Derek Matthews on the JustUs Speaks Podcast

February 2, 2023

He was one of the nation’s top cops. Then he went to prison himself. Derek Matthews sits down with the JustUs Speaks Podcast.



Read the full transcript:

Lester Young: Peace and blessings to everyone, welcome to the new JustUs Speaks Podcast from Just Leadership. I’m your co-host Lester Young.

Hakim Crampton: And I’m also your co-host Hakim Crampton. JustUs Speaks is being produced to amplify the voices of directly impacted people, particularly the voices of formerly incarcerated people.

Lester Young: Just Leadership was founded on the principle that those who are closest to the problem are also closest to the solution but too often further from the resources of power to affect positive change.

Hakim Crampton: So, on this first season of JustUs Speaks Podcast we’re interviewing phenomenal leaders from the most recent 2022 cohort of Just Leadership, Leading With Conviction, leadership training program.

Lester Young: Today we have my brother, my brother we’re talking to Derek Matthews. Derek is the former program director from Anne Arundel County Police Department Office of Re-entry and Community Collaboration.

Hakim Crampton: Indeed, Derek has made solid contributions in law enforcement, critical infrastructure protection, federal asset protection, and real world operations in hostile environments. Some highlights of his service include over 25 years in the field of law enforcement and forced protection at every level, including Assistant Police Chief in the city of Glen Arden Maryland, Deputy Director of Operations for the Federal Protective Service DHS as a GS-15, and internationally sought after consultant, advisor, and speaker.

Lester Young: Okay, okay my brother Derek. Derek has also worked as an international consultant providing his expertise for national disaster planning. He’s a master trainer workshop facilitator moderator who has moderated several and Rondo County Town Hall meetings related to the hostile race relation and other community related activities.

Hakim Crampton: Exactly, so Derek served the office of the county executive at the Anne Arundel County community and Minority Outreach Officer and special project manager for two administrations.

Lester Young: Man, Derek. He is a military veteran, author, and community leader. Derek, welcome to the JustUs Speaks Podcast. Brother you’ve been busy, like man,that’s a lot that we had to digest over there man, to like share about that bio. But brother, welcome to this podcast. It’s been a pleasure, you know, seeing you in the cohort, you graduating and doing things even after the cohort man, welcome.

Derek Matthews: Yes, sir. Thank you, thank you fellas. Next time we do this, all y’all gotta say is: a God-fearing brother. Married for 31 years with two amazing 26 year old twins. Boom, we good!

Lester Young: We good, we didn’t have to go through all of that right? I mean so that’s just to show you, the reason, your why is marriage, your children, and just service. So just tell us a little but about you outside of what we’ve read. Tell us a little bit about you before we dive into some questions that we have that we want to speak with you this morning about.

Derek Matthews: Yeah, so you know real talk, first of all I appreciate JLUSA for the opportunity to be in the last cohort and be able to interact with folks from all over the country. While you guys read such incredible things, on paper the reality is: I am an African-American, 56 year-old professional who found himself in prison for a minor infraction that should have gotten me a two-day suspension. But most of all, like I said, you know I’m a husband of 31 years. My wife, God bless her, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything without her. I have two incredible children. I have a son. He’s a military veteran now. I have a daughter that’s an active school teacher. I’m the son of a pastor. I’m the grandson of a pastor, so I am on a journey to allow my call and to help people navigate life after incarceration, and that is my mission for the rest of my days here. I wake up every day to serve and to be able to help create opportunities for people to find the best in themselves and be able to move forward from having any type of setback. So yeah, so that’s who I am, man.

Lester Young: All right brother, we see that you come from that bloodline of preachers and we about to say–we need to have to pass the offering plate, all that stuff that you shared with us, man Amen my brother.

Derek Matthews: Just give me an Amen every once in a while, I’m good.

Hakim Crampton: Indeed, your bio is jam-packed with a lot of great success and achievement, personal achievement. So, I mean tell us though, what is it that you really do in your work and how are you advancing your work, connected to your cause, your why.

