environment let me, let me, I want to ask you something that kind of shifts gears here a little bit. Somewhere along the way you meet your girlfriend. Shervonne right. Can you just tell me a little bit about Shervonne and how you all met in that relationship?

Matthew J: She always lived in a neighborhood but I would just always kinda like see her in a distance. And then one of our mutual friends. I ended up getting out and after he got out, they had a party for him. We was both at the party and it’s like, we just hit it off. Like that night. Shervonne she was funny, smart. She had a big heart like she, worked in DYS for years. As like a staff member and that’s basically the juvenile justice system. 

Matt A: You all had, uh, daughter together, Tell me about becoming a dad for the first time and what that was.

Matthew J: It was like a nervousness and an excitement mixed together. because sometimes I will be so happy. Like, yo, what is my baby going to be like, yo, what’s she going to look like? But then it’s like police find out where I’m at. I’m going to jail today. 

So we made it all the way through, the pregnancy when Maddie was born, the happiest day of my life, holding her that first time. I’ll never forget it. Just her being in my hands. I didn’t cry or anything, but It’s like unexplainable feeling. And it’s like, yo, like, this is really my baby.

I’m going to protect her. Like I just wanted to give her the world. I wanted to give her everything that I never had. Like all that shit I was going through, Jungle, I didn’t give a fuck about none of that. And I just remember, staying in the hospital for the next two days. And Shervonne coming home, I just knew, I had to try to figure this shit out, like, should I go to jail? Should I go turn myself in. I’m not gonna lie like me coming from where I come from doing what I do, the solution I found was to fucking sell drugs again, because I felt like I’ve got warrants, I just gotta be smarter and I can’t sell drugs in the same place I was at before.

Matt A: Let me ask you about that, because here you described this happiest day of your life, right? This beautiful moment. You’re with Shervonne, you’re holding your newborn baby girl in your hands and imagining like I’m going to give her the world. And then you have all this hanging over your head. The police are outside in the same neighborhood that you grew up in, you’re in the hospital, anything could happen. You want to give her the world, yet you keep going down that same path of, but selling drugs and all this kind of stuff. And I just wonder, like, if we could kind of stay there for a second, like why not shift gears? Why not take a different path, a different course?

Matthew J: Because honestly at that time of my life, I did not think change was possible. I thought it was too late for me. Being 28 I thought I was old I just got a GED out of prison. I don’t have no real work experience.

It’s like, I don’t have no time to be filling out an application. Waiting for response, waiting to go to an interview just for them to tell me no, go get these skills. Now I got to go get these skills and Maddie still here, Shervonne still has bills and now she has a whole nother mouth to feed, the whole point of me coming up to Boston is to help her. And I just felt like I’m back here. This is what I know what to do best. at that time I felt like, I’m, I’m a professional drug dealer. Like, this is what I do. That’s when the conflict in my life like really reached the most intense points from September 2nd, 2011. Conflict with me was at an all time high because it’s like, this is all I know what to do. When I went to prison before, I didn’t have no child, Now I’m thinking like, damn, if I get caught, I might not see Maddie until she’s five But that phone is ringing. Hello, $200, $700 a thousand dollars. What else am I going to do?

Matt A: So this goes on for a few more years. Matthew’s selling drugs, avoiding law enforcement and raising his daughter with Shervonne until one day everything changed.

Matthew J: Halloween 2014 the day started just like a typical regular day, So, I sat in the house with Maddie that day. Shervonne came back with our costume, we planned on taking her out trick or treating.

