Unheard Voices By Geoff Bederson

The wild story of a hardened criminal fighting Alaska’s crooked cops, and how change is possible

This is the abbreviated version of the interview with Danny Hill, which was printed in the April/May edition. The full interview will be uploaded to this site soon.

I had hired Danny because he seemed to be the gentlest of all the carpenters that applied for the job. It turned out that he is also a wonderfully skilled carpenter, able to judge angles and curves without even using tools.

I knew something strange was going on when the entire group of tradesmen that Danny had surrounded himself with turned out to be ex-prisoners. Later I found out that Danny had been quite a different a person than he is now, and the more I learned about the story of his transformation the more I was captivated and inspired.

Reading your unpublished book, I felt that the stories of high-speed chases and thefts from crooked policemen were strangely exciting.

Danny Hill: The book was intended to be nothing more than the truth about a five month period when I had escaped from prison. I escaped to seek my revenge on the crooked cops that had locked me up, and it became a very lucrative thing to do.

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It was nothing but revenge at first, but when I robbed the first one I came out with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, fully automatic weapons, and explosives and rocket launchers. There were guns that had been reported destroyed by the Anchorage Police Department. There was four kilos of cocaine and two kilos of heroin, and all of these things were in my possession. They all came out of this one crooked cop’s home. Originally it was nothing more than revenge, but then, it was very profitable.

According to Anchorage’s Most Wanted and also America’s Most Wanted, and according to the police, I was public enemy number one in this state. Not because of any kind of violence, but because the crimes I committed were well thought out and timed. They weren’t just random acts, so the police considered that it was organized crime.

Talking about all that was the original intention of the book. But now I’d like to talk about the change between who I used to be, and who I’m trying very hard to become. The book was going to end when I was arrested five months later, and it was a pretty big bust. But a lot of things have happened since then. Now it’s going to be about what happened after that period, where I gave my life to God and I turned my life around, and I decided to become someone else.

Why did you go to jail the first time?

I was growing weed and they couldn’t catch me. I was making $120,000 every ninety days, and the cops wanted their cut. They couldn’t get their cut, so to get me out of the way they fabricated the first thing that they put me in jail for. And after that I was full of hatred.

I had money problems. That’s what led me to making big money growing marijuana. But I later found out that what was missing in my life was a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging, and a sense of importance. And that importance I felt from being in the drug scene, and controlling everyone else. That was a powerful position to be in.

Once in prison I was driven by hatred. I was put in prison for something I didn’t do, and they knew that I didn’t do it. Now, I’m not claiming to be an innocent man. I was guilty of other things that they couldn’t pin on me. I committed a lot of crimes. I’m just innocent of what they charged me with.

I was known as the Rabbit because I would escape three times per week to smuggle tobacco. I would walk three miles. They couldn’t prove it. I was supporting three families. They knew I was doing it, but they couldn’t catch me.

I was in and out of prison for eleven years. For eleven years I was always on some type of supervision.

Why did you get started on the wild crime spree you describe in your book?

I started to do it for money. It was like cornering the market, because who else wanted to do it? Who else wanted to steal this incredible bounty from those crooked cops?

We bought tickets to Belize. Everything was planned. Four times we left the airport in high-speed chases. Four times we lost everything that we had. Several times the place we were staying in or had just left got raided. It was an exciting but horrible experience, one that I don’t ever want to go through again. But I’ve never felt that much excitement in my life.

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Some of the scams we were pulling would have been viewed as impossible to pull. Once you reach the point where you have nothing to lose, tomorrow is promised to no man. The people running with me probably weren’t going to see tomorrow anyway, and we all just accepted that. Once you accept the fact that you have nothing to lose, then everything is to gain. And instead of being afraid of what you are doing, you just get excited about it.

It turned into a five month-long crime spree that I’m not proud of, but it’s part of my life. And I don’t deny it.

It seems that most of your criminal activity was directed at corrupt police officers.