Derek Matthews: Hey listen, that’s a great question.So I asked myself throughout my career, I was at the pinnacle of my career–I was one of the most senior African-American law enforcement professionals in the country at the position that I held with Homeland Security. And you know after 25 years of senior law enforcement and traveling the world teaching presidential teams around the world security operations and the 4,000 Greek police getting ready for the Olympics, to find myself in federal prison there was a piece of my life where most of you all can attest that there’s a point sometimes where you can be so low that you are unable to even pray to figure out what God has in store for you. And when I really dug deep within myself sitting in federal prison I realized that this was yet another calling very much like being swallowed by a whale type journey, being able to understand that God, once He sets something for us, it’s for us, and it doesn’t go away. And the reality was I had to tell myself, how am I going to rebrand, how am I going to get from where I’m sitting right now? And when I get out of here, what am I going to do with my life? I’m never going to be able to do all those things they just read, and the reality was once I realized what I was living for, I came home and released the book, and started taking that podium, sharing that story, it hit me one day. I said, you know, you have a gift. You are a public servant that knows law enforcement. Historically law enforcement does not interact with formerly incarcerated people. “Why don’t you build a bridge to be able to make something work where those two entities realize that they don’t have to be enemies?” So as I started traveling the country after Ferguson and dealing with police departments trying to help them figure out how they could better communicate effectively in the communities before the handcuffs go on, how do we now be able to deal with folks when they come home? So I was able to convince the masses to just give me a shot. Let me try this concept to build something within the police department and train a small group of officers just to be a little more sensitive and proactive, and be able to help train and receive brothers and sisters coming out from behind the walls. I can tell you I was met with a lot of resistance brothers but you know there’s a lot of people that came before me that have met resistance, but with dogs biting them in water hoses, so I knew I could do it. That’s how that came about.

Lester Young: Well, that’s just powerful man, and it’s amazing for myself and Hakim, as well as you, how we went into a prison with no expectation or had an idea of how we would be, that environment was shaping and molding us for something far greater than we even imagined, right? Me and Hakim was talking about the two individuals like Mandela or Malcom…

Derek Matthews: Yes!

Lester Young: …all of these men who went in these environments, and they came out, they became better people, so I really thank you man for your contribution and seeing how important it is to build that relationship with law enforcement, and the community of those who were formerly incarcerated. You know, my thing too is just like, what is the future goal for Derek Matthews today? Like where are you sitting at you mentioned, you’re 56 years old now, where did Derrick Matthew see himself in the next five to ten years in this world?

Derek Matthews: So, man what a great question. On my vision board that I had to actually recreate for the last cohort, you know vision boards are an evolving thing, so mine changes periodically where I add or or take away things after I’ve accomplished them. But you know, I have this vision right now to become a household name with a team of folks like you and Hakim to take this network and be able to travel the country, and I think the first thing is changing attitudes and mindsets of the formerly incarcerated because everybody makes mistakes. We’ve all done something that put us in what we believe that the initiation of it is a very dark place that we would not recover from. But it’s a mindset that carries us out of that and into the next journey. I just finished telling the class that I’m sitting in now dealing with today, there’s three types of people: there are those that are going into a storm, those that are in the storm, and those that are coming out of it. The reality is what do you do when you come out of it–are you equipped with the mental fortitude to be able to go take an opportunity? Because the opportunities exist for everybody, but you got to go create your opportunity after life of incarceration because nobody’s just gonna give you anything. But what I want to do is create a road map like a JLUSA partnership and the network of people that we have where our voices now are the voices that people begin to respect as the experts in the room that can get us from point A to point B. I’m working with some economic development folks today trying to get them to understand that it’s fine to create jobs for formerly incarcerated people, that’s a road I fight every day. But the economic development folks had a chance for me to hear today that we have to teach entrepreneurship. We have to be able to teach brothers how to own a barber shop, okay? You can cut hair, but can you own the barbershop? Can you not be begging for a seat at the table, but create the table that everybody else gets an invitation from you to come sit at? And that’s where I want to be able to take brothers like you all and organizations like this and be able to make that possible. So that’s my life journey man and I’m either gonna die trying, or I’m gonna see it through.

Lester Young: Amen brother, so that’s one of my first Amens, brother Amen.

Hakim Crampton: Absolutely, powerful powerful powerful. You know, you just got through graduating Leading With Conviction just recently. You know, you got out of prison, you found out about this great organization that provides this leadership development training, and you jumped into it, and you brought something powerful to your fellow cohort. So, I want to ask you you know, tell us about your experience with our leadership development training program Leading With Conviction, and perhaps what was your favorite part of it?