So we ended up, getting over some of her cousins, their kids. We took the kids all through the south end. And after that, Shervonne ended up going to hang out with like some of her cousins and one of her girlfriends. I ended up driving Maddie to my mom’s house, dropping her off. And I ended up going to hang with some of my homeys up in Dorchester. The night was fine. I called her, She tells me to come down and get her. I ended up coming down and getting her from our cousin’s house. At the time, Shervonne wanted to smoke. weed. So she’s like, yo, let’s stop and grab some weed down in the projects. So I’m like, aye. She calls her little cousin. He was like, Yeah come to this lot. And the lot was like literally behind the house that I grew up in and, we ended up pulling up and as they were doing the deal she’s like, yo, go get the money from me. So he must have gives her the weed, walks over. I’m giving them the money as soon as like I’m counting out the money I just hear probably like 30 shots, And my initial reaction is to run towards the car. So you know, about a time I get over to the car, the shots stopped going off, but it was like to me, like I say, a two seconds of silence. I couldn’t hear nothing. And something just told me to look at the car because in my mind, I’m thinking Shervonne, would’ve got out this car by now. So I’m like hold on and I’m just focused on the car and the closer I get to the car. I seen like bullets hit the car and one of the windows is broke. And I seen, she was just laying in a driver’s’ side. I couldn’t even see where she was really shot at. I just seen, she was bleeding.

Just the first thing I thought of was Maddie, like I swear. Damn. I just remember kissing her like, yo, please don’t die on Maddie and she didn’t respond. Just the first thing I thought of was Maddie, like I swear. Damn. I just remember kissing her like, yo, please don’t die on Maddy’s.and she didn’t respond.

Matt A: All of a sudden, here you are. Shavonne’s just been murdered you’re a single dad. And I’m wondering what is going on in your mind about like, where do I go from here? There’s this pull to be there for Maddie and be a dad. But as they’re also pull of like anger around like, well, who did this? And what, like, again, it’s these living in two worlds? Like, is it Matthew that responds to this? Or is it Jungle that responds to this?

Matthew J: So like, everybody’s looking at me to see what’s going to be my response. There’s even young guys who feel like yo, we know you have a daughter, we’ll go do whatever. At the time, as much as I wanted to do it, I sweared if I didn’t have Maddie I would’ve did it with no problem without no second thought, but it’s just always in my mind, like if ya ass it’s caught, if you go do this shit, really who is going to pay the price? Maddie! She’s going to pay the price. I just knew, like for my daughter to have a shot at having a great life I have to be here. It’s not about me anymore. Cause I always looked at it like, yo, I’m just trying to stay alive. Never looked at it like, oh, selling drugs I’m destroying a family. I didn’t start looking at none of that stuff until after the night of November 2nd, 2014, mind you that night. I had a whole bunch of friends. And I remember calling one of them like, yo bro, come meet me he came he met me and I had a whole bunch of trucks. It was definitely over 250 grams of cocaine. And I like, bro, I don’t even want this shit, bro.

Hey, he’s like, yo for real. I would ask like over $10,000 worth of drugs, like for anyone who doesn’t understand what I gave this guy. He, he commends me like, yo bro, I never seen no shit like that. Like you serious about this. I’m like, yo it’s Maddie. Ain’t nothing on take me away from her, bro. Nothing. 

Matt A: What does that then mean for you though? Because you’re still in warrants and all that.

Matthew J: After that I was eventually arrested because, the police knew, oh, this guy’s back. I made it back out on bail. And like now I’m back in the situation that I was when Shavonne was alive. Like I might go to jail No, a I just knew like at the end of the day, if I live for her, that things should work this self out.

So I had to go get a job at Old Navy. I’m making $180 a week on a good day. And like I said, when I had that phone, I could make $180 in a phone call.

Matt A: So during this time Matthew’s being contacted by street outreach workers from an organization called smart from the start and their job is to prevent further violence on the streets. But that’s not even what Matthew’s thinking about. He’s just focused on parenting Maddie.

Matthew J: just me working at old Navy having a shitty job when my, what do they want, if they’re not trying to get me no job, like, I don’t want to talk to them. I’m like, yo, I got real shit going on.

Matt (host): So those stressors that I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, health insurance, housing, employment, these are the things that Matthew is dealing with. These are the things that could actually keep him from parenting Maddie. So eventually the street outreach workers help him see that Smart from the Start can help him meet those exact needs. And so one day Matthew decides to go to Smart’s office. He meets with the executive director of Smart Cherie Craft.

