Matt Engler: Marine Locked in a Personal Hell | Episode 11 Part 2

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Part 1 of Matt's fascinating story

Part 2 of a heart stopping tale of addiction and crime funded by  a DOD credit card. An inside look at how one  man found his way back from a prison barracks in Hawaii to redemption and recovery.

In recovery? Helping others find recovery? Looking to learn about recovery? Another can't miss episode of Rubber Bands from Avenues Recovery.




Shlomo Hoffman [00:00:00]:         Hey Rubber Bands listeners. Today we continue the Matt Engler story. In Part One, we tracked Matt’s odyssey from breaking and entering to Marine boot camp and onto his Marine base in Hawaii, with drug and alcohol addiction following him lockstep. Today’s story continues with drug dealing, prison and rehab, desertion from the Marines, and a long and winding road to finding lasting recovery. Part Two of the Matt Engler saga comes your way right now.

[Music plays]

Introduction [00:00:30]:                 Welcome to Rubber Bands, an Avenues Recovery podcast, conversations about the push and pull of addiction and recovery. And now, here’s your host, Shlomo Hoffman.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:00:44]:         So now you started dealing drugs.

Matt Engler [00:00:45]:                  Now I started dealing. It was just – it seemed kind of like organic to start selling it. It was like the next decision to make.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:00:52]:         All of the sudden, the guy is running a cartel.

Matt Engler [00:00:55]:                  Yeah, right? So now I’m like a successful – I could never be a successful drug dealer in the past because I would just use it all. That’s the equation: just get so much that you can’t use it.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:01:07]:         Then you can become a dealer.

Matt Engler [00:01:09]:                  Yeah, you can be a dealer, right?

Shlomo Hoffman [00:01:11]:         So you’re running a real operation here. I mean, you’re talking about…I don’t know, you’re not selling $5 worth of drugs. I’m saying, is there a chain here? There’s distributors?

Matt Engler [00:01:23]:                  I never met anybody outside of the guy I would get it from.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:01:26]:         Were you keeping track of it? Like, were you keeping track of what’s coming in, what’s going out, money? Or it was just like…

Matt Engler [00:01:32]:                  No, not so much, right, it was far sloppier than that, right? Like it was far sloppier than that. I had so much access to the things that this guy wanted. He had so much dope that he was giving in trade. I didn’t have to keep track of any of it. All of it was just a free-for-all and all of it became very discretionary at that point. If I lost an eight ball of heroin, I didn’t care at all because I had free access to it. At that point, it was all just profit.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:02:06]:         So now you had a lot of drugs and a lot of money.

Matt Engler [00:02:09]:                  A lot of drugs. A lot of money. So, look, I started on the meth. Meth is, like, super popular in Hawaii. It’s a huge – it’s huge down there. So I started on meth, not necessarily something I’d ever done before, not something I was ever really – and I’d done it, but I never really cared to do it, right? So I can remember thinking like, man, it’s so abundant down here. And the heroin, it was starting to get to me a little bit, you know? I was – I don’t know. I started overdosing quite a bit, more than I had ever in the past.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:02:49]:         When you say you started overdosing, were you really overdosing?

Matt Engler [00:02:54:                   If you overdose, it doesn’t mean you die. You can overdose and not die. Overdose resulting in death is a component of – one kind of overdose. But there is also the other kind where I’d been hit with Narcan a few times and I had some where I just didn’t die. But I started getting nervous about it. Again, I hadn’t overdosed a lot up until that point in my life, but I’d never had the quantities of dope that would lend itself to me overdosing, either. So now I did, and I guess I just didn’t know how to act. That was it. I was overindulgent, imagine that.

                                                            So, meth, right? I started using, and the legitimate thought was that I’m going to start using meth and I’m going to either quit or start using less heroin. It was like my get off of heroin program, right? And at first, it was true. I started using more meth and I started using less heroin. At the end of the day, I really liked both of them, you know, to use in tandem.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:04:03]:         You liked steak and you liked ice cream.

Matt Engler [00:04:05]:                  Yeah, why not? Why not participate in both? The meth allowed me to enjoy a little bit more of my heroin high and the heroin took enough of the edge off the meth, I guess is the deal. But at the end of the day, the meth took me to a place that I’d just never been before throughout my use. And I had been some gnarly places, seen some gnarly things. The meth got me. I felt like my mind was slipping; I was paranoid all the time. I always talk about the shadow clan, right? The shadow clan. So I’d be up for days at a time, no sleep, very little food, not that hydrating – hydrating is like the last thing you kind of think of, and it gets to the point where I’d start hallucinating. Like, shadows would turn into living, breathing, you know, things. And look, at the time, I’m this in shape guy leading up to this point, right? Like the typical body type of a Marine. And man, I’m just losing weight, every time I got on the scale it’d be like, another five pounds gone.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:05:21]:         Nobody’s seeing, nobody’s noticing? No superiors? No one’s like, what’s going on with Matt?

Matt Engler [00:05:27]:                  So there was a couple of people who, like, asked, right? Man, you don’t look good. And I’d write it off. Man, the shoulder surgery is really getting to me. You know, I’d have this – I’m used to going to the gym a bunch, I’m not able to do it. I know man, look at me, I’m losing weight. So the whole time, I kinda knew something was going to have to happen. You don’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and sell, you know, all that dope, use all that dope—

Shlomo Hoffman [00:05:59]:         Without the chickens coming home to roost.

Matt Engler [00:06:01]:                  Right. Something’s gonna have to happen.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:06:03]:         Where was all of the money?

Matt Engler [00:06:04]:                  So I would, like—so, the meth right, it had me, like, super paranoid, so I would, like, stash it all these places. I’d put it in a box in the drop ceiling of the barracks, or in the wheel well of my car. I don’t know, just the weirdest stuff.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:06:20]:         But you had significant amounts of cash.

Matt Engler [00:06:23]:                  Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, a significant amount. Tens of thousands laying around I think is a conservative kind of estimate at any given time. Now, it was all fluid, right? It could come in; it could go out. It just as easily came in and went out at the same time, so there was no savings—there was no savings program; it wasn’t stuck in a 401k somewhere. It was all there for use and access, it was very fluid and came in, went out just as quickly as the next, right? And it’s kind of unsettling to have that much cash, and, like, cash is not as useful as you would think in today’s age. It’s, like, really hard to spend cash. Like, you’re not paying your light bill spending cash, right? I wouldn’t even know where to go to pay a light bill at the moment. You pay it out of your checking account because that’s what they want; they want a debit, checking.

So I would try to get some of it in my checking account. I had that Square app, right? I had the Square app and I would go to the base exchange. I’d buy those debit cards, the gift cards, right, for whatever denomination, and then I’d run them through the Square app, which would be a deposit into my checking account. That was as close to money laundering as my brain could get. You know what I mean? So, like, the cash was—it was only there to spend at that point. But yeah, one day, they did come, you know, CID, NCIS, right?

Shlomo Hoffman [00:07:56]:         They finally came.

