In my former life as a cop I saw Bernie Matthews as a dangerous, violent criminal but he lives by a code few would truly understand, writes Gary Jubelin.
In my former life as a cop I saw Bernie Matthews as a dangerous, violent criminal but he lives by a code few would truly understand, writes Gary Jubelin.

‘People will be angry’: Career crook that shocked top cop

Like most detectives I knew who Bernie Matthews was, but had never met him. He was a hardcore crook. He robbed banks for a living and escaped from prison.

This was respected in his world. In my world, he was considered a dangerous violent criminal; society was a better place when he was locked up.

My views would not have changed, had my own circumstances not changed so dramatically.

It's early 2019, inmate Bernie Matthews was sitting in his prison cell contemplating life. He was coming to the end of another lengthy prison sentence. This was a harsh and at times violent world he knew well, having spent half his adult life behind bars.

At the same time, I was going through my daily routine at the Major Crime Squad Offices at Police Headquarters. It was a world opposite to Bernie's in many ways, but also strangely similar.

 

Don't miss Gary Jubelin's interview with Bernie Matthews in a special four-part episode of I Catch Killers. Listen below.

 

Part 1: The Cop and the Crook

 

 

 

Part 2: The brutality of Grafton Jail

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Katingal - A new kind of hell

 

 

 

Part 4: Fighting back before a return to prison

 

 

They're both unforgiving environments which if you fully immerse yourself in, will change you as a person.

A dedicated major crime Detective and a career criminal will have their intestinal fortitude tested time and again. Sometimes they will be broken by what they experience. It's a dark world citizens do not get to see or inhabit.

AUSTRALIA'S MOST BRUTAL PRISONS: 'I was fed maggots for breakfast'

They're both unforgiving environments which if you fully immerse yourself in, will change you as a person. A dedicated major crime Detective and a career criminal will have their intestinal fortitude tested time and again. Sometimes they will be broken by what they experience.

It's a dark world citizens do not get to see or inhabit.

As a cop, I didn't have the luxury of feeling empathy for the criminals I was chasing. That emotion was saved for the victims, my job was to track down the criminals and put them before the court and move onto the next case.

I didn't have much sympathy for someone like Bernie Matthews, an armed robber and escapee. If I came across him, I would do my best to take him down.

Now out of the cops I am looking at things from a different perspective and that has changed my view on certain things, including who Bernie Matthews is.

 

Former crook Bernie Matthews with podcast host and former homicide Detective Gary Jubelin. Picture John Grainger
Former crook Bernie Matthews with podcast host and former homicide Detective Gary Jubelin. Picture John Grainger

I reached out to Bernie, with some trepidation. I am an ex-cop and Bernie is an ex-criminal.

We had both made names for ourselves in our chosen fields, to say we were on opposite teams is an understatement. I thought Berrnie might abuse me and hang up the phone when I asked him to come on my podcast.

When the phone rang part of me was hoping the phone would ring out. When Bernie answered the phone, the conversation flowed freely and we agreed to meet in person.

At that meeting we sized each other up. This is just something that is inbred in cops and crooks. I guess old habits die hard. There was a toughness and intensity about Bernie that was evident in the way he carried himself, which told me instinctively this is a person you don't want to mess with.

It felt like two pit bulls trained to fight being dropped in a cage together, circling each other waiting for the action to start but it didn't. We actually found out we had a lot in common, including knowing a lot of the same people. Both of us also have a fierce determination to stand up for ourselves, even if it's to our own detriment.

Strangely, we also share a common interest in meditation and yoga having both used those disciplines to quell an anger and restlessness that quells inside both of us.

 

Bernie Matthews provides a confronting, no holds barred insight into the brutality of Grafton jail.: Bernie Matthews provides a confronting, no holds barred insight into the brutality of Grafton jail.

 

Since that first meeting we have caught up on a number of occasions, even sharing a beer and a meal at a certain Chinese restaurant in the city where I use to drink with detectives celebrating arresting people like Bernie. The conversation wasn't that different from what I would talk to detectives about, laughing at funny things that happen in the world of crime.

Bernie even gave me advice about the world of journalism based on his own experiences, which was much appreciated.

Spending time with Bernie has opened my eyes to things I didn't see as police officer. I have learnt a lot about Bernie the person.

Things that Bernie has experienced in his life would have broken most people, I admire his resilience.

I am still a cop at heart and he deserved to be punished, but the brutality dished out was

not going to make Bernie a better person. I am not excusing or condoning his crimes. Nor diminishing the impact those crimes have had on innocent victims. But, I have more of an understanding about why he did the things he did.

 

Bernie Matthews as a young mane. He did nine stints in prison across two states.
Bernie Matthews as a young mane. He did nine stints in prison across two states.

Bernie knows he has wasted a large portion of his life. It may be late, but not too late to give something back to society. The only thing he can do is tell his story and hope people learn the best way to reduce crime is to make a difference when the offenders are young because by the time they are adults it is too late.

I dare say the fact Bernie and I are talking would anger people from our respective worlds.

Bernie's associates are no doubt questioning why he would be talking to an ex-cop and I am sure some of my former colleagues are saying similar things about me.

Well, I can only take people as I find them and I like Bernie. There is absolutely no hypocrisy in Bernie. He owns his mistakes and makes no excuses for his actions. He has lived by a code that few would truly understand, other than those who have gone before him and for that he is respected.

He is tough and unbreakable and I suspect under that tough exterior necessary for his survival there is also a reflective, understanding human being.

That's my opinion of Bernie Matthews, bank robber, escapee, poet, writer, award-winning journalist and prison activist. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, have a listen to the podcast and form your own views.

 

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Originally published as 'People will be angry': Career crook that shocked top cop