Matthew J: Cherie happened to just be there that day. And I came and she asked me like, yo, what’s going on with. And I just, told her like, yo man, I’m done with that street shit. I’m trying to be a father to my kid. You know, She’s the most important thing to me. I don’t want to fucking lose her I don’t want to go to jail on her. I don’t want to be killed.

Matthew J: My job sucks. trying to get her health insurance and all of this everybody’s judging me. Everybody’s expecting me to fuck up. And you know she just sat there and listened. And she told him like, oh, you even come here saying this. And I can just see that is real and you really believe it. Something with Smart from the Start that was different than everywhere else. Because the guy who was the father facilitator at the time. His name is Garrick ___. I’m talking about, since I’ve been a kid, I’ve known this dude to buy crack and get high, rob people, stab people like one of the most vicious people. I’m thinking this guy’s dead or locked up because I haven’t heard anything about his name in a few years. So she’s like, yeah, I’m going to introduce you to the father’s facilitator Garrick. And I don’t know him as that. I know him as a street name. So when she introduces me to this dude, I’m like, yo, this is him? This is where you been at bro? And at dude was sober, had custody of his kids. He was married and whole life was changed.

I’m like, bro, are you fucking serious, bro? This is what you’ve been… He’s like, oh man, just come to the groups. They, they going to hold you down as long as you’re willing to do the work.

And I’m like, aight, so now I gotta go to court. Cause I still got the drug case and I’m going through the fathers groups. I’m showing up faithfully even times when I got discouraged I went because Maddie liked coming to the center, playing with the kids, coloring, running around, playing with the toys. So I just kept going.

Matt A: So, let me, let me jump in here real quick. Cause I want to talk about the da in your court case. So like here you are at a pivotal moment in your life could go in either direction, grieving the loss of, of your daughter’s mom, bad job, giving up the drug dealing life. But like violence is around. So you’re seeing as a new set of options in front of you yet. You’ve got this court case hanging over you. And I want to talk specifically about DA in that case. Cause I remember you talking about just how that interaction with him played out was pretty important to your story.

Matthew J: Yes I feel like this right here was one of the most important things that ever happened to me. This was a situation where yeah, I was guilty of some of the drugs and all of that stuff, but a lot of this stuff happened before Shervonne was murdered. Now I’m like, oh, I can’t leave Maddie out here. Like, how the fuck am I going to get out of this?

So finally the day comes. I had a motion that I was putting in and I told my lawyer like, yo, I’ve been in father’s group. I’m going to bring a facilitator up here. Cause he does want to like speak to the DA, we were ready for trial, which I knew I was going to lose

I was just hoping to get this shit thrown out on a prayer, but most likely it wasn’t going to happen. So Garrick he comes, He asked my lawyer like, yo, can I speak to the DA? And the DA’s name, I’ll never forget his name was Niel Flint. And Garrick  just explained to him like, yo, he told him about Shervonne being murdered And you know how this case was going on before that, he hasn’t been in trouble with years. He completed this group, he’s doing this training. He’s in school for this. He’s been raising his daughter. Like for him just to go to jail would be like a traumatic loss for her. And he was just like, all right, hold on. I’ll be back. He goes, upstairs, comes back. He tells us like we’re gonna put this off until next month or whatever. So 30 days come, I got to go back to court. Me and my lawyer Neil Flynn’s not there.

He had a family emergency, with his child. His boss is there. He’s like, so you say you’re done. Huh? I’m like, yeah. He was like, yo you’re living for your daughter now. Right? I’m like, yeah. I said, y’all, won’t be done with this shit, man.