Matt Engler [00:07:57]:                  They finally came. It was a bad, bad feeling. I knew it was coming. I knew it was going to happen. But when it finally did happen, it was as bad as I thought it was going to be. At first, I freaked out. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know what to do. I can remember they took me into the interrogation room. They sat me there all day.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:08:19]:         Do you know how they got onto you?

Matt Engler [00:08:21]:                  I do. Even though it’s a contract, and even though it’s front-loaded, you still have to basically execute the funds through a portal. And I don’t know how it happened, why it happened. Some people have tried to say over time it was intentional, I was leaving a breadcrumb, I wanted to get caught, self-sabotage, blah, blah, blah. I think I just didn’t pay the bill, was what it was. I think—I legitimately think that I knew I should have done it and I just didn’t do it. I don’t know that I had a ton of reasons why, I just didn’t do it.

And so as a result of the funds not being executed, basically on the invoice bill pay side, Granger calls asking, you know, when is this going to be executed? My supply officer at the time says, whoa, what are you talking about? We’ve not been executing hundreds of thousands worth of purchases through you, what’s going on? So at that point, I guess there was an investigation going on for a period of time that I don’t think I knew about, it was kind of happening in the background, and none of the purchased items could be placed throughout the unit. They couldn’t find the Bobcat you know? They couldn’t find the drills.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:10:03]:         They just didn’t know where that basement in the laundromat was. They could have found it; it was sitting right there.

Matt Engler [00:10:09]:                  Like I said, I mean, it was on a job site, you know? It was being used. And so that was it. I mean, it’s not a very complex way to get caught. Had I paid that bill—and I’m like, I’m almost 100% on this, had I paid that bill, I feel like I would have gotten away with it for sure. I think it would have executed out like any other hundreds of thousands worth of funding military wide. I don’t think there would have been the point of inquiry that kind of kicked off the investigation. I think had I just clicked the button, I don’t think I’d have been caught.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:10:51]:         That’s insane.

Matt Engler [00:10:52]:                  It is insane.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:10:54]:         I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Matt Engler [00:10:57]:                  At a time—and I think it just kind of folds back into, at a time when the country is in a very long war, a very expensive war. There’s a ton of stuff going—there’s a ton of stuff happening, and I think funding, you know, I think it does just get—

Shlomo Hoffman [00:11:14]:         Kind of lost in the wash.

Matt Engler [00:11:16]:                  Lost in the wash.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:11:17]:         In the laundromat wash.

Matt Engler [00:11:19]:                  Right. 300k. It sounds like a lot of money, it does. But as relative to a trillion-dollar war, that’s like six bucks, you know what I mean? It’s relative to a trillion-dollar war.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:11:37]:         So you get called in.

Matt Engler [00:11:38]:                  I get called in. They start to hammer me like you see in any number of interrogation videos, right? Watch The First 48, watch any of the TV shows, and that’s exactly it.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:11:50]:         That’s exactly how it goes down.

Matt Engler [00:11:51]:                  And they knew. They knew probably better than me at the time exactly the extent of the crime that I had been committing, for sure. They had it pegged. They knew exactly the deal, and they knew they had caught their guy. I wasn’t talking. I wasn’t going to do it. And I asked for a lawyer a number of times.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:12:13]:         Does it work like that in the military? Is it the same process? Like, you have the right to a lawyer and all that kind of thing?

Matt Engler [00:12:18]:                  Yeah, all your Miranda stuff is in place, for sure. You have the right to refuse the interview. You have the right for counsel. All that stuff is still in place. Although I asked for a lawyer like six times while I was in there, and you know, there came a point in, like, the production phase of the trial where my lawyers are like, why didn’t he get a lawyer the first time he asked? Why did he have to ask six times before he got assigned counsel? It’s not up for interpretation. The practical application, I think there is a little bit—

Shlomo Hoffman [00:12:55]:         It’s different than civilian life, is what you’re saying.

Matt Engler [00:12:57]:                  I don’t know, legally, I don’t know that it’s different. I just know my experience. I asked for a lawyer a bunch, and the interview continued. But no harm, no foul, right? These guys, they were just trying to get a job done. They knew they had their guy. Look, at the end of the day, I was the reason we were in that room, nobody else. Right? Like, I created this scenario why we had to be in that room, why anybody was even being interrogated that day. So I didn’t talk. And, you know, they brought me to the brig that night. Pearl Harbor has a brig on it. Brig is like military prison, right? The nautical term for military prison. So they bring me there that night. So before you go, you have to pack up all your stuff, and as they were packing up my barracks room, you could really see how crazy things kind of got. There were dozens and dozens pairs of shoes, there was gold chains, there were gold watches everywhere.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:13:36]:         You were living the lifestyle.

Matt Engler [00:13:38]:                  Yeah, but it was just all this stuff, you know? Just stuff. It had, like, no value. Most of the clothes still had the tags on them. I don’t wear jewelry ever, never did up until that point, never since. I wear a wedding band, that’s it. It was just stuff. And, like, I can remember it being put into a storage container and thinking, like, man, this is sick. Like, I know I’m going to jail right now, and this is what I’m going to jail for? So I could have ten pairs of the same New Balance? Or I could have a gold chain that I’m not even… So there was kind of this moment of clarity where I felt really sick about myself. I felt really nasty about what I had been doing, you know.

                                                            So I can remember I had that same bag of meth that I was in the interrogation room. Still had it. Nobody ever found it. Still had it. And my possessions were being packed up in the supply warehouse where I worked. That’s where they were going to be stored while I was at the brig. So I thought maybe there was a chance I was going to wind up back there one day. So I take this bag of meth and, like, I go pull a baseboard off of, like, the bathroom wall and I slide the bag in there and I kind of put the baseboard back, and I’m like, okay, I’m going to remember that for later. And so I go to the brig. They take me over to the brig and I get checked in, it’s late at night, and there was this really cool corrections officer, I’m not going to remember a lot of the names, right, really cool guy, he levels with me. He’s like, dude, it’s about to be really bad. You don’t have to tell me what you’re doing, but you’re about to get real sick. And he, like, he did what he could to comfort me in, like, the receiving part of it, you know?

So they put me in a cell, and man, I go through the worst detox I’ve ever gone through in my life. For months—months. I’ve never gone without dope. I’ve always had plenty enough to use, and so, like, this is the first time in a long time that I’m going without, and man, it felt like it just couldn’t get any worse than that moment sitting in there. And again, I think I tried to have a moment of clarity, I’m never going to do this again, this is as bad as it will get, this is the bottom, all those cute things you try to tell yourself when you’re in a really bad situation. I’m praying, just help me out, I’ll never do this again, blah, blah, blah. So I’m in that cell for a period of time and I finally get moved into kind of like the general population side of the brig where it’s just a big bay, you know, kind of open living in there and a bunch of beds, the racks on the floor, and pretrial confinement, right? I’m going to be there until my court martial happens. But they’re continuing the investigation the whole time I’m in there, right? They’re continuing the investigation, and from the report back from my attorneys, they’re having trouble proving it beyond a reasonable doubt. I guess there was some question of how did it really happen. They know the property was purchased, but I’m not in possession of the stolen property. So in the legal world, I guess there were some problems with the case is what it boils down to. There were some problems with the case, problems with the prosecution. And I’m just in there on kind of a pretrial status. And I’m going about my day, working in the kitchen, just not really doing much, just kind of hanging out I guess is the best way to put it. And the whole time, I’m using. The whole time. I’m not using to the same extent that I was as when I got in, but there was dope in the prison and I was using when I was in there.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:17:36]:         So it’s not an issue to get dope in the prison. That’s interesting to me.

