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Judge Claims Her ‘Hands Are Tied’ After Nashville Man Who Was Freed In 2016 Must Return to Prison 

Matthew Charles
Matthew Charles was sentenced to prison in 1996 after unknowingly selling crack cocaine to an informant. (Photo by JULIETA MARTINELLI / WPLN)

After gaining his freedom in early 2016, a Nashville man must now bid farewell to his new life after a federal appeals court ruled his prison sentence was reduced in error. Now, he’s headed back to jail to serve the rest of his 35-year term.

Matthew Charles had already spent almost two decades behind bars for selling crack to an informant in the mid-’90s before his time was cut short, thanks to crack guideline changes approved by the Obama administration, according to NPR. Since his release, Charles has spent the last two years building a better life for himself — holding down a full-time job, volunteering on the weekends and even finding new love.

His progress has come to a screeching halt, however, after the U.S. attorney’s office appealed his release, arguing the former inmate was a “career offender” because of his previous stint in a state prison. They claimed the Obama-era changes didn’t apply to him. A U.S Court of appeals agreed and ordered him back behind bars.

Speaking to Nashville Public Radio, Charles said the entire thing feels surreal.

“I’m so tired,” he said, after his hearing to appeal the court’s decision was postponed for the second time. “I am beyond tired. I always say to myself and others, ‘when is enough going to be enough?’ … For the past two years — from the start — it’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Even during his time in jail, Charles began rehabilitating himself so he could be ready for the world awaiting him on the outside. Not only did he take college courses, but he’d also taught GED classes and became a law clerk. He then used his training to help incarcerated men like himself better understand the legal system and draft their legal proceedings, NPR reported.

Family and friends of the once-jailed man, who was sentenced in December 1996, said they just can’t understand why the justice system won’t consider his rehabilitation and allow him to remain free. Charles’ supporters have even launched an online petition asking President Donald Trump to commute his sentence.

“He has rebuilt his life, and now they’re coming to snatch it,” said “Wolf,” a man who befriended Charles in a halfway house in 2016.

“The whole thing pisses me off to be honest,” he told family and friends gathered for Charles’ farewell party last week. “But it underscores how big a need there is for some reform in the justice system. I don’t care what they say.”

On March 28, Judge Aleta Trauger lauded Charles for his “exemplary rehabilitation” but said “her hands were tied” before reinstating his original sentence. Charles was given just 45 days to get his affairs in order, according to the news site.

“It was like a 180 from what I had thought would happen,” he said after the ruling that day. I’m just disappointed, again. But I believe that God is still in charge of the situation. He hasn’t revealed to me what he’s doing yet, but my faith remains the same.”

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