From left: Matthew Charles and Kim Kardashian West
Julieta Martinelli/Nashville Public Radio via AP; Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty

Kim Kardashian West is lauding President Donald Trump for signing a bill that allowed the release of Matthew Charles, of Tennessee

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January 03, 2019 05:46 PM

Kim Kardashian West is lauding President Donald Trump for signing a federal criminal justice reform bill that allowed the release of a grandfather who had already been freed once and then sent back to prison while seeking release on drug charges.

“Just got word that Matthew Charles will be coming home within 24 hours,” Kardashian West, 38, tweeted on Thursday afternoon. “Thank you @realDonaldTrump for signing the 1st step act. This is what true bipartisanship can accomplish.”

Charles’ attorney Shon Hopwood tells PEOPLE he appears to be the first prisoner in the country to benefit from one of the reforms of the First Step Act which allowed courts to retroactively apply a 2010 law to fix the gap between heavier sentences for crack cocaine and lesser sentences for powdered cocaine.

Charles, who is reportedly 52, has public defenders who represent him in court in his drug case. Hopwood, an associate law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, worked on winning clemency from the White House — now a moot point with the First Step Act.

“It’s just one of those fun days to be a lawyer,” Hopwood says. “When you do criminal defense work, days like this don’t happen that often.” (Charles’ public defenders declined comment when reached on Thursday but confirmed his imminent release.)

Charles’ rollercoaster case traces back to the mid-’90s, when he was convicted of distributing crack cocaine and related charges, court records show.

He initially served 21 years of a 35-year sentence but was later ordered on appeal to return to prison and complete his term, according to defense filings reviewed by PEOPLE.

With the passage of the First Step Act in December — with support by Democrats and Republicans, and Trump’s signature — Charles’ attorneys pushed for a reduced sentence, citing his “extraordinary rehabilitation,” and prosecutors said they would not challenge his release.

On Thursday, the judge in his case sentenced him to time served for his decades behind bars. Hopwood says it is a matter of hours until he is released. Indeed, he may already be.

“[He’s] just elated,” says Hopwood, who spoke with Charles by phone earlier Thursday. “Just thrilled that he’s going to get his life back, and few people have earned a second chance as much as Matthew has.”

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“There is nobody that deserved to get out more than him,” Hopwood says.

He acknowledges more violent charges in Charles’ past, including kidnapping, but says, “People change” and stresses that Charles has had no issues — not a single one — in the 22 years since his cocaine conviction.

When prosecutors first sought to return him to prison, after his initial release, Charles’ case attracted a raft of media attention and support from celebrities, including Kardashian West, who has been vocal in lobbying for the release of nonviolent offenders such as Charles and Alice Marie Johnson.

A Nashville Public Radio profile ahead of his return to prison outlined his efforts to rebuild his life, including moving out of a halfway home into an apartment, finding a girlfriend, getting a job and discovering he had grandchildren.

“I was making minimum wage money and I was doing it the right way and it felt good,” Charles said then. “It felt like an achievement. It was an achievement.”

Hopwood says he met and spoke with Kardashian West at the White House in October. “She is very passionate and cares deeply about” criminal justice reform, he says.

He continues: “What I also admire about her is her willingness to help and help highlight these issues and yet a humbleness of saying, ‘I don’t know what all the right answers are, as a matter of policy, but I just don’t think people should have to serve this long in federal prison for a non-violent drug offense.’ “

Kardashian West has been careful in the past to describe her work with the president as being narrowly tied to criminal justice reform — not a reflection that she supports him more broadly. (Her husband, Kanye West, has been an ardent fan.)

Hopwood says he’s “glad to have [Kardashian West] involved in this movement.”

“We need more celebrities to wake more Americans up to the fact that we have way too many people in prison,” he says.

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