Matt Engler [00:17:39]:                  If we define an issue as, like, can’t get it in, then no, there was no issue. Now as far as the total quantity that could come in, there would have been an issue there.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:17:52]:         So you had some limits.

Matt Engler [00:17:53]:                  There were some limits. It wasn’t just like free access to the stuff, right? So one day, they call me up to the front. They say, pack your stuff. You’re going. You’re leaving. And it blew my mind that I could be getting out of this place. I kind of thought they were messing with me, you know? I didn’t think they were serious, right? But for whatever reason, for whatever problems with the case that were happening, they could no longer keep me at that level of confinement. They had to release me and put me on a base restriction status, meaning I could go back to the base, I couldn’t leave the base, but that was about as harsh as it could get until they had enough to kind of take me to trial, so that’s what they did. And I kind of re-entered back into the Marine corps life, for all intents and purposes.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:18:43]:         Were they still kind of letting you do your job, or no way?

Matt Engler [00:18:46]:                  No. I was assigned to a job, right, but no longer in the supply shop, no credit card, no contracts.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:18:57]:         The credit card was taken.

Matt Engler [00:19:00]:                  It was taken.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:19:01]:         Daddy took away the credit card.

Matt Engler [00:19:03]:                  I can imagine like my sergeant major with the biggest pair of scissors I’ve ever seen, hedge trimmers, and cut that thing up. But I was back. And I was just doing simple stuff, like sweeping and mopping and cutting grass, just nonsense stuff to keep me busy throughout the day. Still using, right? So still using, still needing a way to kind of fund it, and still doing crime to support it, although at a lesser level, kind of shoplifting stuff, there was some car theft involved in it.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:19:39]:         Car theft? Where are you getting cars to sell?

Matt Engler [00:19:41]:                  The street. I mean, anywhere you could park your car, I could steal it. It’s not like movie car theft, it was like a few cars, you know, just, like, a couple. And I’m not trying to diminish it, but I’m not trying to oversell, either. There were a few cars in there that I stole and I sold. Again, I was less than in encouraged in how much money you got for a car; I really expected a lot more.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:20:07]:         See, this was not going to be a lucrative…

Matt Engler [00:20:10]:                  Nope. I don’t see how anybody makes a lucrative profession out of it, I really don’t.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:20:16]:         I guess you’ve got to steal a lot of cars, Matt.

Matt Engler [00:20:18]:                  I guess you’ve got to steal a lot of cars.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:20:20]:         It’s a quantity game.

Matt Engler [00:20:21]:                  Maybe it is. Maybe it’s quantity. Or, if it is quality, I don’t know what quality car to steal. I can remember, I stole a BMW one time, I got like $1,500 for it.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:20:29]:         Really?

Matt Engler [00:20:31]:                  Or maybe I was getting ripped off, you know, I don’t know.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:20:35]:         A car thief is complaining about getting ripped off. I like it.

Matt Engler [00:20:38]:                  Maybe I just didn’t know enough to know how to do it. I don’t know. So that’s how I’m making it day-to-day, right? Just a little shoplifting, a little car theft, little kind of odds and ends crime in order to get enough for the day and just kind of marching through life. I always expected there to be an end date to that, right? I really expected they were going to get on with the court martial, that I was going to get sentenced. At the point, what did I have to care for? I’m going to go back to prison at some point anyways, so just kind of run it into the dirt as best as I can was kind of my approach to life at the time. I didn’t really care a whole lot; you know?

So in that period of time, my dad, his addiction, you know, it really progressed to the point where as a result of his meth use, he had a stroke. He had this major stroke, right? So I get a call, my family is telling me my dad is dying, if there’s any way I can get home, I should. I should come home and see him. So I go to my command. So to them, I think this was—and this was kind of what my lawyer told me. To them, had I skipped out, they would have just, you know, put a warrant out for me, prosecuted me in my absence, and hey, I’m going to be on my sentence and have the martials pick me up later on. And it wouldn’t have been a big deal, it would have been more detrimental to me not to show up to my court martial because they had gotten me on the sentence, right? So they set it up. I was supposed to, like, check in with the recruiting office in the area on a daily or every other day, some kind of frequency, and that I could go home, see my dad, tell him goodbye, and then I would come back. Great. So I get a plane ticket and I miss the first plane because I’m smoking meth. So this is to go tell my dad goodbye, I love him. He’s dying. And I miss the first plane because I’m smoking meth. So I have to get my ticker changed over, I do all that stuff, get it for a later flight, and as I’m walking through TSA, I go through the body scanner and they see the pipe and the bag of meth in my pocket, right? So I come out the other side. They stop me, the TSA agent, I try to make a deal with them saying come on man, just let me throw it away, or look, I’ve got a thousand bucks in my pocket, I’ll pay you to not arrest me. He’s not hearing it.

I turn to run and Honolulu PD tackles me at the TSA checkpoint in the airport. I guess the TSA manager comes from the back of the building and she kind of engages me and at the end of the day, they decide I need to be arrested at the checkpoint for the possession of narcotics. There’s this little jail, this little lock up in the back of the airport, it had like three cells in it. So they bring me back there, they sit me down, and they call my unit to come pick me up because that’s the ID that I showed to get through the checkpoint was my military ID, so they know I’m military. So they call my unit to come pick me up, my unit grabs me, they bring me back to the Pearl Harbor brig for the second time.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:24:16]:         Back to the brig.

Matt Engler [00:24:17]:                  Back to the brig. So I’ll think about that every now and again today, like that’s crazy to me, that my dad is dying and it doesn’t matter, the dope is more powerful than that, right?

Shlomo Hoffman [00:24:32]:         And also, it’s like a no-brainer. You’re going to get caught if you go through a checkpoint with meth.

Matt Engler [00:24:37]:                  Right, it’s a no-brainer. I go back to something I said earlier and like, well, of course I had dope in my pocket.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:24:44]:         Because that’s where it’s supposed to be.

Matt Engler [00:24:46]:                  Because that’s where it’s supposed to be. I do dope. I’m a drug addict. I do drugs. So that is what goes in my pocket. Again, none of it made sense, but it is very real. It really does happen that way.

                                                            So they bring me back to the brig and I’m there, right? I’m there for like a week and I get the equivalent of like a bail hearing. There’s no money to exchange hands, but you get the equivalent of a bail hearing and they decide, do you need to be kept at this level of confinement or can you go to another one? And so my lawyers, I had three at the time, and I’m telling them, guys, you need to get me out. I’m not doing this again. You need to get me out. And all of them replied back to me and said no, we’re not getting you out. And this is kind of like the cocky part. I can remember looking back at them and saying guys, you’re criminal defense attorneys. I’m a criminal. I do crime. You get me out of it. That’s the relationship. And in my brain, that totally made sense.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:25:50]:         Do your job, dammit.