It was. But I don’t want to make myself out to be a saint. I was definitely a threat to society. I was a very angry individual. I felt like I had nothing to lose, because I was on the run. I knew that my life was not worth a hill of beans, because the police officers were out there on the streets, bribing drug addicts, bribing prostitutes, to find me. And I knew that when they found me they were going to kill me.

The way everything played out they didn’t have an opportunity to do that. But I believe they’ll follow through with it eventually.

Reading your book it seemed that though you were committing crimes, at the same time you were fighting injustice. To what extent do you think you were actually doing good?

In my mind I was aiding justice. But, honestly, I don’t think I had any intention of doing good. I didn’t have good in my heart. I had a lot of love in my heart, for certain people. I had a lot of hatred in my heart for unjust people. I never held it against it against homeless people for doing what they had to do to survive. I did hold it against people who had an option, and who were in a position of power, when they chose to be unjust, immoral, corrupt. That’s what I truly hated.

Most criminals are willing to admit what they are, who they are. They’ll tell you, I’m a dope fiend. I am what I am, and so what? But no crooked cop is going to admit what he is doing on the side. Nor would a politician. It’s only behind closed doors, or in dark alleys, that they’re going to show their true colors.

Behind bars you sit in the hole, where you have no connection with humans, and you get a lot of time to think. You’re not allowed to have a radio or a book. You have nothing to do but look at the ceiling and stare. The injustice that I suffered just kept going through my head. I felt like a victim. And that turned into anger, and that turned into hatred and rage, and that drove me to a point where I just didn’t care anymore.

In my heart I wasn’t doing it for good. I was giving them what they deserved. I didn’t care if I lived or died. I didn’t care if I helped or killed. I didn’t care at all about anything. To the point where I was willing to escape from prison and go get my revenge. And that’s what I did.

How did you begin to turn your life around?

During the eleven year period I was in and out of jail I had no thoughts of changing. I didn’t see any way to change, to turn it around. My only thought was getting out and continuing right where I left off. But I didn’t want to be in prison the rest of my life.

I knew that they were going to put me out of jail in January, in a parking lot in Palmer, with everything I owned in a cardboard box. I had no friends, I had no family, I had no money. Right before my release, child support wiped out my last dime. I didn’t have the money to buy a pack of cigarettes, or a hamburger. I didn’t even have a winter coat, and it was January.

I was a carpenter and I had no tools. A carpenter with no tools is like a car with no tires – it’s just useless. I knew that the only way I was going to be able to keep from committing another crime was to get some help. I turned to the Salvation Army.

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I turned my life around completely. The only thing that actually helped me was giving my life to God, and getting into church. And I’ve noticed that now that I’ve gotten away from that problems are starting. A lot of times that’s when the Rabbit comes back. That’s who I was known as. I get in some little argument, and before you know it I’m in a rage – the Rabbit is coming right back out.

Still, most of the people that look at me think of me as some kind of success, because I’m not out there on the streets doing what I was doing. And a lot of them have told me that they look up to me because of that. I’m not out there selling drugs, I’m not out there robbing and stealing and smashing and being that violent threat to society, anymore.

It took you many years to change. What can we do about someone who is still extremely angry, someone who is dead-set on actually causing harm?

They’re going to go right back to prison. So let them screw up.

There is no help in prison. If you get into some of these programs – a halfway house, for instance – you have a chance of getting back on your feet. But a lot of people, such as me, could never see a halfway house. I had escapes on my record. For someone in my situation, you do every day of your time, and then finally you get kicked out in the parking lot at seven o’clock in the morning, when your time’s done.

There is no education program in prison. There’s no benefit in going to prison. I see it as the biggest harm that there could be, because I’ve seen guys go into prison that shouldn’t be there, people who have become somebody else by the time they get out. The education they had in prison has taken control.

Your normal thinking mind gets put aside. You’re in a whole different world. You’re facing the dregs of society. And in order for you to survive you have to conform to that lifestyle. It’s like shellshock. You get out of a war and come into a peaceful society with a killer mentality.