Derek Mattews: Okay, so I’m gonna tell you man, I try to strive to be one of the realest and transparent people that folks during a normal day when they meet me get an opportunity to experience. And real talk, when you just talked about my experience, I just got chills in my body because–and if I get emotional, it’s okay I’m cool with it–to be in that environment, even though it was virtual, to be in the environment where I did not have to be concerned about explaining what I went through. To not be concerned about who’s gonna google me when I’m done after they’ve met me. To not be concerned about what I say, whether it’s politically correct or not, was an opportunity that I had never experienced in my eight years of being home, and to be able to get on that in those classes once a month, it was every time a class ended, it was like the excitement would begin of when we meet again. So in between for us to be able to communicate with each other and be able to encourage each other, there was some encouragement sessions where you know I had a sister in a class who would allow her emotions sometimes to drive her out of a situation where after talking to me sometimes she was now armed with the necessary patience and understanding that I didn’t even want her expertise to leave the room or present herself as an angry black woman, so yet she now felt more armed and more equipped to be able to deal with those things that she was forced to deal with in her work environment. And the real talk was I had exercised those things to come home and be able to open businesses and be able to interact with two county executives– people that were running for governor, people that were running for mayor–would consult me on how to properly get into the community and be received a certain way by exposing themselves and being transparent. So that was one of the things that I got from the class, and I would say my favorite part, Hakim, was the sessions with you all. To hear you speak and to say, wow that brother sounds like man, me and him could chop it up. Me and him could have a conversation and build something together and not be concerned about, “Oh, I did that. Oh, he stole that from me, but yet we see things the same, through the same lens, and that’s the lens of having experienced what it’s like on the other side of that wall.


Lester Young: Appreciate it man, thank you, thank you bro, just for keeping it real.

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Lester Young: Just to go to another part of this, is that when we read your resume many people say man it’s exhausting, like you have been literally just running you know for the entire 56 years of your life basically. You’ve been running, moving eight years out of prison, you’ve been running trying to build relationships, and you said you’re going to continue to do this work until you transition to the next part of your journey in life.

Derek Matthews: Yes sir, yes sir.

Lester Young: So, I’m just going to ask, like what is it that Derek do to take care of Derek? As a servant leader, you come from a line of pastors and it’s all about serving, but what does Derek do when it comes to self-care? How do you take care of you?

Derek Matthews: I stay plugged into the higher power. I stay plugged in. I wake every day, and I give thanks, but I gotta go on record and say that I have one of the most incredible African queens that I think God has just, I think I’ve just been blessed. My wife and I have been together for 33 years, married for 31. We dated for a year, were engaged for a year, and got married. I think together we produce two of the most incredible children, and now adults, that have never caused me any grief. They’ve done nothing but made me proud. But Lester, I think at the end of the day what drives me man is my why. I know that I’ve got to eat healthy, I’ve got to read the right things, I’ve got to listen to the right music, I have to be in the right places. And I tell you, life after prison requires that, there’s some people that you ran with back in the day, that you can’t run with no more man. Because if they’re not trying to help you build, they’re really serving you no purpose in life, man. And if you’re concerned about them being jealous about you, I mean if you really want to see your true friends, tell them you’re about to go to federal prison. Tell them you about to go to prison, and see over the next couple of months how they respond to your getting ready journey to leave. See how they treat your family while you gone. See how they receive you when you come home. And then, that’ll give you an indicator of, your wife and children and your family, and a family now that my JLUSA family–that’s real family. You don’t have to be the same blood type, the same DNA, but to travel these journeys together and to be able to be received and loved. I mean, Lester and Hakim, truth be told the three of us could be in a room right now and convince anybody that the three of us grew up together in the same household because of how we would bond immediately because we know where we’ve been. To be able to balance that, I try to master it every day, you know, and I try to make sure that I remain humble. And I think humility is something that we’ve got to teach young men and women that I’m not better than anybody on this phone, I’m not better than anybody that’s going to watch this podcast. 99.9, we all the same DNA. Black, white, red, African, Indian, Asian, you know at the end of the day, we are all mankind. We are all human. And the quicker we start to understand that, the better off we’ll be, and I try to just balance that.

Hakim Crampton: That’s powerful. And you know, Derek, many people who go to prison for the first time open up a book. You know, myself, I went to prison at the age of 18. Very knowledgeable in terms of my capacity, literate to read, I had ever read a book from cover to cover before. Never picked up a book to engross myself in it until I went to prison, and it helped me tremendously. So my question Derek is, did you, for example, read while you were in prison? And if you did, what book or perhaps books were very inspirational and powerful to you to help set the stage for your post belief?