Matt Engler [00:25:52]:                  Yeah, do your job. I shouldn’t be the one—you’re the lawyer, I shouldn’t have to tell you this. So John looks back at me, he says, no, no, no. You pay us to keep you safe and the worst place for you to be is out of the jail right now. You’re the safest you can be in jail. You’re racking up too many charges. Dude, you just got arrested by the TSA for possession of narcotics. Like, this is a big deal. And I said, fine. We’ll see about that. Let’s go to the hearing. So we’re in the hearing. There were a couple of people to go before me and then we come up and the prosecutor is presenting why I need to be in confinement, so the presiding officer, he kind of looks at me and he says, is there anything you have to say? And before any of my lawyers can say anything, I stand up. I say, yes, there is something I would like to say. I am a drug addict and I need help. That’s what came out of my mouth.

                                                            So I was shocked, right? He said, Engler, I completely believe that. I’m going to order your commanding officer to get you out of the brig today and send you to treatment. Done. I could not believe he bought it. It was another mind-blowing kind of thing. Like, I couldn’t believe I just ran the line on him and it worked. But it did. He got me out that day. They coordinated—there was no drug treatment on Hawaii that I could go to. So the closest one I could go to was in San Diego, California. So they escorted me from Hawaii to San Diego. A guy from my unit brings me over there on the plane, brought me over there. Drops me off at the Point Loma Submarine Base, it’s this Navy base, had this amazing treatment center on it, kind of a spare no expense kind of place.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:27:49]:         It was specifically for military personnel, this set up?

Matt Engler [00:27:51]:                  Yeah, yeah. Specifically for military, only military could go there. And there were a ton, there were dozens of military people that were there getting treatment for various substances, right? And it was amazing, it was really great. So I get there, I go through the detox, I start doing the counseling, the groups, the individuals and seeing the psychiatrists and all this stuff, and I feel like—because I was, I was getting value out of it, I was getting real help when I was there. I was really getting the help that I needed while I was there.

I met a lady, right? I met a female Marine, a fellow Marine, and we just hit it off, right? It’s what they talk about, like the rehab romance kind of thing, you know? And dude, it was the universe put us here together, it was meant to be, this is like super special, right?

Shlomo Hoffman [00:28:44]:         Soulmates and all of that.

Matt Engler [00:28:46]:                  Right. So she and I, we started talking about leaving together. And on the day that I finished the program, the night before, she left. She went over to the airport. She was going to wait for me at the airport, right? So on the day that I finished treatment, I was supposed to get on a plane, fly back to Hawaii, I think I was going straight to the brig, I think that was the plan. And I was going to go get court martialed, get sentenced, and do my time. So that day, I got the most improved patient award, right? So they gave me this award, it was framed, I gave a speech. I gave a speech about how the program, you know, it worked and my life was forever changed and you can do it too, like one of those kinds of things, you know? So they bring me to the airport, I meet her there, from the airport she and I get in a cab, go over to the train station, catch a train from San Diego to Seattle, and we were going.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:29:45]:         So now you’re AWOL from the military.

Matt Engler [00:29:47]:                  So look, this is—AWOL would be a nice way to put it. In reality, that’s desertion. So it’s a time of war, I’m evading charges at the time, evading prosecution at the time. So it’s kind of a little bit bigger than AWOL. I had no intent of coming back. And I had no intent of facing the charges. So it was looked at a lot more harshly. So we get to Seattle and I steal a car from a car rental place. We take the car and we’re gone. We’re going to do what it is that the kind of life on the run looks like, living day-to-day, getting enough to survive that day, and really just bouncing from place to place to place. And it looked like at first, there were a couple of things. We needed to get an income, so shoplifting is super quick. Need to find a connection, which is not really hard to find.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:30:49]:         You mean like a drug connection.

Matt Engler [00:30:51]:                  Yeah, correct. Not really hard to find. Go to a couple of bars, go to a couple of casinos over there.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:30:59]:         Once you know what you’re looking for, you can find it. Right.

Matt Engler [00:31:01]:                  Right, you’re going to find it, right? And start to build up, you know, start to build up some stockpile and sell and get enough cash to kind of move from place to place. We went to Canada a bunch. I was a living a life where, like, I really figured out I was not coming back. That was it.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:31:19]:         And you had no problem crossing borders and border checks and all of that stuff?

Matt Engler [00:31:22]:                  No.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:31:23]:         Nothing ever popped up? That’s so interesting.

Matt Engler [00:31:25]:                  Nothing ever popped up, never once. Which, again, it’s kind of one of those unexplainable things to me today. I don’t know how that did not happen. I really figured… I was going onto military bases all the time, to go get onto the exchange, it’s easier to operate on a military base because there’s less proof needed. You can abuse it because you have the ID, you’ve got the uniform and all that stuff.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:31:50]:         And nothing was flagged? Nothing was tagged? You walked into the military base, they see your ID, they just let you in?

Matt Engler [00:31:55]:                  They just let me in.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:31:56]:         That’s wild.

Matt Engler [00:31:57]:                  That was it. There were even—and I forget what base it was up there, they had a guy with, it looked like a cashier check out scanner gun. He would scan the magnetic strip on the back of my ID in order to gain entry to the base. I was sweating bullets thinking something was going to pop up, and he said okay, good, welcome to base, and I would just drive on.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:32:18]:         That’s insane.

Matt Engler [00:32:19]:                  And we were gone for a long time. I can’t remember the exact timeframe we were gone, but it was a long, long time we were on the run. I would get a phone; I would throw it away. I always figured I was getting tracked or something, but I don’t think any of that was going on. I don’t think anybody cared about me anymore.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:32:41]:         And your dad is dying all this time.

Matt Engler [00:32:43:                   My dad’s dying all this time.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:32:45]:         Are you in touch with them? Or you’re completely out of touch with your family?

Matt Engler [00:32:48]:                  Completely out of touch. Completely out of touch. I think I figured if they knew where I was—they were going to be contacted at some point, if they knew where I was…

Shlomo Hoffman [00:32:58]:         It would put them in a tough spot, right?

Matt Engler [00:33:00]:                  Yeah. My brother’s a cop, right, he’s a cop in Louisiana, he’s awesome, he’s like super cop, he’s a real cool guy. NCIS squad shows up to his house with his kids inside, surrounds his house looking for me. So this guy, he’s gotta put up with that now. He’s gotta answer his door and say yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know where my brother is. Don’t come in, my kids are here. They do the same thing over at my mom’s house because they thought I might be hiding over there. So all the while, I’ve over here doing what I’m doing, and they’re dealing with these consequences of it. I’m sure they don’t love that when the neighbors are looking across the street.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:33:44]:         Right, like why the hell do you have SWAT teams all over the place? Yeah.

