Freed African-American inmate visits Lubavitcher Rebbe's grave

Matthew Charles, the first person released under Trump's First Step Act thanks the Rebbe for advocating prison reform over 40 years ago.

Sara Rubenstein ,

Visitors at the gravesite of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schnee
Visitors at the gravesite of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schnee

Matthew Charles of Tennesse, who was the first person released under US President Donald Trump's First Step Act, visited the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe this week to thank him for publicly stressing the importance of rehabilitation for prisoners over 40 years ago.

In January 2019, Trump signed the First Step Act, intended to reform the US prison system and decrease recidivism. Charles, a non-violent repeat offender who had been sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling crack cocaine, was released weeks later due to a provision included in the act, which retroactively reduces mandatory minimum sentences on crack convictions.

Trump publicly praised Charles during his February 5th State of the Union address and welcomed him home. "The First Step Act gives non-violent offenders a chance to reenter society as productive law-abiding citizens," Trump said. "America is a nation that believes in redemption. In 1996, at the age of 30, Matthew was sentenced to 35 years for selling drugs and other related offenses. Over the next two decades, he completed over 30 Bible studies, became a law clerk and mentored many of his fellow inmates. Thank you, Matthew. Welcome home."

Since his release from prison, Charles has become an advocate for prison reform. He visited New York this week for a conference on prison reform by Columbia University Law School and The Aleph Institute (a Jewish humanitarian organization for prisoners founded at the direction of the Lubavitcher Rebbe), according to a report by After seeing a 1976 video of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, speaking about maintaining the humanity of prisoners during their prison terms and the importance of helping them prepare for new and better lives, Charles decided to visit the Rebbe's grave to pay his respects and thank him.

“I heard the message and [the Rebbe’s] efforts at criminal justice reform and everything he had done and I wanted to come out and be thankful and say thank you,” Charles said.