When we first published his story, below, Charles was serving a 30-year sentence in federal prison for running a large cocaine conspiracy. Despite his “kingpin” conviction, he was transferred to a camp in 2009 for extraordinary rehabilitation and persistent community service. He has since been released from prison early. We will keep you posted about what he’s up to now.
In 1992, 23-year-old Charles Dunn was convicted of running a large cocaine conspiracy in Columbus, Ohio. Instead of cooperating with the prosecution to reduce his sentence, Charles went to trial and received 30 years in federal prison.
Since his incarceration, Charles has not only turned his own life around, but influenced many others in the process. In addition to completing almost 90 different courses, he taught advanced poetry, anger management, successful living, and led the mentor group at FCI Elkton for many years. He facilitated a support group for men in the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), a long-term curriculum designed to prepare prisoners for a sober reentry. Charles discovered the power of creative writing as a means to connect with others and consequently founded the largest event at his facility—the Annual Poetry Slam. In 2006, he was chosen to deliver the commencement speech for GED, Kent State University, and UNICOR apprenticeship graduates.
Charles’s positive influence extends far beyond prison walls. He has mentored many people, including his nephew, Dwight. Dwight’s mother Lillie, a veteran police officer, was left to raise her son after a difficult divorce. She writes: “Mr. Charles Dunn has taught Dwight respect of self, respect of religion, respect of others, accountability [and] responsibility.” Lillie attributes her son’s enormous academic and athletic success, as well as his healthy personal relationships, largely to his relationship with Charles.
Because of his extraordinary rehabilitation and persistent community service, Charles’s unit manager, J. Streeval, advocated for his transfer to a camp, a placement generally prohibited for anyone convicted as a drug conspiracy leader. However, with a glowing recommendation from the staff and warden of FCI Elkton, the BOP’s regional director waived the restriction in Charles’s case. At the end of 2009, Charles was granted a 27-hour furlough to travel by himself to the prison camp in Atlanta. He is now working with fellow prisoners and staff to initiate impactful community development and youth outreach programs.
What got me on the path of helping or mentoring others was simply witnessing so many men that were broken … who couldn’t read; others that wanted to commit suicide because of their bad choices; some [that] lacked a sense of self. No person should be able to simply ignore the suffering of others. Sometimes we need to slow down long enough to re-examine our footprints. We need to stop doing what we were taught to do long enough to discover what we were born to do. I was able to reconnect with my true self by assisting others. I’ve learned that what you do for others … you actually do for yourself. Even though I have a lengthy sentence, I’m not discouraged, defeated, or depleted. Instead, I am encouraged, transformed, and unleashed.
Charles Dunn’s incredible optimism and sense of duty to others drives him to work for social change from inside a prison cell. His success embodies the idea that a person does not have to be defined by their circumstances.