NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Matthew Charles spent 22 years in prison for selling crack cocaine, but he was released this January thanks to support from Kim Kardashian West and changes to the criminal justice system through the First Step Act.
It was signed by President Trump in December of last year, and since Charles’ release, he’s gotten nationwide attention. He attended the State of the Union and was acknowledged by the President, and now he works as a justice reform fellow for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
But for Charles, it wasn’t an easy transition, and he knows it’s difficult for other people too, including Cyntoia Brown, who was released from prison Wednesday morning.
"I think she's strong enough to be able to succeed out here,” Charles said of Brown.
During her 15 years in prison, Brown completed her GEO and took college classes, which led to her earning a bachelor’s degree in professional studies.
"I'm thankful and I'm proud of her that she did make that transition while she was incarcerated which will allow society to be able to see the reflection of those changes now that she's free,” Charles said.
Brown has announced that she plans to use her experiences to help other women and girls suffering from abuse and exploitation, which Charles believes will take her far.
"That same situation that she found herself in, many others are in, and hopefully she's able to make a dramatic effect on that."
While Charles has belief that Brown will succeed given her strong support system, he knows she will face struggles, like finding a job and housing.
"We need more people in society to be more sympathetic as opposed to just having a zero tolerance for hiring somebody or giving somebody a place to stay based on them checking that box showing that they were a prior felon,” Charles explained, adding that given a chance, many felons can have a positive impact on society. "The fact that we've been given those sentences, we've now been given a second chance, I would tell her to take full advantage of that second chance."