In my inaugural post, I wrote a sentence that I almost didn’t include:

“I have held trophies and awards with the same hands that have been handcuffed.”

Here is the story behind that statement and what I learned from it.

I’ve never worn an orange jumpsuit or actually spent a night in jail, but it wasn’t a metaphor.

When I was 25, a grand jury indicted me on seven counts of perjury. (Wow, that was almost as fun to write as it was to go through.)

I ran for the local Board of Education at the age of 23. In doing so, I was required to file regular campaign finance reports. I falsified seven of the reports due to poor record-keeping. I signed the reports under oath and false reports are perjury. That’s seven counts of perjury…all felonies…with six years prison for each of them. I refuse to use the fact that I was 23 as an excuse for what I did wrong on those reports. The reality was that I was just immature…and stupid.

Later the next year, I was recruited to run for the State House against the incumbent Co-Speaker of the House. His nickname was Boss Hogg. That alone should paint a picture of how ruthless he is. Donations poured in, invitations to speak were overwhelming, and several state representatives endorsed me early. Then I got a phone call.

The call

It was from the local newspaper and they wanted a statement on why the State Board of Elections was in town investigating my campaign. I had no clue. They never did find any wrongdoing in that campaign. It was clean as a whistle, but they did find the irregularities in my first campaign.

When I went to the sheriff’s office, they had to do all of the paperwork, including fingerprinting, taking my picture, and other fun stuff. Since this took place at the jail, they had to, by law, put me in handcuffs and walk me across the street to the jail. Incidentally, this was the time I learned why every person’s newspaper photo going to jail looks so awful. They open the door directly in the sun, so I end up squinting and holding my hands up to my forehead, which is a great pose when I’m handcuffed. That made for an awesome front page picture the next day in the local newspaper.

I never ended up serving prison time, thankfully. I’m sure it helped that I knew the local District Attorney, but rarely would they go all out on someone for less than a $300 error. I did serve 90 days house arrest (so, in case you were wondering, yes I have worn an ankle bracelet) and did a bunch of community service.

To demonstrate how much of a punk I was at 25 years old when the judge announced my house arrest (you do get to leave home…a lot actually) and asked what I did for a living, I smugly answered, “I work from home,” and grinned. Yeah, I was that kind of a punk. Good thing he had already made his ruling.

Not a mistake

What got me there was not a mistake. I looked up the definition of a mistake. This was not a mistake. A mistake is when a man asks a woman when she is due…ever. My screw-up was nothing like that.

This was a fundamental error in integrity…or sin. I prefer the former because it uses big words and reminds me less of how what I did was evil in the literal sense. I didn’t “mess up.” But I did make a mess.

I found out years later one of the reasons why I got off so easy for my “fundamental error in integrity.” It was, in part, because I never claimed that I had “made a mistake.” I never claimed ignorance of right and wrong. I admitted my wrongdoing and, in the process, made the investigators’ lives a little easier. I think I was rewarded for that.

So there is a part of my story. A dark part, with an awesome light that came from it…but that, my friends, is for another day.

What is your definition of personal accountability?


21 thoughts on “Handcuffs (Or…That Time I Was Arrested)

  1. Todd Liles says:

    Matt, that was a great post. It takes heart to admit something so personal. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Yeah it was painful. But it was worth the lesson I learned as I was writing it. Sort of. haha.

  2. Wow, cool story. I have been trying to come from the perspective that everything that happens in my life I’m responsible for. Maybe not 100%, but some part. At very least, I have 100% of my reaction to everything that happens to me.

  3. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Ha! I just filled out those forms when I got on our local school board this past february. I filled the forms out accurately. But now you have me realizing how serious it is to MAKE SURE. haha.
    What a great story to have gone THROUGH, being in the middle of, probably not so much. But I imagine you’re careful with record keeping now…

    Personal accountability is so important, because you may be able to fool others, but you ALWAYS know. And I’ve found it’s even more miserable if you know of a mistake or sin and no one else does.
    Thanks for being transparent and showing the importance of integrity!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Importance of integrity indeed 🙂 And the penalties for lack of it.

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        I only wish you would’ve used the newspaper photo for this blog post 😉

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        Interesting…I tried to find it online about 5 years ago and couldn’t. Darn. Really. Darn. 🙂

      3. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        That is too bad Mr. Nixo–I mean McWilliams! I WONDER who could’ve lost that 😉 haha

  4. Mike Holmes says:

    Man…I really dig transparent posts like that! Thank you for sharing Matt!

  5. Joshua Rivers says:

    Can’t claim that kind of story! I’ve definitely made some messes and paid for them. Almost lead to a call to the police. It’s been a long road of recovery. Anothet person’s trust is a very fragile thing, and should be taken care of when it is given to you.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Wow, that is nice Joshua. Trust is GIVEN. Very well put.

      1. Joshua Rivers says:

        It’s one if those things that you don’t realize it’s value until it’s broken. Praise the Lord I was able to learn from it and work at putting the pieces back together. Personal accountability – definitely.

  6. Lily Kreitinger says:

    Takes a lot of courage to share a story like this. What I love the most is the difference between “making a mistake” and wrongdoing. Thanks for sharing the story.

    1. Lily Kreitinger says:

      And good job with the final question, BTW ;0)

      1. Matt McWilliams says:

        Yeah, I had some help on that one. 🙂

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      That is the only reason I wrote it. If it weren’t for that lesson, it served no purpose. Glad you like it!

  7. John Corcoran says:

    Wow, very powerful story here Matt and I’m glad you learned such great lessons from it. I think what’s so valuable here is you came clean and you are reflecting on what you learned from the experience. Also, I worked in politics early in my career so I know how brutal it can be – even (especially?) local politics.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Yeah I wish I could have learned another way but just like the time I was sued by the FTC…I became an expert on how to help others avoid that. 🙂

  8. Thankfully never been arrested, but I did have to go to court because unemployment gave me wrong information on how to fill out their forms 2 years ago.

    I almost had to go to jail, but I was honest and upfront with the judge and presented every piece of evidence I could to help me out.

    I did this all alone with no lawyer and no one to back me up. I was hosting singles parties and I wasn’t get paid like regular employees were paid and they couldn’t understand that for some reason.

    I have been in a few close situations, but nothing ever like that.

    It didn’t work out with that company, but I am still bent on earning a living from home again so I can be with my kids and heal my body.

    I will never go on unemployment again. I did it that one time because I actually needed to. I will never go back.

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