Law & the Courts

Mr. President, Pardon Matthew Charles

Matthew Charles (Facebook)
He was a model prisoner for 21 years, and he completely turned his life around. He deserves freedom.

The treatment that Matthew Charles is receiving from our justice system is anything but just, and President Trump should step in and pardon him.

In case you haven’t heard the story yet, Matthew Charles is a Tennessee man who was recently sent back to prison after a federal court determined that it had shortened his sentence in error — despite the fact that he has completely rehabilitated himself.

Charles was released in 2016, due to retroactive sentencing reductions that were enacted under the Obama administration, after serving 21 years of a 35-year sentence for selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer.

He spent two years as a free man before federal prosecutors appealed, arguing that he was a “career offender” and therefore did not qualify for the reductions. The judge said that her “hands were tied” and sent Charles back to prison for another decade.

This is a travesty, considering the man that Matthew Charles has become since his arrest.

As detailed in a heartbreaking piece by local news source Nashville Public Radio, he is now a man with a steady job and a steady girlfriend. He volunteers at a food pantry every Saturday. What’s more, Charles never had a single disciplinary action against him during the 21 years he was in prison. Far from it — while behind bars, Charles took college classes, became a law clerk, and taught a GED program. He would decipher court documents for illiterate inmates. He was a model prisoner and became a model citizen as soon as he was released. Now, the life that he built for himself has been taken away from him.

“My reality today was I woke up this morning with [my girlfriend] Naomi,” Charles told the radio station in an interview on his last day of freedom. “We went to Shoney’s to eat breakfast.”

“We were able to move according to our own accord,” he continued. “Whereas tomorrow, they’ll tell me when I can eat breakfast, when I can move, when I can shower or go to the rec yard. They’ll control my life.”

Instead of waking up next to his girlfriend, Charles is now separated from her by a nine-hour drive. He told NPR that he doesn’t know if his relationship — or even his health — will be able to withstand the hardships of prison. Still, he says he has hope, saying lightheartedly that his “faith remains” “that God is still in charge of the situation,” even though “he hasn’t revealed . . . what he’s doing yet.” He will continue to be the same man he’s become, he says, even though he’s been forced to go back to a life of incarceration.

“Some see the changes and others don’t want to see [them],” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to change back.”

“I didn’t do it for the U.S. Attorney’s office to say, ‘Charles has been a good boy, let’s give him a break,’” he continued.

Certainly, this case demonstrates some of the failures of our current criminal-justice system — particularly with mandatory-minimum sentencing. Every case is different, and every person is different. In a truly fair system, judges would be able to hand out individual sentences using case-by-case evaluation. Unfortunately, widespread reform may not happen anytime soon, no matter how much I wish that it would.

Thankfully, however, this does not mean that nothing can be done in the case of Matthew Charles. President Trump has the power to pardon Charles — and he should waste no time in doing so. After all, not only is Matthew Charles no longer any danger to society, but he is also someone who was contributing to society significantly while he was on the outside. This terrible tragedy has deprived a woman of her boyfriend, a food pantry of a reliable volunteer, and many of a beloved friend and family member. Forcing a man like Charles through the rigors of prison life for another decade would be a complete injustice after he’s done so much work to turn his life around.

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