There were a number of amazing special guests who were invited by President Donald Trump to attend his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
Fox News reported that one of those incredible guests was an ex-convict named Matthew Charles, who was honored as the first prisoner granted an early release as a result of the bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation known as the First Step Act, which Trump signed into law on Dec. 21.
Charles had been sentenced to 35 years in prison following a 1996 conviction for selling crack cocaine. While serving his time, Charles decided to turn his life over to God and accepted Jesus Christ as his lord and savior.
Thanks in large part to the transformation, Charles became something of a role model among his fellow convicts, as he completed more than 30 special Bible studies, studied to become a law clerk and helped mentor fellow prisoners and aid them in earning an educational GED.
In 2016, Charles was released from prison after having served 21 years of his 35-year sentence. He promptly moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to reconnect with his family, obtained a job as a truck driver and helped volunteer at a local food pantry for the homeless and less fortunate, all the while continuing his walk with God.
Unfortunately, just two years after he had been released, the Department of Justice decided that Charles’ release had been the result of a mistake, and ordered him back to prison to serve an additional nine years of his sentence. That distressing turn of events caught the attention of some celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who helped play a role in the eventual effort at achieving the bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation.
However, as distressing as being forced to return to prison after two years of freedom — because of a governmental error, no less — Charles remained steadfast in his faith and stuck with God and His saving grace for support.
Finally, on Jan. 3, Charles was the first convict officially released from prison for good as part of the First Step Act, which is aimed at rewarding certain non-violent convicts who have redeemed themselves in prison with a second chance at living a law-abiding life of liberty.
After it was announced that Charles would be an honored guest of the president at the State of the Union address, he gave credit where it was due in an interview with local Nashville media outlet WZTV.
“God used a lot of people to bring about my freedom,” he said.
During the speech Tuesday night, Charles beamed as Trump shared a bit of his personal story of redemption with the packed House chamber and millions of viewers watching the address on TV.
Trump first shared the story of Alice Johnson, a first time offender given a life sentence for drug dealing whose plight had been brought to the president’s attention by Kardashian. Trump noted he had been “deeply moved” by her story, and further noted of Johnson, “She became a prison minister, inspiring others to choose a better path. She had a big impact on that prison population, and far beyond.”
After stating that he had chosen to commute the remainder of her life sentence, having been impressed by her efforts at redemption, the president turned his attention to Charles to share his story as a positive outcome of the First Step Act.
Trump said, “In 1996, at the age of 30, Matthew was sentenced to 35 years for selling drugs and related offenses. Over the next two decades, he completed more than 30 Bible studies, became a law clerk, and mentored many of his fellow inmates.”
“Now, Matthew is the very first person to be released from prison under the First Step Act,” he continued, as Charles gratefully soaked up the resounding applause in his honor. Trump added, “Thank you, Matthew. Welcome home.”
President Trump introduces Matthews Charles — one of the first prisoners to be released under the First Step Act — while delivering #SOTU remarks.
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) February 6, 2019
Matthew Charles’ story of redemption — both in the eyes of God as well as the American public — is one that should be shared broadly, and we commend both him for his transformation to a life of faithful service for others as well as President Trump for recognizing and honoring his incredible decision to be a better person.
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