It was a bittersweet moment as friends threw Matthew Charles a surprise party last May, before he returned to prison. Little did he know, the moment would kick start a domino effect of surprises.
Now out of prison once again, thanks to sentencing reform pushed for by Kim Kardashian West, Charles is getting more help from the reality star. After reading about Charles' difficulty finding a home in an article in The Tennessean because of his ex-con status, Kardashian West reached out to offer to pay his rent for the next five years, as well as act as a reference for any property owners.
“When I clicked on the email and started reading it, seeing what she was actually wanting to do ... I was like, wow. And I had to read it like three or four times before I was able to actually digest what it was stating," Charles told InsideEdition.com.
Charles’ ordeal began in 1995, when he was arrested for selling crack cocaine in Tennessee and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act. It reduced the disparity in sentencing guidelines for possessing crack cocaine and powder cocaine, ultimately lessening Charles' sentence by 18 years.
That law laid the groundwork for a judge to release Charles in 2016, after he spent two decades in prison.
But in late 2017, Charles' original sentence was reinstated and he returned to prison in May 2018.
"I had been rehabilitated. I was out two-and-a-half years, working successfully, volunteering my time, had a church home. I was doing everything that you would want somebody that has been incarcerated and released to do."
The same month Charles was ordered back to prison, Kardashian West met with President Trump regarding the First Step Act — which lets judges retroactively apply drug sentencing reforms laid out in the Fair Sentencing Act. Kardashian West had already been lobbying on behalf of others in similar situations, such as Cyntoia Brown and Alice Johnson.
In December, Trump signed the act into law. On the third day of 2019, Charles was free again.
"Her star quality and star power, to be able to get people to listen, I was just even more grateful. Because that's what it actually takes. Even though there is a legitimate situation, sometimes it takes somebody that has a little ranking,” Charles said.
"So to me that is amazing and I am beyond grateful that she did speak on my behalf and Alice's behalf and have been making changes.”
Charles now has a full-time job, traveling the country working as a criminal justice reform advocate. He also volunteers at a local pantry.
"The debt to society has been paid. The judge issued the sentence. That sentence was served, the person has been released back into society and he wants to fully function and his dignity back, just like every other person in society,” Charles said.
For all that Charles has been through, he is remarkably upbeat.
"I was gonna say after Kim Kardashian stepped in to help me out of this situation, I'm even more upbeat! It's just that I've had a peaceful, resolved type spirit. I'm a Christian, by no means am I a perfect Christian. I'm a work in progress but, because of that, it allows me to have a different disposition that I had prior to 1995 and '96 when I was arrested."
"This guy, he never ceases to amaze me. He's been dealt some pretty tough cards in life. And he never plays the victim card. He always takes things with a very calm, positive attitude. I don't know. He makes me a better person," said his friend Tim Hardiman.
It looks like the help Kardashian West is giving Charles will further that domino effect for years to come.
“I'm grateful for this for me for this five-year period allows me to utilize that money for putting it in a savings account, for maybe owning my own home or opening up a business or organization that actually helps the poor and the homeless. So by her being able to do this, it allows a worry and a burden both to be lifted. At the same time it allows me an opportunity, an advancement to help others."
Hopefully, it will also lead to a little bit of fun for Charles as well.
"I gotta meet her now!" he said of Kardashian West. "... Yes, I definitely look forward to it.”