After more than two decades behind bars, a D.C. man is home after becoming the first to be released under the District of Columbia’s expanded sentencing reform laws.
D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Anita Josey-Herring approved Michael Woody’s release earlier this month, citing his rehabilitation and education efforts while in custody. Woody, who served 25 years in prison for a murder conviction, was released from the federal facility in Loretto, Pennsylvania, last week.
His attorney said he is the first to be released under the Second Look Act Amendment, which allows felons who committed crimes before the age of 25 to petition for resentencing or early release after serving at least 15 years. The legislation, which was enacted earlier this year, expanded upon the District’s Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA) that allows for offenders who commit crimes before age 18 to petition for resentencing.
“I will work my hardest to be deserving and to show them that they made the right choice,” Woody, 46, told News4. “I know a lot of people have their faith in me, and that gives me strength, as well.”
Woody was convicted for pistol-whipping and shooting Charles Banks, a Southeast D.C. barbershop owner, following a dispute in April 1996. He was 20 years old when he committed the offense. At the time of his release, he had completed nearly half of a 52-year-to-life sentence ordered by a D.C. judge.
At his hearing, federal prosecutors supported a sentencing reduction but did not support immediate release. They noted that, while his victim’s family has previously opposed his early release, they did not weigh in on his most recent motion. News4 was unable to reach the family for comment.
Asked how his victim’s loved ones might react to his release, Woody said, “That's a hard one to answer. But what I can say is I'm a totally different man today, a better version of myself than the young individual that I (was) when I was 20 years old; more humble and empathetic and compassionate.”
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Woody’s petition for release had the backing of several local corrections officials and justice reform advocates.
“He is probably one of the most brilliant, compassionate, quiet, but also really intentional people that I've ever met,” D.C. Department of Corrections Director Quincy Booth said in an interview with News4.
Booth got to know Woody after he was transferred to the D.C. jail complex following stints in federal facilities across the county. While incarcerated, Woody secured his GED diploma, took college courses and was among a handful of people to help Booth launch a mentorship program called “Young Men Emerging” in 2018.
The Young Men Emerging program gained widespread media attention for pairing longtime inmates with the newly incarcerated. The program offers group counseling, one-on-one mentoring, job training and educational programs — all to help prepare the participants for their potential release from custody in hopes they’ll also be less likely to reoffend.
In addition to Woody, other founding members include Charles Fantroy, Halim Flowers, Momolu Stewart, Tyrone Walker and Joel Caston, who was recently elected a D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.
Wanda Patten, the D.C. Department of Corrections deputy director of operations, called working with Woody a “highlight” of her career and said, “He understands the importance of giving people the opportunity to reinvent themselves.”
And in a statement, Marc Schindler, executive director of the D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute, praised his work mentoring young offenders.
“He poured himself into the work, particularly guiding his mentees, with an unsurpassed passion and commitment,” the statement read. “As Mike has said, he saw his younger self in the young men there and he was determined to make sure they received the support he didn’t receive when he was their age, so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes he did early in his life.”
The D.C. Council passed the Second Look Act, championed by Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen, over the objections of the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
In a November 2020 Twitter post, MPD said the legislation would “provide for the early release of hundreds of violent gun offenders” and harm victims and the broader community. A 2019 press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District warned the bill would “re-victimize victims and ignore public safety.”
Federal records provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office show 67 offenders have been released under the combined IRAA law, originally passed in 2016.
Woody, who said he’s grateful to be reunited with his family after so many years away, said he plans to keep working in mentorship programs for at-risk youth and young offenders. And he noted he’ll use the “same tools” that allowed him “to successfully navigate the rough terrain of prison life” as he embarks on a new career.
He said he also bears responsibility to others seeking early release, to show the resentencing reform efforts are with merit.
“I understand that there are many more men behind me, good individuals who have transformed and who have rehabilitated themselves in a time and places and in spaces where it wasn't about rehabilitation,” he said. “They did the work, and I understand that I'm a reflection of them.”
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Katie Leslie, and shot and edited by Lance Ing and Jeff Piper.