And he’s like, today I could take you to trial. I’m the senior trial prosecutor. I’m ready to go today. You’re going to lose today. And you’re going to go to jail today. He said, because of your record, I’m not even supposed to ask for anything under three years, that’s a minimum mandatory, but he’s like, I spoke to Mr. Flynn. And he believes you’re done. He was like, man, if I’m going to let you go on probation. But if I ever see you again, I said, yo, you can do whatever you feel you need to do, but you’re never going to see me again. And it’s been now six years, almost seven years since that happened. Neil Flynn I seen him one time after this. You could tell he was getting lunch or something. And I just stopped him, like, yo you remember me? I’m Matthew Jackson. And he remembered me. I just had to tell him, thank you. And he was just like, yo, just keep doing what you’re doing. And your daughter. She, she depends on you man. And that was it. 

Matt A: In all of that, in that, thank you. It’s like two dads seeing each other as dads. And just having a, a human exchange based on, shared experience. What’s so powerful about that is that he took the time to listen to you and really believe that.

Now it’s not to say that, like we don’t need a criminal justice system and there’s not accountability and all that kind of stuff, but at the same time, we’ve got to see through everything and understand what’s, what’s the truth really here. And what kind of investment are we going to make in people and really believe in people. And he did that and Garrick did that and Cherie Craft did that. Like you have these people that showed up for you to see through, and see, Matthew and say, we believe in you.

Matthew J: And it’s crazy to me that I’m praising a DA. Right. But it’s like he did something that I’ve never really seen done in court out of all the times I’ve been there. 

Matt A: That’s why we’re having this conversation right now. Right? Because, it’s easy to do that. It’s easy to see Jungle and throw the book at them. And what does that get us? Where do we get to as a society when we throw Jungle in jail and not see Matthew, Maddie’s dad. Right. And I think, I want these conversations to aluminate those opportunities that we have. There’s, DA’s all over the country. There’s social workers, all over the country. There’s people like me all over the country that can make different choices. And it’s not going to change everything right. But man, I mean, you are better to the world as Maddie’s dad than you are in jail.

Matthew J: Exactly I feel like by him humanizing me, he actually stopped the cycle right there. 

Matt A: was in this moment that the DA and Smart from the Start saw Matthew for exactly who he is for the father that he is. And as a result, he doubled down on his involvement with Smart, from the Start. And eventually they hired him to work in their father’s program, Helping other dads achieve their goals as parents.

Matthew J: Right now as Smart, I’m the Father’s Program Coordinator. Probably like almost, I’ll say like seven months. Before this, I was a Facilitator and a Family Liaison. And before that I was a client, like, came in to the Father’s group, just bought into the program and then it just opened up my eyes to a whole nother world of, how fathers is out there really trying, but it’s just like, I felt we weren’t being taken as seriously as we needed to be, or, treated as if we were non-existent, it was really a double standard for the dads. Cause it’s like, if you’re not there, you’re a piece of shit, but now your here you’re getting treated like a piece of shit.

Matt A: What do you mean? Like where people being treated that way?

Matthew J: Yeah. I’ll say family courts, hospitals, schools Let’s name some places where they’re not being treated like shit.

Matt A: And what does that, what does that look like? I mean, what are you hearing from dads that you’re working with about that experience of being treated that way.

Matthew J: Yeah I have have a dad And he just got custody. he went to bring his son to the doctor because his son was complaining about like, his private area, hurtin’ and all of this stuff. But he brings his kid to the hospital. And he said that the first thing that the doctor asked him, like, where’s his mother. And he’s like, I’m here with them, like I’m his father. And he was like that, the doctor was just like, I know that you’re his father, but where’s his mom. He said, thank God that his worker, he was able to like really talk to her and their kinda on an understanding basis. But the doctor really called DCF and said that the dad was being combative in there just for not letting a doctor question him about where the mother was at.

Matt A: And when you say his worker, you mean the social worker for child protective services that’s involved and she says, she’s kind of backing him up saying, no, this what’s happened. He’s he’s really, there trying to take care of his son and do all the right things and,

Matthew J: Yes. And that That’s very rare that that happens. That the social worker backs the dad.

Matt A: So in your job working with, with this dad, for example, what, what, what are you trying to, to help him with?

