This is the fourth article in a series about Matthew Rushin, a Black, autistic 20-year-old who had a car accident that would end up hours later with an attempted murder charge.
You can read part 1 to learn about the accident.
You can read part 2 to learn about the Virginia Beach Police Department’s training for autism and mental health crises.
And read part 3 to watch interrogation footage and learn more about how a plea deal was offered that took what was going to be a 10 year maximum sentence to a 50 year maximum.
Now, it’s time to learn about Matthew Rushin, the person.
Matthew is alive, but his life has been stolen from him. For that reason, this article will reference Matthew in past tense.
Our objective is to ask Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to issue a complete pardon. Petition is linked at the end of this article. When that happens, we will happily report about Matthew in the first person.
Matthew is a Mama’s Boy
Matthew Rushin with his mama, Lavern
His family members were his best friends. He was very close to his parents and his baby sister, Briauna.
He had a lot to say about his mama:
how can i explain you in less than a hundred words. well, you’re strong. you always know what to say, and when exactly to say it, regardless of how savage or downright blunt it is. you’re so caring that you’re wiling to uproot foundations to take care of those that hold a place in your heart. and i aspire to be like you. i aspire to care about the world like you do. i aspire to love as much as you do. i aspire to have the mindset that you do, to care for those that…that aren’t prepared for what’s to come. i love you beyond comprehension, even if we’re holding a knife to eachother’s throats. i love you, beyond belief. and i would definitely take a bullet for you because without you, i’m nothing. without you, i’m just a lost soul in the cosmos. i love you mom. always know that.
He didn’t play it cool.
He made it public.
Mother: Why are you sitting next to me?
Son: Because you’re my mother?
Mother: *sucks teeth*
Matthew Loved His Dad.
without saying too much, i just wanna say happy birthday to pops, Demetrius Rushin. sidenote about him: he always knows what to say (it gets kinda old sometimes, like geez okay, i get it: you have the wisdom of 10 village chiefs and i don’t😂) BUT, on a more serious note lol, he’s helped me through some pretty tight spots, and still does, to this day. i’m glad to have him as my pops and i can honestly say he’s one of my friends. happy burphday old man🤾🏾♂️and here’s to another 47 years
And respected his father’s wisdom.
someone told me,
“Respect the person
that teaches you the most.
Respect the person
that makes you question
your own logic
to understand something new.”
he isn’t perfect,
no one really is,
and he taught me that.
he taught me
to be my own person,
to love myself
in the face of opposition,
and to respect myself.
he taught me
to mess up
and to always learn
from that mistake.
i could go down an entire list
of everything he’s ever showed me
but, to be completely honest,
that list is ever expanding.
i don’t think you ever stop learning,
ever stop listening,
to the man that showed you
the virtue of living life.
he’s done so much more than that,
and i don’t think he’ll ever stop,
and that’s why i love him more
than just being my father
-Happy Father’s Day🤙🏾❤
This message, this robust attitude for life, for tenacity, for being someone willing to take risks, to dive deep, to make mistakes– that is a life of white privilege. And ableist privilege.
Matthew was not allowed to make a mistake.
Matthew Rushin was a violinist.
There are no violins in prison.
Matthew Played the Piano, too. He was a composer.
But this is a skill, a gift, a beautiful talent he isn’t developing right now. Because he’s in prison.
I can’t listen to that last one, one he sent to his mother, without weeping.
There are no pianos in prison.
Matthew Was a Prolific Poet. And Photographer.
she started out as a sapling,
spry from the energy it captured
while nestled in whatever nursey
the universe has profiliated for her.
coming to the realization that her soul
is flourishing at a rate,
surpassing that of even the brightest quasars,
she wanted to remember…
she wanted to remember
that she came from life.
she wanted to remember, that even
as she is spreading her essence
across the web of void and star dust,
she’s still a sapling waiting to become something
Matthew Was a Relentless Optimist.
