“Alaskan Bush People” has been one of the most talked-about and viewed reality television series since it premiered on 6 May 2014 on the Discovery Channel, as it aroused people’s curiosity about how a family of nine survived, living in the wild. The Brown family was brought into the limelight, with the eldest son, Matt Brown, becoming the most controversial of the lot, having been involved in scandals as he battled alcoholism and drug addiction. He turned over a new leaf after leaving the show, and has been sober for years.
“Alaskan Bush People”
Matthew Jeremiah ‘Matt’ Brown was born in 1982, and his parents Billy and Ami, raised him along with his six siblings in the Alaskan wilderness. Their home was known as Browntown, with his father calling their family a wolf pack.
How the Brown family came to live in the Alaskan wilderness
Billy Bryan Brown came from an upper-middle-class family, but tragedy befell them as his parents and sister died in a plane crash when he was 16, and claimed later that he was deceived into signing emancipation papers that somehow left him without money and a home.
In his book “The Lost Years,” he wrote that the court records showed that his grandparents were mentally incapable of being his guardians. A judge explained to him that the most effective way to get a minor’s release was to marry, and he did just that, but it ended in divorce after a few years.
When Billy was 26, he married 15-year-old Ami in 1979 with her parents’ consent, and they settled in Fort Worth, Texas. However, they were of like mind that city life and working nine-to-five wasn’t for them, so they left everything behind as they said, ‘We didn’t really know where we wanted to go, but we knew we weren’t where we wanted to be.’ The place they were looking for turned out to be in the wilds of the Alaskan bush.
Living in the bush
Matt grew up being homeschooled and taught survival skills, including foraging for food, fishing and hunting, as he followed the creed: ‘Take only what you need, use all that you have, and when you no longer need it, give it to someone who does.’
His family didn’t have access to running water, electricity and other modern conveniences. They made do with what they had, and used the barter system for items and services that they needed.
Season one of “Alaskan Bush People” gave a clear picture of what life was like for Matt’s family. It began with them in a rundown SUV on their way to a land his father bought in Copper River Valley, as they claimed that their home in Ketchikan was destroyed in a fire. They didn’t stay long in their new place, as some of their neighbors were highly opposed to the filming that was taking place; threats were made not just against them, but also to the Discovery crew. The family moved to Juneau, Alaska, and bought a 42-foot-long boat that was four-decades-old, as they searched for an island where they could take up residence. However, the boat hit something and sank along with all their belongings. However, season after season, the family showed their resilience as they dealt with whatever life threw at them.
Living off the land and off the grid can be tough and exhausting, but there’s a sense of simplicity in it, being devoid of the toxicity and pressure of what living in modern society entailed. As such, people were puzzled as to how a man like Matt ended up living an embattled life. In 2021, he revealed via Instagram the lies that had been bothering him most of his adult life. He shared that the TV series was loosely based on some parts of a book that his dad wrote, and they were instructed to act as if that was what their life was like. Matt said, ‘I loved filming the show, but I didn’t like lying about the way I live and the way things are in life.’
Matt arrested for driving under the influence (DUI)
In August 2013, a Walmart employee called the police after Matt hit a parked motorcycle at their store, and then left; the police were dispatched and chased him down. Matt claimed to have an attention deficit disorder when the police officer who caught him asked why he was acting weird – he was jumpy and talking fast.
He then admitted that the 1986 Volvo he was driving was borrowed from a girl he hooked up with, after having a few shots of vodka at a bar in Juneau,; Matt didn’t know or couldn’t remember the girl’s name, contact number, or where he left her.
He failed all field sobriety tests, with the breathalyzer showing a blood alcohol level of .150. He was then processed at police headquarters, and charged with DUI. His father posted bail, and Matt was sentenced in February 2014 to 18 months of probation, and three days in jail.
Matt accused of raping two women
In 2020, 35-year-old Jessica Jurges and 54-year-old Shelly Dawn Early reported to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Topanga Division that Matt raped them in 2018.
Jessica met Matt in 2017 when she was a co-ordinator for the production company responsible for the TV series “Alaskan Bush People,” and then she worked directly for his family as their personal assistant, thereby developing a close relationship with them.
Shelly, on the other hand, met Matt when she was homeless and depressed, and he told her he needed a manager who could help him with his addiction.
Matt and the two women were staying at a house in Canoga Park when the alleged incidents happened. Jessica said that she had been drinking Hennessy before she joined Matt, who was quite drunk, in the swimming pool at his urging. He then ripped off her swimsuit and sexually assaulted her. She was terrified of the water and could barely swim so there was only so much she could do to fight him off. Her ordeal lasted for two and a half hours before Shelly pulled Matt off her. He cried and apologized when they admonished him for his behavior, as they said, ‘Matt what the f**k is wrong with you? Don’t you ever do that to anybody. You’ll go to prison. Do you understand?’
The trouble didn’t stop there, as Shelly claimed that she was raped by Matt three days later at the same house, and was outraged when Matt, whom she said was ‘out-of-his-mind drunk’ at that time, insisted that it was the other way around, and even told that to the Lyft driver who came to pick her up.
She said that having undergone a hip replacement surgery, her hips and legs were not as strong as they used to be, and this made her unable to fend off the attack.
A spokesperson for the Discovery Channel said that they took these allegations seriously when it was brought to their attention years ago, and added, ‘Due to the nature of the accusations, we felt that all co-operation would be most appropriately handled by law enforcement.’ The police launched an investigation, and the case was turned over to the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, but they later refused to prosecute.
