Interview with Blind Phone Phreak: Matthew Weigman

In 2009, I was sitting in a cold, dank-holding cell at the Dallas Courthouse on a wing run by the US Marshals, awaiting transport back to Seagoville Federal Detention Center, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and blue slippers stinking of freshly manufactured rubber. I had already seen the judge and was awaiting transport back to jail.

Suddenly, I overheard the voice of a young man in the holding cell beside mine, having a lively discussion with one of the Marshals.

We couldn’t see each other, but I could hear him. My ears were pricked as soon as I understood that the young man was a hacker since he was boasting about some of his exploits to one of the Marshals, who was familiar with his case, and eager to learn more from the kid.

It was Matthew Weigman aka ‘Lil Hacker’, the young, legendary blind phone phreaker in the flesh.

Then I remembered that one of the arresting FBI agents on my case bragged to me about catching Weigman on the night I was arrested, describing his room as being littered with telephone wires, and how intelligent he is.

Weigman was only 19 when he received an 11-year sentence for his part in a swatting conspiracy against his rivals, which the FBI Agent made sure to mention, reminding me of what was looming over me.

While the context of his conviction is an exhaustive matter of public record, it’s interesting to note that even Kevin Mitnick himself weighed in on the social engineering prowess of Weigman.*

I’m not talking about some dilettante who simply uses an app or Spoof Card to mask his caller ID. Rather, a genius with a photographic memory and social engineering skills that vastly outweigh anyone I have had the pleasure of meeting.

Weigman taught himself the innermost workings of telephones, and the Telecom systems behind them, including operators’ jargon, in which he could easily deceive even the most vigilant telecommunications operators.

“Dude, you’re Matthew Weigman,” I called out from the bars.

“Yup. What’s up?” he said.

“I’ve heard a lot about you, bro. I’m GhostExodus.

“Heard of you,” he said as we began to talk about his exploits.

In Jail with Weigman

We were shackled in hands and ankles and escorted to a transport vehicle, waiting to take us to Segoville’s Detention Center. Upon arrival, Weigman was an instant celebrity. I had had my time as the local celebrity, but it was Weigman’s turn.

I led Weigman around the jail unit by the shoulder, helping him familiarize himself with the layout of the unit. Though legally blind, his eyesight is extremely blurry. This means he relies on sound, touch, and blurry visuals to paint a picture of his surroundings.

He drew a large crowd, which encircled him, with me at his side. Everyone had questions about hacking. They found him immeasurably fascinating and piqued his brain for a couple of hours. He was confident, and outspoken, possessing a wealth of information that stirred our imaginations.

Weigman didn’t show any sign of defeat or fatigue, even after having received a prison sentence that was ready to steal over a decade of his life. I remember thinking, “I want to be just like that when I get my sentence.” He was a soldier, and I admired him for it.

What Weigman did has already been written. But the traumas he would face being a visually disabled hacker in a U.S. prison would permanently alter the young man I met that day in J-1 Unit.

You need all your senses to navigate and survive Federal prison. Every facial expression, tonality, and inflection in a prisoner’s voice and body language is an indication of their mental state, mood, and what they’re about to do. If you’re in their way, you could lose your life. Without sight, you’d never see the surrounding danger.

It had been a mere day because he was taken the following morning and transported to Fort Dix FCI in New Jersey. Fort Dix is notorious for violence. I never saw Weigman again, nor did we speak again until several years after a decade had passed. By then, our experiences had transformed us into different people, altered by what we went through just to survive another day.

After over a Decade Matthew Weigman Speaks His Mind

We discussed the interview over Facebook Messenger. He was 30 now, and no longer the larger-than-life persona I’d encountered so many years ago.

Weigman describes the hardest part of being blind and incarcerated was the fact that even though he was in a government institution, reading material, access to a walking cane, and even overall support that one might expect from correctional officers for someone with a disability was not provided.

“They want to see inmates become better people,” he said. But they do little to nothing in the way of helping people become better. He explained how he had to wait half a year just to have a cane issued – mind you, this is an ID cane used by the visually impaired.

Imagine being blind, trying to climb a staircase, or trying to visualize where you’re walking, but can’t. “How was I expected to acclimate myself to society if I was not availed of services that would further my rehabilitation and efforts to reenter society if I simply could not gain access to braille and a form of transportation, a cane, without first having to obtain the assistance of a sighted inmate?”

After this response, the question nagging me was whether he was ever mistreated by correctional officers. The answer was yes. He explained how Bureau of Prison (BOP) Correction Officers retaliated against him after he pursued civil litigation to redress grievances.

“In one such case of their constant abuse of power, I was asked how blind I was. In another, I was moved from housing unit to housing unit because of civil litigation filed by myself with the assistance of another inmate.”

I know all too well. When litigation involves a prison guard…

I had to know if he was ever housed in a Special Housing Unit or SHU. For those of you reading this, these are control units used for disciplinary purposes, where inmates are housed 23 hours a day, 5 days a week. Sometimes longer. If the SHU doesn’t have showers inside the cells, they are allowed to shower 3 times a week.

It’s similar to solitary confinement, except it’s typical to have a cellmate. Having a SHU is often the ultimate form of retaliation, too. These are basically BOP-run black sites that can operate like roach motels. You might check-in, but you might not check out. Put simply, you’re dead, because the conditions killed you. I survived 13 months in one of the worst SHU’s in the BOP.

