Matthew Charles understands patience. Twenty years in prison will do that.
The key to waiting, he says, is staying busy — and active. Behind bars, Charles fought the physical toll of time with exercise. The mind he kept sharp by teaching GED classes and drafting legal pleadings for other inmates. He even took college classes for a while, until the program ran out of money.
Charles has been free for almost two years. But still, he waits.
“It's just like, when is this going to end?” says Charles. “For the past two years — from the start — it's been a rollercoaster ride.”
When WPLN first aired his story in late December, Charles was working full-time and volunteering every Saturday. After 20 years in prison, a judge had reduced his sentence by almost a decade based on Obama-era drug sentencing changes. Upon his release, he reconnected with his children and started a relationship.
But Charles was still in limbo.
Federal prosecutors said he shouldn’t have been released because he was considered a “career offender,” due to a prior stint in prison in his early 20s. They appealed his release — and a higher court agreed.
His lawyer asked for time, even asking the Supreme Court to hear him out, but they declined. Since then, Charles has continued building his life on the outside. But as his hearing draws closer, he says he still feels like he has no control over his future.
“I've always felt that I was stuck in the middle,” he says. “Because it's like, ‘OK, this is actually happening to you.’ But your thoughts on the matter, or what you are experiencing, don’t come into play.”
Charles’s friends and coworkers have written letters to the prosecutors and sent in videos. Twice his hearing was postponed. Each time brought new expectations that his case might be dropped.
The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment but in a recent legal filing acknowledged his rehabilitation — inside and outside of prison. But they argue it’s not enough.
Charles says he’s done all he can.
“By all accounts, I don't know what else I could do,” says Charles. “My goal is still to just continue to live out my new life. Be the man that I have become.”
On Wednesday, Matthew Charles will stand before a judge at the federal courthouse to find out his fate.
He says he’ll accept the outcome, whatever it may be. But Charles still has hope that the judge will drop the case — or maybe impose probation or house arrest.
But he acknowledges the chances are slim. Just in case, he says, he’s began preparing for another decade behind bars.