By the Grace of God and the Bold Leadership of a President I was Given a Second Chance

April 30, 2023

Former President Donald J. Trump gave me the second-best gift I’ve ever received; he gave me my freedom. In 2004 at 24 years old, I was arrested for the first time for a nonviolent drug crime and was given two life sentences with no chance of parole. At that time in my life, my world turned upside down overnight, and I was left hopeless. My dreams of becoming a boxing world champion were gone as a result of one bad decision. I had a six-figure contract, an upcoming fight on ESPN, and several business opportunities lined up. But I had broken the trust between my family and friends. I was leaving behind my two-year-old son, named after me. I thought this was the end of the line.

Thankfully I was wrong — God saved and blessed me by giving me the strength to continue. During my time in prison, I prioritized completing as many reentry programs as possible. I took responsibility for my actions and was given the amazing opportunity to complete a faith-based reentry program called Life Connections. It gave me the hope and encouragement for life that I needed. However, my hope was crushed but not broken when in 2016, I was denied clemency without explanation from the Obama administration even though I fit all the criteria.

When everyone counted me out and lost hope, my faith grew stronger, and after 16 years in prison, in October 2020, I was granted clemency by President Donald J. Trump. I was released immediately, reunited with my son and family, and given a second chance at life. April is National Second Chances month, and I continue celebrating my freedom. Still, I am reminded of the many individuals and friends who never got the chance at freedom that I received.

About 2 million people in the U.S. are currently incarcerated, and many of them will someday be released to live in society. What breaks my heart is that the recidivism rates of those individuals are extremely high, adding to the increase of crime and violence in our cities. 

Now I am blessed by God to share my story and to have faith and friends to guide me through the challenging emotional and spiritual work it takes to be truly rehabilitated. When President Trump gave me my freedom, it was because I had proved that my life outside of prison would positively impact society. President Trump showed me grace when so many disregarded me. To keep our streets safer and decrease crime, we need to lower the recidivism rate. Reducing the recidivism rate is not a one-sided issue. Everyone in our society wants safer communities for our families, and if we don’t lower this number, we are ignoring a major contributing factor to more crime. 

One of the best options to lower the recidivism rate is to offer faith-based prison programs. I experienced these programs for myself, and the encouragement and inspiration they provided opened a door for me to change my life. Faith-based programs offer individuals a sense of community and purpose and a support system they may have lacked in their lives prior to incarceration. Studies show that faith programs dramatically reduce recidivism by giving incarcerated individuals hope for the future.

Remembering our brothers and sisters in prison is important this April. When I received my sentence, I felt hopeless. I left my son when he was two years old, and now, he’s graduating college. I thought I’d never get the chance to have a relationship outside the prison walls with him, but I thank God I was wrong. Gaining my freedom and improving my character through the faith programs I completed have made all the difference. Many individuals in prison today should have the opportunity to participate in a faith-based reentry program to get the tools they need, like I did, to be fully rehabilitated and productive members of society. With proper rehabilitation, everyone, not just incarcerated individuals but society, benefits.  

Charles Duke Tanner is a motivational speaker, the CEO of FreedomWear 20-0 clothing line, a former undefeated boxing champion, and an America First Policy Institute Athletes for America Ambassador.

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