“I was confined to the Special Housing Unit or SHU on more than 1 occasion. The first situation involved me gaining unauthorized access to the telephone system in Mansfield Jail, better known as MLEC Or Mansfield Law Enforcement Center, “ said Weigman.

“I was tired of having to pay nearly $20.00 per call. I did something about it. When I refused to provide [a certain] inmate with a free call, he reported me to staff and I was immediately held in the SHU in Mansfield.”

Ah, yes. I remembered him telling me about that during our time in J-1. Back then, he’d also told me how he’d hacked into the voice mailbox of his prosecutor from the Mansfield jail phones and proceeded to delete voice messages from his FBI case agent. By accessing the Telecom system itself and spoofing his caller-ID, he was able to connect directly to the prosecutor’s voice mailbox without a passcode.

He then continued to elaborate, saying, “The second time I was confined to the special housing unit, I was already at the Federal Correctional Complex at Allenwood in White Deer pennsylvania. In this case, I had attempted to purchase the use of another inmate’s telephone pin or PAC Personal Access Code, due to the oppressive and unwarranted restrictions placed on me while serving time in the Federal Prison System.”

There was a third incident, but he didn’t elaborate.

He told me that during the time he was incarcerated, he did receive mail frequently, but it was seldom from his family. I could relate. “They adopted the mindset that If I was out of sight, I would be out of their minds. In my term of imprisonment.”

I experienced this as well, ad nauseam. Being disassociated from those who are supposed to be family or play the most important roles in our lives causes us to be truly isolated, cut off, and forced to rely on outside, lesser resources for support, if that. Naturally, we learn to become hyper independent.

Weigman only received 2 visits during the excessive length of his incarceration, which itself adds to the trauma when you know with startling clarity that you are truly alone, indeed.

I asked him if his experiences have had any physiological effect that has been carried out to the present day. I know what his answer would be. Still, I had to ask it if I hoped to give voice to what he’d survived all those years on his own, in a world teeming with real criminals.

His answer didn’t surprise me. “Absolutely,” he said.

“Prior to my term of imprisonment, I had already been diagnosed with mental health issues. They have only worsened over time, leaving me in a state of mind in which I am now almost completely detached from others emotionally. I also believe due to certain violent occurrences, I now suffer from PTSD. That’s a self-diagnosis.”

After that, I knew I had to ask about his worst experiences. In contrast to my own experiences, his being blind added another element of terror I could not fathom. How do you dodge a punch while blind, when your greatest weapon prior to incarceration was a computer or telephone system?

“Despite being blind, I have always been willing to fight. As a child, I fought my brother and other kids,” he said. Then he began to elaborate how it became necessary for him to assert himself, now an adult, nearly half a dozen times in prison.

“I literally bit an inmate in the face while he brutalized the side of my face. The reason was that he had stolen commissary items, and he openly bragged about it. Still, that’s not the worst experience,” said Weigman.

He continued, saying, I believe that the worst experience was at Allenwood. A man was killed while I sat across the table from him in the dining hall. I went numb. What else could I do? I was in a state of shock and I mentally entered survival mode.”

As things come full circle, I was eager to know how Weigman acclimated to the new world, after having been incarcerated for so long. After all, the sociological and technological norms we left behind so many years ago are now in the past, only to be replaced by new norms.

“I have found it quite easy to acclimate to both. I had a couple of phones even while in prison. The social climate seems to have gotten worse. That’s fine. I dislike most people,” he said.

Weigman then said that many things have obviously changed over the years. One such change is that he no longer associates with most of his immediate family, but especially that he finds it difficult to trust others in any sense of the word.

“So yes. Millions of things seem different to me. Mostly in a bad way.”

Factor in the difficulty he now faces finding a job while having a criminal record, being turned down due to their fears that he poses as a security risk. I experienced the same rejection.

His closing comments painted a picture that’s a far cry from the “larger-than-life” personality he exuded those many years ago, rather, what is left after the US Justice System has had its way with people like us.

“I’m living a pauper’s life, and have nothing as far as possessions go except for two iPhones, two Android devices, and an Apple Mac. I struggle with any form of human interaction. The only support morally or otherwise is provided by my lovely girlfriend.”

Regardless of the dark adversarial character he formerly wielded in his prime, Weigman will forever be a powerhouse of Telephony knowledge, and a legend that has survived the course of his own infamy during a time when he was searching for a way to rise above his adversities.

He survived prison being blind, and he will certainly continue to strongly survive a world he cannot see nor describe by mere sight.

He’s been sought by a handful of television and documentary producers around the world eager to tell his story. But this is the only story he’s told. Shortly after, he dissolved back into the recesses of obscurity from whence I found him, two years ago.

Disappeared. Vanished. Sometime after the interview, he dissolved and I never heard from him again.

Nevertheless, I think this isn’t the last we will hear from the legendary phone phreaker.

* Source for the Wired.com article regarding Kevin Mitnick’s comments I can no longer locate. Written by

GhostExodus Edited by W1ntermute

Source for this article can be found here

GhostExodus

GhostExodus is the former leader and founder of the hacktivist group known as the Electronik Tribulation Army. Naturally, he is passionate about cyber security, being a former threat actor and insider threat. Aside from InfoSec, justice reforms and other social impact initiatives are topics important to him.