Matt Engler [00:33:47]:                  Good luck explaining that at a Christmas dinner, right? So there came a point in time where, like, I can remember, I was like…I was starting to feel bad that, like, my dad is dying. Again, it’s some of that intellectual processing stuff, like I knew what I was doing wasn’t okay, right? So I’m talking with the girl I’m running with and I said man, we’ve really gotta go tell my dad goodbye. I need to go see him before he dies. I’ve gotta go tell him goodbye. So we come up with—this is the plan. It’s foolproof, it’s the best plan. She and I, we’re going to take the stolen car, we’re going to drive down to Louisiana where my dad was. We’re going to stop in Vegas to get married on the way. We’re going to drive down, see dad, hey dad, love you, goodbye, meet your daughter-in-law, and then we were going to continue down to the Florida Keys and we were going to live out our life happily ever after.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:34:51]:         Sounds like an amazing plan, man.

Matt Engler [00:34:53]:                  The plan never got off the ground. This is a plan that involves getting married, telling your dying father goodbye and living happily ever after somewhere. Three, like, really good reasons to go.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:35:05]:         And you just never left.

Matt Engler [00:35:06]:                  That’s where the dope was. I was stuck. I could not leave. So we’re in this motel. We’re in, I don’t know, like a Motel 8 or something. I don’t know what kind of motel it was. We’re in this motel, I guess it’s like a seedy part of town, I don’t know that. I’m not from there. I have no idea. But it is the kind of place where, like, you have to register your car at the check-in counter so that you could park it in their parking lot so it doesn’t get towed. So I’m checked in under my military ID for the discount, and I guess the cops make like a pass through of the parking lot running plates. I swear to god, I was going to change that plate every day for the whole time we were gone, and I just never did it. The car comes up stolen, I guess they check over at the front desk, who’s in this room, I come up and so I finally do have a federal desertion warrant attached to my name. They kick down the door of the motel room, like they’re going in to get a high value military target, you know what I mean? Super tactical, they’ve got helmets on, gloves, they look like—those boys look like they’re ready to go, you know? So I get arrested. Both of us do. She and I get arrested. I’ve got to tell you, once they put the cuffs on me, there was a sense of relief, for sure. About a week before, I’d gotten sick of the life. I was tired. I was beat up.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:36:20]:         There was no end game.

Matt Engler [00:36:21]:                  The only end game was either I get caught and go to prison or I die. And I was just beat up. I didn’t want to do it anymore. And I can tell you today, I don’t know that cop’s name, like I am grateful for that guy. I really feel like he saved my life. I think he just happened to be the one rolling through the parking lot, you know, but I think he saved my life. I for sure believe that. So they arrest me. Pierce County is the jail that they brought us to. And look, county lockups are the worst, right? They’re filled with people. And that was December 31, 2012, so it’s New Year’s Eve, right? It’s New Year’s Eve, I get arrested. I think the worst time to get arrested is on a holiday, because there’s no bail hearings, there’s no nothing. You’re just stuck until everybody gets back from holiday. You’re just in there; nothing’s being processed.

So I go in, I get up to the tier, and there’s a ton of people on the tier, it’s grimy. I get up into the rack and I kind of set in, like I know the detox is about to start happening. I know I’m starting to pay the price, right, I’m starting to have the consequences I’ve been running from. I just started kind of replaying everything that I had been going through. So I call my mom, you know, I give mom a phone call. It’s like one of the scariest phone calls I’ve ever had. When I heard my mom’s voice that night—me and my mom are close and I love her and I know she loves me, we’ve got a good relationship. When I called and she heard my voice, you could just tell she was happy I was alive.

And, you know, I’m a parent now as of the past couple of years, so I really didn’t know what she was going through, but now I have a little bit of insight. I couldn’t imagine thinking one of my two boys is living a life that is probably going to kill them. I couldn’t imagine being in a place where, like, a good day is to hear that they’re locked up. Like, that’s a good day, right? She really conveyed that just in the tone of her voice. The words were simple. “I’m so happy to hear you’re alive” is what she told me. And you could tell she really meant it. It was like, this very real, I’m just happy to hear you’re alive. I’ll just never forget it. It was probably the most devastating time period you could put somebody through, right? And then she told me just after that, your dad is dead.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:39:37]:         You missed the goodbye.

Matt Engler [00:39:40]:                  I didn’t even just miss it, I had a chance. I decided not to go. Through my use, there was a lot of things that I was okay with. I was okay with being a drug addict, you know? I knew that from a young age. I knew it wasn’t okay. I knew I didn’t want to be but I was, and I accepted that. I knew the consequence of committing crime, like, I could go to jail. But I still did the crime. So I accepted it. I never knew that all those years later, I would make some choices to not go tell my dying father goodbye. Or, thanks. Or, I love you. I just never knew that was going to be a consequence. It was the worst thing I’ve ever done, is to not go see him. I didn’t go to the service. Didn’t go to the funeral. Didn’t even know where… This guy, he wound up getting buried in an unmarked grave, in a graveyard, I had no idea where it was. So all of that…

Over the years, I’ve come to understand it’s something I’ve felt a lot of guilt over, a lot of remorse about, and that’s fine. I should. I believe that I should. I don’t think that that guilt or shame or remorse should prevent me from going out and living my life and being healthy and all of that, but it’s fine that I feel bad about what I did because it was a bad thing that I did, right? So over the years, what I’ve come to understand is every time I kind of talk about that part of my life, I start to use that really negative thing, that really terrible thing that I did, for something positive. That’s something that kind of recovery taught me. It’s a way of sharing with somebody else, well, here’s where I’ve been too, here are the things that I’ve done. I accept you for what you’ve done. And together, we can live a better life as a result. Nothing will alienate us from being able to recover, even something so terrible as not going to tell your dad goodbye.

So that’s it. That’s how I found out dad passed. So I’m in Pierce County and I’m going through the detox in jail again, right, I’m locked up again. This time, I know I’m done. And I’m not getting out. So they call them Marine Corps Chasers, they’re like military police who kind of escort criminals, military criminals, across the country when they have to be at their various things. So they send them from Hawaii to Washington, they pick me up, we fly back to Hawaii, I go back to Pearl Harbor brig for the third time. My legal team is like, dude are you done? Is this going to be it? Have you finally had enough that you’re just going to stop? We need you to stop getting charges. We need you to stop messing this up because you’re already looking at a ton of time. And I said yeah, fine. Just tell me what I need to do.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:43:07]:         Are you done using at this point, or you’re still using?

Matt Engler [00:43:09]:                  I’m done using at this point. And look, as a side note, December 31, 2012 is still my sobriety date today.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:43:18]:         And December 31st was the day of that phone call to your mom?

Matt Engler [00:43:20]:                  Yes. That was the day I got arrested. The day of the phone call to my mom. The day I found out my dad died. It’s crazy that the best and worst day of my life are like the same day, you know?

Shlomo Hoffman [00:43:37]:         The convergence of that, yeah. And they’re so tightly related. It’s really you can’t have one without the other.