Derek Matthews: So, man that’s a great question. I’ve never been asked that before, and I can tell you I probably read 85 or 90 books while I was gone. And I tell you, I’ll start from the beginning, I had grown up with a church foundation, right? Always in the church–my mother had me up there reading scripture when I was seven, and it wasn’t open for option. You could be sitting there pretending, and you weren’t paying attention, right? But then when your mother says, “and now Master Derek is going to come up and read the Old Testament,” and her as a school teacher by trade, reading was something, there was no option, your education was first, right? But, I said you know I’ve been playing with the Bible for like a long time, I mean I’m in the podium every Sunday, but I had never read the Bible from first page to last page. So I gave myself a schedule. I said I’m going to read the Bible and be done by this day. Well, I did that, and it allowed me to kinda process that that book is full of love stories, trials and tribulations, it’s got violence in it. It’s got everything that you can possibly imagine in one book. And when you process it, the people at the end of the day, they’re Dereks, Hakims, and Lesters that ultimately we call prophets, and we call teachers, and all of this stuff. I began to really say to myself, “let me go back and dive back in this thing again, and now take a different look, and try to see myself.”

So, let’s take Job. Okay, Derek you’re having a “Job moment.” You’re having a “40 days in the in the desert” moment. You’re having a “being swallowed by a large fish moment,” because you didn’t adhere to what was told to you, you didn’t follow instructions. The more I began to see that, the more the humility, and the more that I began to see inside of myself. I called myself a business person. I thought I knew business, right? But I had never read, Think and Grow Rich. I had never read Napoleon Hills, which is the number one best selling book next to the Bible. I had never taken the time to. And wealthy people had told me about the book years ago, and then I said okay, “Let me read it again.” And to hear Henry Ford say he knew nothing about building cars, but “if I put the right people in the room, I know I can build a car.” Now you fast forward and say, “okay I can’t speak in this state, or I can’t reach the police department in this state, but let me call Lester, let me call Hakim and get them to get me in front of the right people. Or, let me get them to partner with me and have them do it because that’s their turf, and I begin to learn that when we start to read differently, we begin to act differently depending on what we read. So, I read a lot of T.D. Jakes. I read a lot of Les Brown. I tried to stay centered with people that look like me and that had stories similar to mine that had overcome. It’s been a journey man. I started listening to different things, my music changed. You know you can’t be listening to music where you call your wife your queen and your daughter your princess, and this brother talking about this sister over here to be and she doing this, come on man, that conflicts, that totally conflicts with how you should be living.

Lester Young: That’s powerful man.

Derek Matthews: It’s like eating man, you can’t say, “oh, I want a six-pack,” but your eating pizza every day and eating 7-Eleven hot dogs. You can’t do that, right? You can’t be walking down with a Big Gulp in your hand talking about “oh, I’m getting ready to get it in” you know? So, it’s the same thing. We got to be able to feed that spirit and feed that mind and that’s what I tried to do man.

Lester Young: I’m going back again and just reiterating–this is a great podcast. I appreciate you man. You come in with, like I said in the beginning, you come in being transparent and genuine. And I really appreciate your candor and sharing. Thinking about what Malcolm X once said: reading awakened him to be mentally alive. I remember reaching that when I was in prison, and I was like, “wow he went in ignorant in this mental grade and he said reading awakened him alive.” You know? And that’s just the power of books. Even to this day man, in my office and your office, and Hakim’s–I know we’re surrounded with books. I think I’m going to read about maybe four books before the end of this month. I’m on my third book right now. I just love reading, you know what I’m saying? It’s just one of those powers, man.

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Lester Young: One of the last questions that’ll be getting ready to wrap this up, and as you mentioned the stories of the Bible and how you was able to identify what parts and phases of life–if you were in a “Job moment,” or a “Moses moment,” or a “Jonah moment.” It just leads to this next question: who inspired your leadership and the work that you do? Because all of these men that you mentioned, I’m pretty sure they are part of shaping your understanding, or inspire your leadership today in the work that you do.