Some were wondering why things turned out that way, and the answer might be found in Matt’s 2022 Instagram post, in which he opened up about some ‘very bad lies’ that were told about him and that were damaging to his future. He said that the liars concocted a story about something that happened. Matt said that it was important to tell the truth, without leaving anything out, no matter how bad it might have looked, so that’s what he did.
A third party was to decide who was telling the truth and who was not. Based on the fact that Matt has been out and about, it clearly meant that the case did not prosper.
He first entered a rehab facility in 2016, as he said, ‘I could see myself spiraling.’ After their boat capsized, he began hanging out in Juneau, and drinking with people who enjoyed it as well; before he knew it, he was drinking heavily and making bad choices. He didn’t like what he was turning into, so he tried to stop but couldn’t do it on his own. His parents were supportive of his decision to seek help at an in-patient facility where he stayed for 35 days. While there, he realized that he wasn’t an alcoholic and believed he could still drink socially, but preferred to be sober.
However, Matt entered rehab for the second time in 2018 after the alleged rapes took place. His dad wanted him to do what was needed to get better, as he said, ‘We’d rather lose him from home for a little while than lose him forever.’
It was hard for his mom not to have Matt with them, but said, ‘He was so strong for me, and I want to be strong for him.’ She was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer with a three percent survival rate back in 2017, but went into remission after receiving treatment, and was declared cancer-free the following year.
Matt said that the two rehab facilities he had been to were all good, and the message they were trying to impart to him was the same; he just wasn’t ready to listen before, and only pretended to pay attention. What he was actually doing was finding reasons why he wasn’t an alcoholic or an addict. People were telling him that his problems were alcohol and drugs, but he wasn’t willing to admit that and even said, ‘My problem is not the booze. My solution is the booze…that’s the outcome of the problems that I have in life.’
It was his stay at the Betty Ford Center that changed his life.
Matt walked through its doors carrying a green pillowcase with various liquors inside, and all he wanted was for someone to take it away from him, although they had to pry it out of his fingers. He was ready to admit that his problems were alcohol and drugs, and that his life had become unmanageable and he needed help in figuring it out and fixing it. To his surprise, he was told, ‘Your problem isn’t drugs and it’s not alcohol. You have a thousand different problems in your life that make you run to drugs and alcohol to forget about those problems.’
Matt said that his life had become a living hell, and he was his own biggest tormentor. ‘I thought I was trying to break free, to stand up for myself, to do the right thing, but I am just a dog chasing my tail, going round and round.’ While he was still using and drinking, there were times when he would look at himself in the mirror, and would be so sickened and sad with what he saw. He knew it was just going to get worse, and would tell himself, ‘Tomorrow, I will stop but tomorrow never came.
The next day would come and the same reasons to drink or use would be there.’ He understood that if he didn’t sober up, he was not going to make it long in this world.
At the Betty Ford Center, various methods for recovery were available, and Matt was given instructions to find the treatment plan that would address his issues, with the guidance of a therapist and psychiatrist.
One counselor helped him deal with problems from his childhood, that continued to affect him in some ways as an adult. He was made aware that what the world was like through his eyes was different from everybody else’s. He was also made to understand why in certain situations he was triggered to react in certain ways. It helped him find a way to understand and forgive, so he could move forward and get over things.
Another counselor helped him deal with more adult issues, including the root cause of his addiction. He was made to realize that he wasn’t really special in all of his problems.
He was taught ways to change the way he thought about himself and the moment he was in. Matt learned how to understand other people’s situations, exercise empathy, and be part of a relationship, a group, or a conversation.
On staying sober
‘My name is Matt Brown. I am an alcoholic and an addict.’ This was how he introduced himself in his recovery-based videos uploaded onto his YouTube account. Being unable to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings due to restrictions imposed by the government to limit exposure and spread of the COVID-19 virus, making these videos had been a great help. They were also meant to spread positivity, and give hope to others who might be going through some tough times.
He talked about honesty, as he admitted that he didn’t really know what it meant. He used words such as “integrity,” “truth,” or “accountability” before, and he expected it from others but it wasn’t something that he himself practiced.
Early on in life, he learned it was better to lie and just tell whatever it was that his parents believed to be true. If they thought he was lying, it wouldn’t be good for him. He had been doing it since then, and it caught up with him.
As the lies stacked up, it made him feel bad about himself. While in rehab, he realized that telling the truth would make him feel better, and would set him free. ‘The biggest thing that I ever did in my life was make the decision that no matter what, I’m just going to tell the truth about how things are,’ Matt said. For him, there’s no such thing as having different versions of the truth, only different stories that may have elements of the truth mixed into it, to make it a better lie.
Aside from exercising honesty, it was important to hold himself accountable for things that he did, and to fulfill his obligations. Some programs helped him realize his own weaknesses, and how he could turn those into strengths.
He was told that it only took 90 days to change a habit and develop a new one by practicing it. He tried experimenting on simple things and it worked, so he knew he could do it on complex things as well.
Matt’s posts on social media continued to give people a chance to get to know him better, and perhaps understand why things turned out the way they did, and how he was able to overcome the challenges that he faced. He said that life has never been better, although it still has its ups and downs. He has been in recovery for years, but admitted to slipping a few times. Matt has been estranged from his family, but was able to reconcile with his dad before the latter passed away in 2021.
He’s been living in California, and working at a friend’s orchard. He’s taking it one day at a time to live a happy, healthy, and productive life and to have good interactions with the world.
The story continues….