Matt Engler [00:43:43]:                  Right. I needed that day to be as bad as it was so that my life could turn around.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:43:49]:         I would say that’s a fine way of saying goodbye to your dad.

Matt Engler [00:43:53]:                  It’s definitely wrapped up in that day for me. And look, there are a lot of reasons that I’m sober today. But kind of like the in memoriam thing for him…

Shlomo Hoffman [00:44:09]:         It’s real.

Matt Engler [00:44:10]:                  It’s real. It’s definitely an important piece of it, for sure. So I agreed. I agreed with my legal team. I’m just on team law now, what is it that you need me to do? I’m listening. You can direct me. And I’m like, just blindly signing my name on papers at this point, whatever.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:44:31]:         You’re like in the DMV right now.

Matt Engler [00:44:33]:                  Right. Your iPhone consent, right? Yeah, that’s fine. So, look, I’m going with whatever they say. They start working back with the prosecutor. Look, there’s still problems with the prosecution’s case. They didn’t go away. They still had some significant problems. But now they had some leverage.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:44:58]:         Well, now you have a desertion charge too, right?

Matt Engler [00:45:00]:                  Right. That’s the leverage. They have some other charges that they start saying hey, look, we’re just going to charge him out of the wazoo on all this stuff, and if some stick and some don’t, we’ll still get the time. So they made a compelling kind of presentation of a plea deal. The plea deal was, it was five years. Five years. And, like, you know, at the time, I was kind of shocked. We had gone from ten to five, and I said, man, five years, that sounds like a long time, but not an incredibly long time, in the time sense. I’ve talked to my brother, I’ve been connected to a drug court here or there that I’ve been working with, and they know what I was convicted of and how much time I did, and they’re like, out here, you never would have gotten five years. You would have gotten six months of probation; you probably never would have even seen a jail. You know? So apparently I got hammered, I don’t know. Apparently I got hammered on the time, but I accepted it. I accepted the plea deal and I plead to all the charges, right?

In a weird way, pleading to all of the charges was kind of cathartic. Finally sitting down and just spilling it, just in a very formal way, spilling it out, there’s no more hiding any of this stuff, I’m just going to tell you the worst parts about me, you have to accept them, you’re a court. There is going to be a judgement period at the end of it, but even that I was okay with. It felt like there was—I was being given an opportunity to like, pay for what I had done.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:46:51]:         And start again.

Matt Engler [00:46:52]:                  Start again, right. Like, get squared back with my life. And there was a part of me that kind of liked it. It was kind of a relief again. It was a relief. So I plead out. The judge wound up giving—I think he gave me eight-and-a-half year, so three-and-a-half suspended past the five on the plea deal. And, look, it was like this two-day plea session with the sentencing and I can remember at the end of the second day, I got back to the brig and I just collapsed. Like, I was—I was done. I was overwhelmed. I was emotionally overwhelmed. I was tired. It felt like I had just gotten rid of all of the stuff that had been ruining my life for such a long time. And I just slept. I just slept. That’s all I could do, was sleep, right? It wore me out.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:47:55]:         You found peace.

Matt Engler [00:47:56]:                  I think that’s what it was. It was like something I hadn’t experienced in a long time, just like a truly clean conscience.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:48:04]:         Like an unaffected, dreamless sleep. Just sleep.

Matt Engler [00:48:07]:                  Man. And so even today—and I don’t want this to be too poetic, I’m not a super poetic guy, right? But I try for that every day now. I try to live that kind of way. So I get transferred over to Miramar, California. It’s a Marine Corps base. And just kind of a funny side note, if you’ve even seen Top Gun, that’s where Top Gun was filmed.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:48:39]:         Oh, in that actual facility.

Matt Engler [00:48:40]:                  In that actual facility, right? That’s like the, I don’t know, the fighter jet ace mecca of the world, or at least it was when Top Gun—I don’t know if it still is, but it was during the filming of Top Gun. So I get there and, you know, I’m kind of like white knuckling the sobriety thing, just doing the best, like kind of like on self-will, I think would be the best way to put it. And it’s kind of like a tormented time there. I don’t know how to live without dope in my system. I’m trying. You know, I’m trying to do all the stuff, but I don’t know how to do it, so I’m messing it up, and in prison, around a bunch of other cons is like a volatile situation. There’s a fight that I guess I participated in it, right, and you know, didn’t think you could really get any worse than being in prison. Prison is kind of the worst place you can be and still be alive. Until you find yourself in the prison inside the prison, which is like disciplinary segregation. So, like, prison can get worse. As bad as it may be, there is a worse portion of it.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:49:57]:         Matt, you always found the backrooms, you know? You found the backroom in the airport that no one knows about, you found the backroom in the prison. You always found the rooms that nobody knows about and nobody wants to go to, yeah?

Matt Engler [00:50:10]:                  I’m a talent for messing up my life. I’m very, very good, I’m the best at messing up my life. And you’re right, I always find the worst possible place that I can be in. And that’s where I wound up. So I’m in this room and, you know, I’m on there, 23 hours a day I’m kind of locked down, I can’t leave, and I’ve got nothing in there. Like even if I needed like toilet paper, I had to call the guard to bring me up some toilet paper, I couldn’t have it in my cell. So I could have a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, a pair of socks, some flip flops, and a religious book, a piece of religious literature, right? So the chaplain, he’s bringing me this literature and I’m reading it, and I love it. I’m reading the Bible; I’m reading the Quran. Reading is something that became really important to me when I was locked up. And those books, I had been introduced to them before. Growing up, I went to Catholic school, so I kind of knew about it, but I never actually sat down and read them. And I loved them. But they were still kind of like almost out of touch for me, where I was at the time. I don’t feel like I was in a place where I could accept, you know, that kind of intense, spiritual kind of journey, you know?

Shlomo Hoffman [00:51:35]:         You needed like, a practical thing to sink your hopes into.

Matt Engler [00:51:37]:                  I needed a practical thing, yeah. So anyways, this chaplain comes up to me and he pulls out this AA book and he said, man, you know, 20-something odd years ago, this really helped me. Maybe check it out. Slid it to me. I had seen it before; I had heard about it before. But I sat and read it, and like, finally something made sense. I had those problems. I had those problems, you know? I had those consequences. I was like, living what was written there. And instantly I could connect.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:52:18]:         And that became your Bible.

Matt Engler [00:52:20]:                  For a long time, yeah, it did. And I’ve learned since, like it does not replace the Bible, right, at all. And the Bible has grown. And really, the Bible tore up any of those books, they’ve grown in value to me because I’m at a place where I can understand them better and connect to them.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:52:36]:         But at that point, that’s what you needed.

Matt Engler [00:52:38]:                  Yes, 100%.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:52:39]:         That was your gateway.

Matt Engler [00:52:41]:                  That was it. It opened my eyes.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:52:45]:         So you became sober on an emotional, like, on sort of an emotional rush, you know, that crazy kind of day that’s sort of like just blocked use from your brain, like it wasn’t an option anymore, but I kind of feel like just from hearing your story, that what sort of kept it, you know, emotional rushes wain, you know, they sort of float away. You have the opportunity to kind of concretize it that by finding the book, finding AA, and sort of keep that going.