It’s a revolving door here. Once you go into the prison system here, you can pretty much count on going back. Because this state makes money out of incarcerating the prisoners. I’d rather not elaborate on that. But that will be another chapter in the book.

How corrupt do you think the system is?

I dealt a lot with crooked cops, crooked judges, crooked lawyers. I dealt with crooked politicians. I saw these people on a daily basis. But when I told people about this, they said, that’s impossible. We have a system that’s based on checks and balances. We have people that are in charge of making sure that there’s no corruption. But when you get the bank robber to protect the vault, don’t be surprised when the vault comes up empty. Don’t be surprised when you’re in the middle of a corrupt society.

I would say thirty percent of APD, possibly more, is corrupt. I know a police officer who was forced to leave the force because he wouldn’t take a bribe. They threatened his family. They threatened to kill him. Other police officers did this. And he’s not a police officer anymore.

I believe that the police department is a very important thing. Society needs the police, but society is not willing to accept reality. They don’t want to believe in crooked cops. They don’t want to believe there’s corruption in government.

There are two million prisoners in the U.S – the highest rate of any country in the world. What can we do about that?

The biggest thing that people can do is open their eyes. The truth has been out, but people don’t want to face it. People are brought up to believe that there’s no corruption. In Mexico people are not brought up that way. They are brought up with their eyes open, and they know about the corruption. In America, people are brought up to believe that they don’t have to worry about these things. We have people who take care of problems like this, so you can live with blinders on. People don’t want to accept the truth, because the truth is not appealing. And people are quite lazy. They turn their back. They don’t do their part to face these problems. They just leave it to someone else. It’s not a pretty picture, so they don’t want to look at.

One of your passions is to help people, especially people who are in trouble.

Because I’ve been in their shoes, and I know how it feels, and I know how hard it is. People that have never been in that situation don’t understand. Every chance I get, I try to help the people I’ve done time with, or the people that are truly trying to change. And I’ve met several fine people in prison.

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My greatest passion is getting people to turn their lives around. That’s a gift that’s been given to me. I turned my life over to God, and I made the decision to be a decent person, a pillar of the community, and someone who could be respected. After that I made that decision I wanted to help other people become all they could become also. People with bad reputations, people with drug problems, people with prison records, people who were institutionalized and didn’t know how to get back on their feet. Because I was faced with the same situation. It was a very scary situation: knowing that I was getting out, and knowing that no one is going to help.

My main interest was in helping people that were in the position that I was in. I wanted to help, but every time I attempted to help any of them it really cost me. It really hurt me. With the exception of one, Darryl Waters, they all went back to the old way of life, turning against everything that I stood for. Several times my car has been stolen. Several times I’ve been taken advantage of. And several times I’ve been put in the middle of things that I should not be in the middle of.

What can you say to someone that is reading this and is asking themselves what they can do to help prisoners?

The first thing I had to do was to make the decision not to do these things anymore. Once you know someone that’s made that decision, then you do what my buddy Mitch did. You help, in whatever way you can. Support them, whether it’s financial, verbal, or spiritual help.

How are you going to believe in yourself unless someone believes in you? Someone that’s coming out of prison has been told that they’re worthless, and so they believe it. They’ve been told they’re coming back to prison.

You don’t have to open your house to them. But buy them a hamburger. That’s a first step. Pick them up. Drive them to the shelter, if that’s where they have to stay. Do anything you can to give that person a sense of belonging, a sense of importance and hope. When you come out of prison hope is something you don’t have much of. Because all you can see is what you’ve got in that box, standing in the parking lot.

If you don’t know anyone in that position, I would suggest giving to the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army Adults Rehabilitation Program was a big help to me. They help people overseas, and the people right here in our hometown that need help. And there was also Catholic Social Services. You can give anything: money, donations, volunteer time.

You are in trouble again.
Yes, and I’d like to talk about that in the next installment. But I can say that it’s so crazy, all I could do was put it down in a book. I had to write the book third person, because I’m worried about how it’s going to come back on me and my family. But it will all be there, and now that I am on the run again, I feel that I have to name names in order to protect myself.