Matthew Charles, former prisoner and FIRST STEP Act Beneficiary, thanks U.S. President Donald Trump during the 2019 Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act Celebration at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2019. .
(photo credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)
Matthew Charles, a former drug dealer and convict released thanks to his exemplary behavior and changes in US law, visited the grave of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson on Tuesday, Chabad.org reported.
Charles was sentenced for 35 years in prison for dealing crack cocaine, bustle reported
, he was released in 2016 after serving 21 years in prison. Yet, after finding work and beginning to rebuild his life, he was forced to return to prison and serve his original sentence.
The reasons for that were as follows: US law used to make no distinction regarding the amount of cocaine sold and punishment, one gram was punished as severely as selling 100 grams, yet during the years Charles spent in jail the law was changed with the Fair Sentencing Act and those selling small amounts now get lighter sentences.
A federal judge reasoned in 2016 that Charles, too, should benefit from the change and serve less time due to the amounts he sold and his good behavior while in prison.
Federal prosecutors appealed the release claiming Charles is a ‘career offender’ and spent time in prison before, in 2018 an appeals court agreed the release was, in fact, a mistake. Not because of anything Charles did wrong, but because of his status as repeat offender and the difficulty of applying changes in law retroactively.
The case made headlines across the US and Charles got unexpected support from, among others, Kim Kardashian and Joy Reid.
With the passing of the First Step Act in May 2018 by President Donald Trump inmates are now able to enjoy retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act, which passed in 2010 under President Obama, and Charles was able to leave jail in January– hopefully for good this time.
Charles was in NYC to take part in the “Rewriting the Sentence” summit on alternatives to incarceration. The summit was organized by the Aleph Institute, affiliated with Chabad, and hosted by Columbia University Law School. Charles is currently a criminal justice fellow at FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums).
The Aleph Institute is meant to care for Jewish people who are in prison and their families and was created by Rabbi Sholom Lipskar in 1981.
Speaking in 1976, the late Menachem Schneerson said that an inmate “Should be given the opportunity to learn, improve himself and prepare for his release when he will commence an honest, peaceful new life.”
He further said that the goal of a prison system is to “raise up the spirits” of the inmates and encourage them “providing the sense ... that they are just as human as those that are free; just as human as the prison guards…”
“Everyone is a human being, and the message is that every human being has a purpose that they need to play out in life,” said Charles.
“The message was that we should do more than just incarcerate people," he said.
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