Matt Engler [00:53:10]:                  100%. And even today, I still believe it. The book was like my introduction to it. My introduction to how to continue to live life sober and filled with principle. And so I go in front of this discipline board about getting out and they asked me what it was that I was going to do different. If they let me out of disciplinary segregation, what was it I was going to do different now? And I said well, I am going to start trying to get sober, right? Start trying to get sober. I’ll go to AA.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:53:45]:         It’s interesting that you weren’t using and you still didn’t consider yourself sober yet.

Matt Engler [00:53:50]:                  I was abstinent at that time. That’s what I’m saying, I was just abstinent. And so I can remember, the discipline board, they responded back to me by saying okay, I understand, you’ll go to AA, but we want you to go to treatment, too. They have a treatment program in the brig, so I agreed to go. I got in there and it was very much so different from the last time I had gone to treatment.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:54:16]:         Do you feel that it was better or do you feel you were ready?

Matt Engler [00:54:19]:                  I think it’s both, right? I think it’s both. I think my readiness made it better. And I think they capitalized on that as well, you know? I could finally just shut up for a second and start listening, which was a big deal.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:54:37]:         I guess that’s why humility is so important, right, in recovery.

Matt Engler [00:54:40]:                  I had no idea that we were even talking about humility at that time. That was a list—that was a word on the list that I made. I knew nothing about it. And I can remember, I’m in this AA meeting, and there were like seven of them a night. A lot of them were TNC or HNI, so they would bring in the speakers from outside who were coming to do service work so that they could stay sober. And this guy, he came in, he had done some time, he shared that with everybody, I liked him as a result of it because I could connect with him, I’m doing time, you did time, we’re best friends, right? I started to talk, but I hadn’t even said anything up until this point. He just looked at me with this look that like, went right through me. And he, very directly, told me, I look like a guy who just needed to shut up. And it got me. This guy, he doesn’t know me, but he really knew me at the same time. Like, we’ve never been introduced, never shook hands, I didn’t even tell him my name, and he knew enough to look at me and tell me, you need to shut up. So that treatment program, they really capitalized on that while I was there. Not a lot of it was groundbreaking stuff, you know? It wasn’t so complex that I needed a degree to participate in. The experience I had as an addict was enough to allow me to understand.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:56:11]:         You went to school for a lot of years.

Matt Engler [00:56:14]:                  I did.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:56:15]:         You had degrees.

Matt Engler [00:56:16]:                  I’ve got a double doctorate at this point, yes. But at its simplest thing, what they were helping me do was move from day to day without making a huge amount of progress to the guy I wanted to be, but that I was at least marking any regress from the guy I wanted to be. So they were just helping me daily be the guy—be the best guy—

Shlomo Hoffman [00:56:49]:         That has a shot at being that guy one day.

Matt Engler [00:56:52]:                  That’s it, right? They were not looking to make me into, like, the king of the moon, you know, or the president of mars, right, it was a very realistic approach. They would tell you, we’re just trying to get you some time. That’s it. We know if we get you enough time, you will start to progress as a result of the time. I started not making life worse for me. Which was better than I had ever done before, you know? I was always in the game of making my life that much worse. And I stopped making it worse. I wasn’t improving it a ton, but I stopped making it any worse and I could deal with that. And it started to come together.

Look, I did get a sponsor. I did start working the steps. I did go to AA. I did participate in treatment. I started doing all the things the people around me told me to do. In there, I started going back to school. I started getting interested in working in addiction treatment. Went to school to be a counselor for it. Went to college. I wasn’t a college guy, you know, I wasn’t going to do that, but I went back. And I was really good at it. I made all As. And I cared about it and it was interesting to be what Plato talked about a million years ago, which I never would have cared about before. I would read five and six books at a time. I couldn’t stop. The gathering of knowledge, or the experience through a novel, or whatever it was, I started to find enjoyment in that part of life, which again, was not something I ever cared about. So, I say all that to say, I started caring about life.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:58:37]:         You started being alive.

Matt Engler [00:58:38]:                  That was it, yes.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:58:39]:         You started living.

Matt Engler [00:58:40]:                  In prison. You know? In prison, got the opportunity to do that. Three times a day, we line up to go eat. And there is this thing that happens when you’re in line with a bunch of prisoners. Merely by the fact that you are ahead of me is telling me that you’re disrespecting me. So one day, I was the last guy in line and I was so happy to just be at that spot. I didn’t need to be the next guy. I didn’t need to be the first guy. I was just happy being the last person in line. And all the pressure was relieved. There was nothing that said I needed to get involved in the game because it’s not about being respected or disrespected, I’m just standing here getting something to eat, right? And finally I was okay with wherever I was.

Shlomo Hoffman [00:59:42]:         You found your spot in line.

Matt Engler [00:59:43]:                  And that was fine. It was huge to me to finally just be okay. Even though I was at the worst spot, I was finally just okay. So yeah, look, I get a job, I’m working in the wood shop in there. I learned how to weld in there. I got certified to be a welder. I don’t care about woodworking, I don’t care about welding ever in my life coming up to now, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed welding, I enjoyed woodworking, building tables and chairs, whatever, it was fun. Interests that I didn’t even know I had I started to be open to, and all of that was allowed because of the work that was done at actually being sober; not just being abstinent, actually being sober.

Shlomo Hoffman [01:00:29]:         And you spent five years there? The full five?

Matt Engler [01:00:32]:                  I wound up spending three. So I applied for parole the first time, I’m doing all these things, I got a pretty good parole packet the first time, I present and I got denied. And it crushed me. It crushed me. Traditionally speaking, that kind of letdown would have resulted in—

Shlomo Hoffman [01:00:50]:         In relapse.

Matt Engler [01:00:51]:                  Something really, really terrible, right? This time, it didn’t. I just felt it, got through it, and went on about my life. And I was really disappointed and the sobriety piece carried me through that, right? So the second time I’m up for parole, a year later, and I’m talking. I’m talking with my sponsor in there, I’m talking with a couple of guys that I applied around with, and I’m telling them, guys, I’m not even applying, I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to get denied again, I’m just going to do my time and I’m going to get out. That’s fine. I’d rather deal with that then the letdown of getting denied for parole again, so I’m going to just do my time.

So at that same time, I had started talking with a guy who was sober, worked at a treatment center, he was the CEO of a treatment center, and he and I, we started this phone conversation. He meets my mother through a substance abuse ministry, a substance addiction ministry she’s part of at the time, and it turns out he’s friends with my brother, or at least knows my brother, they went to high school together, he’s running a treatment center at the time, so we start talking. We start on the phone, writing letters, pen pal kind of stuff. So I’m going up for parole, I’m kind of sharing with him my thoughts on it, and he says, dude, is there anything I can do? He’s been sober for some time; he’s just doing his own kind of outreach. Is there anything I can do? And I tell him, yeah, give me a job. Give me a job at your treatment facility. I don’t care what it is, I’ll go sweep the parking lot every day. Whatever you’ve got, give me a job. He said okay, I’ll go look, see what I can do. So he did. He offered me a tech job, a behavioral health tech job in the program.