Curly Headed Boy
i travelled the depths
of my heart and soul
and found nothing
but gold and diamond.
i found some impurities
but none were unfixable
i found the core of myself
and saw someone
i saw a boy
living his life for himself
and only himself
because he can’t afford
to just lay back and take it.
i saw him
i SEE someone better.
i see this curly headed boy
walking his stride,
sipping his tea,
doing what he loves most,
whether it’s feeling the sand
in between his toes
or walking through the woods,
the same woods his own thoughts
every single day.
i travelled the depths of myself
to see a boy smiling,
to see a boy laughing,
to see a boy living.
and that, to be completely honest,
Matthew Was Writing a Book.
you are beautiful
than the word itself
there was a time
when people didn’t call things
there was a time
when the word
wasn’t even part
of the human language.
the word, itself,
was many other
if i thought of you
as something truly beautiful,
i’d have to spend a day
just how spectacular
i think you are.
so when i call you
know that i have
an entire library
waiting for you
if you ask me how.
-an excerpt from my book
Matthew Experienced Racism.
You guess my age, exactly like I guess your weight except…you find offense in the fact that i was a few pounds off. You guess my sexuality, exactly like I guess your political standing except….you find find offense when I guess too far left or too far right. YOU ARE PRIVILEGED! You think you can guess such personal anecdotes about me, but when I come back with equally personal questions, it’s wrong. I came out of high school, thinking two equals two but now? Now I think that two equals two, three, four, five, so on and so forth. YOU FEEL ENTITLED if you think that you can bend known laws and rules to your every racist and stereotypical footstep. You repeatedly lock your car doors, as I’m walking past, because I am a black man doing the walking. You guess my sexuality, only to find something else about me to be what’s wrong with the world, when all you see is black and white, instead of the whole rainbow.
Matthew Was a Goofball. And a Nerd.
His nerd card can never be revoked after putting this together on Minecraft.
Dinner conversation with Matthew.
He was silly.
And, he didn’t care what anyone else thought.
He wanted to challenge himself to be authentic and honest in all things. Honesty seems to be his highest value.
so this is what it took, for you to see the truth?
you’d rather see the end of the world
than see the beginning of it?
you know what… i kid myself…
because in order for you to see the truth,
you need a mind that’s willing to see
such truths. pretty simple, wouldn’t you think?
doesn’t the truth make you feel liberated?
don’t you want an honest life,
a life of reward and salvation?
And he did. He put poetry and music and art out there that very frequently was only acknowledged by his father. Matthew’s dad noticed everything and seemed to be the most supportive dad, well, ever. On all social media platforms, no matter the content, Matthew’s dad was in the comments to let his son know he was proud.
Matthew noticed everything, too.
Matthew Was a Support System.
Many people had things to say about Matthew’s character. In fact, I was contacted by his neighbor, Ashley Shorter, since I started writing this series. This is what she had to say about Matthew:
He wasn’t your typical young adult man. He was the sweetest, most caring person. While my husband was in Japan, he made it a point to check on me and my 3 boys almost daily. He played outside with my boys (at the time they were 5,6 & 8). After my husband came home and I got pregnant with my daughter, he would always come over and check on me. If he saw me sitting on the porch, he always came over. He was also so concerned with everyone else.
This is what his mother’s friend, Lisa Stephen, had to say about Matthew:
I remember the first time I met Matthew. We were having an event for my son, William. He was a 1 pound micro preemie born at 26 weeks and had multiple health issues. A group of fitness peers put together a fund raiser for him, and of course Lavern and her children were first to volunteer their time. Matthew played with William and kept him entertained during the event.
But the most telling testament to Matthew’s character came from Ms. Bonnie Kay. She can introduce herself (paragraph breaks added for accessibility):
I suffered a heart attack 8 years ago which has left me paralyzed and caused some brain trauma. I currently am in a wheelchair and depend on others to move me around.
Matthew is a loving young adult who is blind when it comes to helping others. Matthew, as you see in this picture, is holding my hand asking me “Mrs. Bonnie are you okay? Can I get you anything?”
His love and kindness cannot be measured any different that an amazing friend and young man. Matthew is truly a humble, gracious, polite and a self-effacing young man. He attends ODU, and works.
