An interesting story

Each of the previous presenters in the Herald-Star Speaker Series has been able to share an interesting story from a unique perspective.

That’s something that will continue when Matthew Charles takes the stage at 7:30 p.m Oct. 23 at Steubenville High School when the series resumes.

Charles is the first beneficiary of the First Step Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 21. The bipartisan legislation is designed to help to reduce mandatory-minimum sentences for drug offenders.

He freely admits that he was a “dangerous criminal” when he was convicted of selling 216 grams of crack cocaine to an informant and possession of a gun in 1996 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. The federal judge who sentenced him described Charles as “a danger to society who should simply be off the streets,” according to a May 25, 2018, article by Julieta Martinelli of Nashville Public Radio.

He worked hard to turn his life around, completing more than 30 Bible study classes. He helped to mentor other inmates. He became a law clerk, and he taught GED classes.

Charles was granted early release in 2016 and moved to Nashville, where he became a volunteer at the Little Pantry that Could.

After 18 months of freedom, an appeals court ruled that Charles, as a repeat offender, did not qualify for early release and in March 2018 ordered him sent back to prison to finish his term.

Judge Aleta Trauger of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, said at the time she had no choice but to reinstate his sentence, and so, in May 2018, Charles found himself back in prison.

After the First Step Act was signed, the public defenders assigned to his case asked for his sentence to be cut, federal prosecutors filed no objections and Trauger reduced the sentence to time served, which led to his release from prison on Jan. 3.

His presentation in Steubenville will be the 10th in a series that dates to Nov. 14, 2012, when Clint Hill, a former Secret Service agent, discussed his memories of protecting first lady Jacqueline Kennedy — all of the good times and horrific time of Nov. 23, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He was joined by his co-author, Lisa McCubbin.

On April 9, 2013, Antonio and Jonna Mendez spoke about what it was like to be a CIA masters of disguise and Antonio’s role in the escape from Iran of American diplomats that was dramatized in the film “Argo.”

April 3, 2014, saw Capt. Richard Phillips sail into town to discuss his capture by Somali pirates and rescue by Navy SEALS that was dramatized in the film “Capt. Phillips.”

Retired Air Force Col. Mark Tillman spoke on Sept. 11, 2014, about serving as the pilot of Air Force One on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was charged with safely returning President George W. Bush to Washington in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

On April 16, 2015, Rebekah Gregory shared her story of survival after the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013.

Mark Geist, a member of the Benghazi Annex security team, discussed what it was like to be under siege on Sept. 11-12, 2012. His story, which was dramatized in the film “13 Hours,” was shared on April 25, 2016.

Jeanine Pirro shared her views about world and U.S. politics on Oct. 10, 2016, and retired Gen. Michael Hayden spoke on April 27, 2017. Hayden, who is no fan of the president, offered a perspective that could only come from a person who had served as head of the Central Intelligence and National Security agencies.

And, on April 19, 2018, John Quinones, the star of the ABC television program “What Would You Do?”, discussed ethics and the importance of treating everyone with respect.

Each of the topics varied, yet each speaker was able to offer insights into particular situations that can come only from a person who has actually experienced them. That will certainly continue with Charles.

“I think that what Matthew shows is that people can change, character’s not static and people can have redemption if given the opportunity to come out of federal prison and show they are a changed person,” Shon Hopwood, a lawyer for Charles and an associate law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, told NBC News in a Jan. 8 story.

Charles has an interesting story, one that speaks to second chances, one that he hopes can help change the way sentences are determined.

We hope you will join us to hear him share it.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)


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