Matthew J: Okay. First thing, I’ve tried to help all dads with, but this dad is letting them know that they’re not alone letting them know that yo, I know that this shit is hard. It’s going to come with some frustration, but you have somebody here to support you and we’re gonna get through it. Don’t give up, like the first thing I want to give them is just the confidence to know like, yo, just the fact that you’re in the fight and you’re not walking away from it speaks volumes to let them know that.

Matt A: You know a lot of what we’ve talked about with Smart and all these different people that have been in your life. I mean, community is key, right. And you guys have built family in your own way. And it, it makes me wonder too, where does it, where does it go from here, for, for you, for Maddie, what’s on the horizon.

Matthew J: I say just sky’s honestly the limit just being real. Because Maddie’s getting smarter every day. She’s growing, she’s going to fifth grade. I’m in the process of saving up to start, looking for a house for us to own.

And I just want to bring her through the whole process. And she saying she wants to be an entrepreneur. I want to let her try out her new ideas. And if they work, they work, if not start from the drawing board, just so she could get ready for the world. Like, I just want my baby to be prepared. And as far as me, I have aspirations of going on to get a master’s in psychology. And once I do that sky’s the limit because I feel like once I have that master’s and already have the street PhD, like I, I’m not going to be able to be stopped.

Matt A:  Matthew, I just wanna, thank you for the conversation that we’ve had and what you’ve taught me, which is a lot, the whole point of this podcast, Seeing people for who they truly are, That’s your story, right? Like, yes, Jungle, that was a lifestyle those were things that you did and it’s real, but it’s not the only thing. Jungle is not all of who you are. When we see Matthew and believe in Matthew and do the right things, to make sure that Matthew can be successful, then the sky is the limit.

And I think you’ve given us a lot to chew on about how to actually do that in our work, in communities and with families. So, anyway, I just want to thank you for that. It’s been, uh, it’s been great.

Matthew J: No, you’re, you’re more than welcome. And it has been a great conversation. Like you said, there’s a whole bunch of Matthew’s out here, but they’re stuck in the Jungle phase and there’s a whole bunch of Matthews that died in that phase and never got to be Matthew. So, I just want to thank y’all again.

Matt (host): In many ways, this story is about the conflict between Jungle and Matthew. And what I’m taking away is that Matthew Maddie’s dad, that’s the truth of who Matthew was always meant to be in this. Jungle was created as a response or a defense mechanism to a set of unimaginable conditions in his community that were really largely outside of his control child.

Child welfare transformation means recognizing that these conditions exist. They are impacting parents every day and they’re driving systems involvement. We need to solve problems much further upstream. And I think we really need parents like Matthew leading the way. And we need organizations just like Smart from the Start where he works today to help lead this transformation from the ground up.

So in our next episode, we’re going to take a deeper dive into Smart from the Start. And we’ll hear from Cherie Craft, the founder about her origin story and the innovative approach that makes Smart so successful. But before we wrap, I’m gonna send it over to Isaiah for our closing credits.

Isaiah: Did Matthew’s story inspire you to think differently or reimagine the way you work with families? Well, tell us, because we want to know how these stories are influencing you. Leave us a review or rate us, and then head to our website, for exclusive bonus content on this episode and others.

Our team is amazing. And I think you should know who they are. Our Executive producer is Michael Osborne, mixing mastering and sound design by Morgan Honaker. Our composer is Christian Haigus and our creative team members are April Dillon and Candace Kearse. I’m Isaiah Strozier and I just wanna say thank you for listening to today’s episode.



Mathew Jackson, Focusing on Fatherhood Coordinator, Smart from the Start

Matthew Jackson is a single father to a 10-year-old daughter, living in Boston, MA. Matthew, who grew up in inequitable conditions, has experience navigating criminal justice and judicial systems. He leverages his lived expertise as a parent to inform his role at Smart from the Start where, through the Focusing on Fatherhood program, he provides a wide range of supports for families in Boston, MA and Washington, D.C.