He has always been such a productive member of this community and has not let his disabilities stop him from doing so. Matthew has supported so many various events and organizations by volunteering his time, these included the Susan G Komen events, Making Strides Cancer Society, and Feeding the Homeless in Newport News. He has even collected “Warm Socks” for the Homeless in Newport News.
Matthew has touched so many lives. Through various conversations and interactions with Matthew, I have come to admire his determination to accomplish his life goals which include going overseas to help children in third world countries. This is not a young man that is an eye sore to our community but he is a valued source of compassion and love that we don’t see every day from young adults.
This is what Ms. Bonnie had to say about Matthew after he was charged with attempted murder.
Imagine This and Do Not Look Away.
As long as Matthew is in prison, you need to be so uncomfortable that you do something.
Can you imagine the pride you would feel if your child were sending you videos of their composed music, their written poems, and notes of gratitude for what a wonderful parent you are?
And then suddenly, one day, your child was sending you one-line emails from prison about how luckily it cooled down enough to sleep the night before because it had been over 100 degrees in the prison because there’s no air conditioning?
Or that he’s gone blind– but not to worry because he scheduled a visit with the prison doctor? He never wants you to worry.
Or instead of getting calls about great days at school and work, you’re getting calls from a mother whose son is in prison, too? And that mom tells you a story about how a fight broke down in prison, and your son froze up and couldn’t move? Was fully paralyzed, but that time– that time— the other prisoner picked Matthew up and put him in a corner?
Because that happened yesterday.
Can you imagine that?
Can you imagine the terror and night sweats of waking up every night worrying about what happens when your autistic son has a meltdown in prison?
Because I’m a mother of an autistic child and even beginning to have that thought about my precious, guileless, kind, and way-too-innocent-for-this-horrifying-world child is traumatizing.
There are some things no parent can prepare for, even when we worry about those things every day.
I have to take breaks from these articles because I can’t even see my screen through my tears.
I can’t breathe.
And my child is sitting beside me, eating her apple sauce.
Do you know how many times autistic people innocently say something that people take the wrong way?
Or they give too much information?
Or they misread something completely (like a plea deal that went from a 10 year maximum sentence to a 50 year max)?
Or they trust the wrong person, because they don’t know how to read danger? Can you imagine your barely-adult child who can’t read a room or learn the social rules– in PRISON!?
Imagine how much scarier all of this is when your child has transient blindness.
Here’s what else I’ve learned about Matthew:
He rarely talked. He was an old soul. He wanted to live in a place with tall, open windows so that he can watch the world happen.
He gets no natural light, now.
He was enraptured by nature and sunsets. He sees details everyone else misses, as was evidence by his photography. There was no limit to his talent.
He wore “peace” themed and silly shirts, like a green T-shirt that reads “Kale Yeah!”
Now he wears an orange jumpsuit.
He hated what was superficial. He wished people would look beyond the hat to what is under the hat, to use his metaphor. That they would comment on his books, not his looks.
He had absurd levels of ridiculous, reckless optimism. He always looked to the future. He was sensitive, leaving compliments for people all over the place about things that were points of insecurity for them.
He showed people ways that they were beautiful that only someone with such a pure heart could see. He wore Tibetan mala beads, a prayer necklace often used by Buddhists to meditate and be more thoughtful.
Out of tens of thousands of words, the only criticism I have seen him leave of anyone was a challenge to them to be more honest and to dive deep to investigate their thoughts.
He smiled. So much, he smiled.
I wonder if he still smiles so much.
Bring Matthew Home
If you’ve taken the time to get to know Matthew, or even if you haven’t, your help is needed.
The first thing you can do to help is to share this article. Everywhere. Be sure you hashtag #FreeMatthewRushin on all social media platforms. This will help everyone track the situation.
Then, sign this petition from 757 Black Lives Matter.
Contact the Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam. You can also call 804-786-2211.
For the full action guide, you can click here.
- Free PDF download: Thin Slice Judgements and The Different World Autistics Inhabit - May 5, 2022
- When a Non-Autistic Child Is Raised by Autistic Parents, Their Experiences Are Similar to Autistics Raised by Non-Autistics - February 10, 2022
- Difficult Community Dialogues: On ABA, Evolution, Weaver Communication, and Intersectionality - January 18, 2022