Derek Matthews: It’s funny, I love the way you cue me up to answer this. This is something interesting because you said you name them men, right? My mother was my inspiration. My mother was able to, as an educator, as a woman of God, and what I saw us go through as a family, my mother had the keen ability to…(and my father was a powerful dude in his own time, right? My father was probably one of the most masterful business people I had ever met. He didn’t have to go to college to do that. Back in the day, the brothersm you know, he had a PhD in street, right? Man, he could run a business and manage people and money). But my mother was the glue that kept the family together, was able to lead in church, was able to step in and run a business in his absence. My mother was able to get homework done, manage five children, work a job make, sure everybody ate, make sure if you fell you got the right size Band-Aid. She was able to shop, she was able to masterfully, almost like a conductor of a fine orchestra, be able to–and all the while, she could go out in a Civil Rights Movement and be able to rally people together to go vote. So to watch her, and then to lose her–because she died while I was in prison–

Lester Young: Oh, wow.

Derek Matthews: One of her last words to me…my mother died of cancer, and I always like to share this story, it’s in my book, too. My mother, when she got diagnosed the second time with cancer, she called the family together, and this is what she said, and I’ll stop right here. She called everybody in a circle, and we all held hands, and we knew it was bad news. She told us she had cancer, she told us that it was spreading, but this is what she said fellas. Everybody was holding hands, and she said, “Dear Lord, I want to thank you for this moment. I want to thank you for this day. I want to thank you for my family, but most of all God, I want to thank you for putting cancer in my body.” And there was a pause, and I’m like, “Where is she going with this prayer?” And this is what she said, “I want to thank you for putting the cancer in my body, and not the body of one of my children.”

Let me tell you something, I’m probably gonna get a little touched. To be that unselfish, and to call herself, that she was going to show us how to come together, and how to be the example of strength, when my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer just before I came out of prison, my wife was now armed with the necessary equipment to know how to be a wife, a mother, who now is about to go into the battle of her life, and I watch my wife almost be a mirror image of my mother. I’m telling you, from those two women to my children, my why is all about trying to leave a legacy of us being able to be a people that will continue to be those people who have survived some of the most horrific treatment of society, but yet we overcome every day.

Lester Young: Hey bro, I mean, bro Amen, I’m done.

Derek Matthews: I love y’all man.

Hakim Crampton: Listen bro, wow your mother. You know, me too, my mother was ultimately my greatest inspiration.

Derek Matthews: I got her tattooed on my arm. This is her real signature, man, from her passport. I just finished speaking to 50 people. I’m gonna meet them at the next location, and sometimes when I’m talking, people will see me look at my arm because every time that I get an audience, no matter what it is I’m training or facilitating, I know that she’s standing over in the corner going, “Sugar, I’m proud of you. You did it.” And that’s just a good feeling, man. It’s just a good feeling, man.

Lester Young: Yeah, listen brother we can wrap this up. Man you got a whole lot of Amens from me and Hakim. It’s been really refreshing to hear that, and I’m glad that you’re able to highlight the power of faith, the power of family, and the power of love, Black love. That’s something, I honestly say, that we don’t see enough of–formerly incarcerated men and women celebrating their marriage and relationships and family. I mean sometimes we only see where we’re fighting the fight, right? We don’t realize that one of the greatest fights that we’re doing is maintaining and managing and holding our family together.

I salute you for that and all of the other Black men and women out there, and all of the men and women out there in the world, whether Black or white, who are really fighting to maintain their family. I really appreciate that. Hakim before we wrap up, you got any last parting words my brother?

Hakim Crampton: Nah, I just really want to thank you for taking the time to come on and share your thoughts and inspirational leader leadership with us. We hope our listeners will also benefit from your words.

Lester Young: You got any last parting words, man? Tell the people how to find you, will give us a word, wait you gave us a whole mouth full of motivation, so I’m not gonna even ask you that. But just just leave us with something to think about as we move through our day? And again, thank you.

Derek Matthews: Hey look, we all gonna get knocked down, right? But your faith is what’s going to get you through. Wherever you put your faith in, just understand that when you get knocked down in order to properly see things, you got to get on your knees sometimes and pray. So when you fall down, get in the position of being humble on your knees and know that the higher power has control, to just know that when God has something for you, and He orders you, it doesn’t go away. You can ignore it all you want, but trust when I tell you He’s gonna put a bookfold in it, and you’re gonna come back to it, and you’re gonna see it again. So, if He gives it to you, He’s gonna get you through it.

Lester Young: Again, Derek thank you brother for taking the time out, continue to do what you do man. We’re gonna let you go and impact more people in Maryland and around the world my brother. We love you my brother.

Derek Matthews: Love y’all back, man. God bless y’all, and I appreciate the opportunity. [Music]

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