So I put that together with my parole packet, I send it up, and it got approved. It got approved. And my case manager at the time, he comes back and he says, you know, that job is what’s getting you out of here, right? So he kind of gave me some insight. And kind of prophetic, right? It was…I felt like I was going where I needed to be, you know, and I felt like people who were sober reached out to help me get where I needed to be.

Shlomo Hoffman [01:03:08]:         It’s almost like a chain, Matt, you know? The sobriety chain. From one person to the next person to the next person, now you’re doing it, you know, you’re making new links on that chain, it keeps getting – I guess with every link it gets stronger.

Matt Engler [01:03:23]:                  So I’ve come to find out, there’s three places I feel completely comfortable, right? Completely. And they all kind of have the same reasoning behind them, too. One is a prison cell block. I feel comfortable there. I can walk in, I feel comfortable, I’m alright, you know? The next is…

Shlomo Hoffman [01:03:43]:         I don’t know how I feel about that, Matt.

Matt Engler [01:03:46]:                  Well, and I’m going to tell you why. I’m going to tell you why. Once I can get to it, it makes a lot more sense.

Shlomo Hoffman [01:03:51]:         As long as the door is not locked, you know what I mean?

Matt Engler [01:03:56]:                  So the second one is in an AA meeting, right, and then the third one is a treatment center. Those are the three places I feel completely comfortable. And here’s why. I already know I’ve got something in common with everyone in there. I already know kind of like the most difficult thing there is to know about you or me. So anyways, I get out Halloween 2015, I come home, I’m going to go live with my grandfather, that’s where I got approved to go parole at, and November 4, 2015, I start working in the treatment center. And I was completely freaked out at first. There was a bunch of people walking around talking about their feelings and I relate with that, and it was like, all of this treatment center talk that there was a little bit of that in prison, but not in the same way, not as vulnerable as it was here.

Shlomo Hoffman [01:04:55]:         It kind of has like a different twist at the treatment center in prison than at the regular treatment center is what I’m hearing.

Matt Engler [01:05:00]:                  Right, it does. There’s still some reservation in prison, right.

Shlomo Hoffman [01:05:04]:         You’ve still got to be a man. You’ve still got to be a hard ass. You’ve still got to be a…

Matt Engler [01:05:07]:                  Right, you don’t want to get used up because you became too vulnerable and you shared just a little too much. There’s some stuff you’ve got to keep to yourself. You don’t want somebody to get you as a result of it. So, you know, I worked my way over to really understanding what was going on here and I was fascinated by it. I was fascinated that places like this existed for people like me. And then I saw how much people were getting out of it, that it was actually people getting help to save their own life, right? It meant so much to me, the work that we were doing for the people we were doing it with. My brother says it all the time, I arrest a ton of drug addicts who do crime. I arrest very few criminals who do drugs. So the crime is born out of the addiction, right? The only reason it’s happening is because the addiction is there. It drives him nuts. He really feels there’s got to be a better way to do this. But he does what he has to do; there’s nothing he can do about it. But over here, I can see that we are doing the thing that will actually help, right? That we’re going after the addiction that kind of creates the opportunity for everything else. I’ve lived that, right?

So I’m in here, and I just want to learn. I just want to learn. And at first, I’m totally okay with spending every day of the rest of my life as a tech. Even today, it’s such a great job. There is so much help to be had in it and so much help to be given through it. I love it. I’ll say this: I’ve worked a ton of jobs in treatment and up until this point, it’s been my favorite one. I had so much fun being a tech. It was a blast, right?

Shlomo Hoffman [01:06:57]:         Matt, what’s your family meant to you in this whole process? You have a wife, you have children.

Matt Engler [01:07:03]:                  So I met my wife at work. So, she tells me—we obviously hit it off like day one. We’d run into each other, there was some obvious attraction kind of stuff happening, and then she tells me her last name. and her last name is a rare last name, not common, and I said, oh wow, I was friends with a guy with that last name when I was young, where are you from? And she said Destrehan, and I said oh my god, I’m from Destrehan, this has to be your brother. Turns out it was her brother. And I can remember from when we were younger. There’s like a six-year difference between us, so when you’re 12, people care about that, that’s a big deal. Six to 12, that’s big, right? But now we’re older, it doesn’t matter so much anymore, right? So we hit it off. Most amazing relationship. She’s sober too. We’ve really built a life together, right? It’s the most honest, the best relationship, I think, anybody could ask for. We really get each other. We work together. We’re partners in the thing. So we’re married. We’ve got two kids. They’re amazing. One is two, one is five months, and they…you know, I feel like I’m living the life today that was only meant for other people. It didn’t ever seem like it was in the cards for me. I always wanted to be somebody’s husband. I always wanted to be somebody’s dad. I always loved the thought of that but never thought I could get there. That’s for other people. That life is too special for me to have. But that’s not true. It’s not true. That life, I deserve that life. I really do. And I’m grateful for it. I don’t take it for granted. Every moment that I get to spend with my family, I do.

My mother, who is probably the person still alive that was most hurt by my addiction, she and I have mended. And I’ll say this, when she’s having a difficult day, she calls me, you know. She asks for my opinion on stuff. Which, like, it’s like crazy sometimes to think that this is the most put together person I know, most successful person I know, and when she’s struggling with something, she’ll call me about it. It’s unbelievable. My brother, again, super cop. The guy is—I can’t say enough about him. He’s let me back in my life. When I got out, he had a child, he asked me to be that child’s godfather, which is huge.

We’re all really close. And we spend a lot of time together. We enjoy each other. And I’m honest back with all of them, which was not something I could ever be before. I had too much to hide. So, like now, I don’t have anything to hide. Like I said earlier, I still do some stuff that’s not okay because I’m human and I have faults, but even that is not worth hiding. Even in that, I get the opportunity to be honest about it and I do that. So even though I mess up, I messed up, and I’ll apologize of that, I’ll try not to do that again, but all of those people, I’m completely transparent with, and that is huge, for all of us, I think.

Shlomo Hoffman [01:10:48]:         Matt, your story is incredible. It was incredible the first time I heard it and it’s incredible again. Thank you for sharing it again. Thank you for sharing with our listeners. I’m giving you the chance to say one final message after three-and-a-half hours of non-stop yapping. I’m just kidding around. What would you say? Give me your elevator speech to anybody that might listen to this, that might even sort of find their way back because of this story.

Matt Engler [01:11:18]:                  It’s never too late. You can be and deserve to be and are loved. There are people out there who get it and want you as part of their life. There’s always something else we can do to make a difference. And there are people out there who are willing to do that something else. It’s not a lost cause. Come and get the life that you deserve.

Shlomo Hoffman [01:11:52]:         And that’s a wrap! Thank you, Matt, for coming out and sharing your story. This has been another episodes of Rubber Bands, conversations about the push and pull of addiction.

[Music plays]


Music by:
“Strength of the Titans”
Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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