Matthew Charles “remain[s] hopeful” after finally being released from prison at the beginning of January.
Charles was first freed from prison about two years ago under former President Barack Obama’s commutations for drug offenders. But in late May, he was sent back to jail after serving 21 years of his 35-year sentence.
But now, thanks to President Donald Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Charles is finally free — this time, for good.
WATCH: @DanaPerino's full interview with the 1st person released under the Step Act Matthew Charles and President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums Kevin Ring.#DailyBriefing pic.twitter.com/q7WelThk6p
— The Daily Briefing (@dailybriefing) January 9, 2019
In an interview Wednesday with Fox News host Dana Perino, Charles revealed he didn’t even know he was going to be released this month until New Year’s Day. He is the first beneficiary of Trump’s First Step Act, which enjoyed bipartisan support with only a handful of Republican senators opposing the legislation.
Perino asked Charles if he made a “conscious decision” to change when he was first imprisoned in the late 1990s, hoping good behavior would bode well for his future behind bars.
“I won’t say it was a conscious decision to do right to receive a reward because there is no parole system under the federal guidelines,” he explained. “So this was all a change that occurred in 1996 that started with my heart and just reflected outward.”
Charles went on to say his change of perspective gave him the strength and motivation to make a “conscious change” to “be a role model to my grandchildren and live like I was supposed to have lived when I was committing a wrong.”
As for what he’s been up to since his recent release, Charles said he’s been busy reaching out to family, friends, and supporters on Facebook, thanking them for their prayers and well wishes. He’s also enjoying a little bit of Kentucky Fried Chicken, he told Perino.
What changes does the First Step Act make?
The newly enacted bipartisan law that led to Charles’ release passed through the Senate with an 87-12 vote and instituted a handful of much-needed reforms to the criminal justice system.
According to The New York Times, the legislation lowered the mandatory “three strikes” penalty from life in prison to 25 years. It also gave judges greater discretion to use loopholes to sidestep mandatory minimums in some cases.
Those sentenced before 2010, when a reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine was introduced, have been given the chance to petition for their cases to be reevaluated under the new law. And lastly, the bill eliminates so-called “stacking mechanisms,” which elevate crimes to the federal level if the possession of a firearm is involved.
Moving forward, “stacking mechanisms” will only be eligible for those who have been previously convicted.
Trump praised lawmakers last month for passing the bipartisan reform:
….This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
“This bill in its entirety has been endorsed by the political spectrum of America,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in December. “I can’t remember any bill that has this kind of support, left and right, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican.”
And former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said criminal justice reform is “about giving more Americans a chance at redemption,” adding lawmakers in the lower congressional chamber were glad to see Trump sign the bill into law.