Matthew Charles Tour in November Offers Opportunity To Change Hearts & Minds About Criminal Justice Reform

The image used in this article is from NBC News.

Matthew Charles embodies the mission statement of Empower Missouri’s Criminal Justice Issues Team. We advocate for:

  • Healing rather than vengeance;
  • Community-based alternatives to prison;
  • Increased public safety through preventive activities that address social issues of people at risk; and 
  • Systemic and individual responses that enable persons who commit crimes to develop and express remorse, make restitution, take responsibility for the consequences of their acts, and become integrated successfully into society.

Matthew Charles readily admits that there was a time in his life when he was a “dangerous criminal.” After a childhood marked by deprivation and chaos and a stent in the Army where he hoped to turn his life around, at age 30, Charles was arrested for possession of an illegal gun and selling 216 grams of crack cocaine to an informant. At the time of his arrest, there was a 100:1 disparity in sentencing for crack cocaine as compared to powder cocaine because of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, and Charles was sentenced to 35 years. There is a vast body of research that has demonstrated how the differential incarceration rates and lengths of sentences for crack and powder cocaine users have disproportionately affected African American communities (Lowney, 1994Vagins and McCurdy, 2006Wallace, 2014). Spohn (2013)

But Charles had a life-changing experience due to a spiritual awakening on his way to prison and carried through on his commitment to become a better person while incarcerated through Bible studies and academic accomplishments. When the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the crack to powder cocaine sentencing disparity to 18:1 (still problematic, of course), Charles applied for a sentencing modification and the judge, citing his rehabilitation, ordered him released. The state of Tennessee appealed that decision, and Charles was re-incarcerated, despite a successful return to his community that included employment and volunteer service at a local food pantry and church. Fortunately, the First Step Act of December 2018 gave retroactive release to many in the same position as Charles, and he was a special guest, introduced by the president at the 2019 State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C.

Why do we lock up so many people who are not truly dangerous to society? Why are such a large portion of our sentences exceptionally long, creating a high cost for taxpayers and multiplying suffering for the individuals, their families, and communities? Why not adopt reforms that are smart on crime instead of simplistically tough on crime, following evidence-based research? Data from many other states maps out a path that Missouri can follow to reduce incarceration, promote public safety, and support lasting rehabilitation of those who have broken laws simultaneously.

In order to promote discussion of commonsense criminal justice reform in Missouri, Empower Missouri is joining several other organizations in bringing Matthew Charles to Missouri for a tour from November 11-14. Here are the details, and we hope that you will plan to attend at the location that you find most convenient:

Monday, November 11th – Springfield, MO
Venue: Freeway Ministries, 1041 W. Kearney St., Springfield, MO 65803
Time: 7:00-8:30 PM
Panelists:

  • Rep. Cody Smith, Missouri House District 163
  • John Stroup, Executive Director, Freeway Ministries

Tuesday, November 12th – Kansas City, MO
Venue: Truman Forum Auditorium, Plaza Library, 4801 Main Street, Kansas City, MO 64112
Time: 7:00-8:30 PM
Panelists:

  • Hon. Quinton Lucas, Mayor, Kansas City
  • Sara Baker, Legislative Director, ALCU-MO 

Wednesday, November 13th – Columbia, MO
Venue: Hulston Hall, Room 5, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211
Time: 7:00-8:30 PM
Panelists:

  • Dr. S. David Mitchell, Ruth L. Hulston Professor of Law, University of MO
  • Hon. Casey L. Clevenger, Drug Court Commissioner, Division XII

Thursday, November 14th – Creve Coeur, MO (St. Louis)
Venue: The J, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, MO 63146
Time: 7:00-8:30 PM
Panelists:

  • Rep. Bruce Degroot, Missouri State House 
  • Samantha Stangl, Program Manager, Clark-Fox Family Foundation

We truly believe that hearing Charles will leave a smile on your face and increase the hope in your heart. We invite you to work with our Criminal Justice Issues Team in 2020 as a way to see the Matthew Charles’ story repeated in other lives.

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