For all that’s been said and written about former Escape the Fate lead singer Ronnie Radke, the 24-year-old has a certain zeal in his voice. “It feels good to have someone to vent to,” he says with a laugh from his 12-by-14-foot cell in High Desert State Prison, about 25 miles north of Las Vegas. Since he and his former band broke out of the city’s music scene in 2006, Radke has been called a lot of things—rock star, junkie, killer and, most recently, fugitive. That one came after he bailed out on his probation and the suspended 18- to 48-month prison sentence stemming from the now-infamous May 2006 fight that left 18-year-old Michael Cook dead and co-combatant Michael Colquitt injured. Radke was convicted of battery with substantial bodily harm.
But no one has really wanted to hear his side of the story, Radke says, and in his first exclusive interview since his January sentencing and subsequent imprisonment, Radke speaks out about the fight, his capture, his battle with drugs, the fans and his ultimate search for redemption.
Take me through June 15, the day you were taken into custody.
[The Nevada Parole and Probation Department] put me on the news for a probation violation, but they said it was a parole violation, but it wasn’t. I mean, it got all fucked up; they said that I had been involved in murder, and they brought Michael Cook’s family on TV … and for the media and the public to see that, it was devastating. So I got picked up right after Father’s Day. The police … tapped my phone, and they tricked me into going out for something, and they had all these undercover cars and a helicopter in the air, and that’s how they got me.
- Jailhouse interview with Ronnie Radke (Listener discretion advised)
You were sentenced to probation for the fight. Why did you abscond?
The courts gave me a recipe for disaster. They said I’d have to pay $93,000 in restitution, $30 a month to the probation officers, $30 a month to a drug counselor, $30 a month for impulse-control, and I’m not allowed to tour with my band, and I’d have to get a real job. So I said, “Fuck you.” I mean, what else was I supposed to do? I even tried to get a job as a bartender, but I have a felony, so they didn’t give me my sheriff’s card. So I tried, but with the drugs piling onto me and with the depression getting so much worse, there’s only so much a person can take.
The homicide report claims you were in total anguish over the fight and the killing of Cook. With that said, why do you think you were the only one left holding the bag, charged and ultimately convicted for the fight that got Cook killed?
Because of my fame. I mean, my friend [Chase Rader, who fired his gun at Cook] saved my life, dude, and I don’t think he deserves any jail time, either. Yeah, of course we [Radke and Chase and Joe Rader] went there to fight, but … they started it … and if it wasn’t for [Radke’s longtime friend] Maxwell Greene, that fight would never have happened. I mean, I always stick up for Max, he’s a smaller guy, and I’d always be his bigger brother, you know, people would have to come through me first to get to him. But [brothers Michael and Marcel Colquitt, who had been threatening to beat up Greene until Radke intervened] started calling me and harassing me, saying they were going to come to my house and murder me. Then they started calling me “pussy” and this and that if I don’t show up to fight them. So I go there … and they had about 12 people with them, and we had four people. They ran up, pulled a gun out, fired it, my friend Joe Rader grabbed the gun, [Chase’s] gun went off three more times, and Chase gets self-defense, and that’s how I get stuck with the bag. [Editor’s note: Police reports differ slightly on the specifics of this incident.]
- Band Guide
- Escape the Fate
- From the Archives
- Escape the Fate’s Ronnie Radke finds new fate behind bars (8/5/08)
- No escape (6/26/08)
- Former Escape the Fate singer Ronald Joseph Radke in custody (6/18/08)
- Beyond the Weekly
- Escape the Fate MySpace
Does it kind of piss you off that Chase wasn’t brought up on any charges?
I’m just glad he didn’t get murdered, because you can only imagine how much worse it could have been.
You and new ETF singer Craig Mabbitt were once friends. How upset were you about the band’s decision to hire him after firing you?
Mabbitt was burrowing himself within the band … while trying to avoid me. And he’s not better than me. I’d fucking tear him up, and I’d tear him up onstage. I mean, look at him now versus before [when he was in Arizona hardcore band blessthefall]. He looks exactly like I did; he even wears his little flavor-saver moustache like me. I mean, come on. He went from little emo kid to hair-metal boy or whatever you’d call it.
With the band moving on, you’re writing music in prison, right?
Oh my God, man, there’s a storm coming. Here’s was what was supposed to go on. On July 19, I was supposed to fly to Virginia to record an album with ex-member Omar Espinosa. I was supposed to join a band with Espinosa, and the producer is pissed because he paid for the tickets, and then I end up on the news. [When I get out] I already have a band name, and I already have a band. I mean, I was supposed to record the album, and it sucks. I mean, that’s what hurts the most … But as soon as I get out, and the label Epitaph said if I stay off of drugs, they’ll drop the album for me. Everyone thinks that because I was kicked out of the band that I’m off the label automatically. I signed a fucking contract, and they tell me that since I signed a contract, no matter what I do, they own it.
What is your average daily routine in jail?
Well, I make three shanks a day [laughs]. I’m just kidding. No, no, it’s not as crazy as you’d think. I mean, my cellmate, Lucky, well, he has life, and he’s maybe the most insightful person I’ve met, and I’ve learned more in here than I ever have before. I mean, it’s not like what you see on TV and shit. I mean, sure, there are dark places you go, but those are for the idiots and the people who have no common sense. My routine is basically, I wake up, they pop the door, go to breakfast at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, come back, go back to my cell, wait about an hour, come back out, then there’s tier time, where you’re inside hanging out, and yard time, where you go out, hang out, play some basketball, do some push-ups, smoke some cigarettes and play handball, which is a really fun game, go back to your cell, go to dinner, get your mail, and that’s your normal day.
How many letters a week would you say you get from fans?
Probably 100 to 120.
Have you run into any fans in prison?
You know, the first day I’m in here, I’m nervous, and I get approached by this guy Shannon in the yard, and he asks if my name is Ronnie. And I’m like yeah, and he said his daughter wrote him to ask if he was in prison with me. Then I had a couple of other people who I had to sign their kids’ pictures and write a couple of other people letters, so I would say I got kind of a status in here, and a lot of people in here got my back, and I don’t have to really watch over my back every second.
What about the drugs?
I was approved for a drug rehabilitation program here in prison because I straight up said, “I have a drug problem, and if you just put me in the open, with the drug, I don’t want to fuck up.” So they’ll be sending me to this drug program, and I’ll only have six months left.
Are you afraid of being hurt or killed in prison?
You can smell death when you walk onto the yard. There are guys watching you with shotguns, and if you even pick a rock off of the ground, they’ll shoot you. Right when you get to the yard, it’s automatically crack, break or man up. You either have a mental breakdown or you be a man.
Do you feel that by going to jail you will have atoned for your sins?
You know, that’s my karma, man. I don’t deserve to be in here for the crime that was charged to me. I deserve to be in here for the things I’ve done to other people. Saying that, it makes me feel good.