Today, at age 64, Chandler is a free man, released from the vices that imprisoned his mind and body. Humbled by his experience and grateful to be liberated in more ways than one, Chandler took another step in his purpose-driven life to be the self-sacrificing person he aspired to be.
On May 31, 2014, Chandler became an ordained minister in the AME Zion Church at a conference held at Alcoa High School in northeastern Tennessee. Wiping away tears days before the conference, Chandler said, “Who am I? I’m nobody! I’m a servant. I just want to be used by God. I’m happy to be a servant. I’m nobody. God is good. He’s been good to me and showed mercy on me! I am so grateful!”
Instead of wasting away in a prison cell for committing several nonviolent crimes over a period of years, Chandler said he has worked hard to turn his life around and become a contributing member of society, thanks to the mercy shown to him.
“I got out of prison in 1993. I’ve been living in Cleveland since 1997. I’ve been attending AME Zion church since that time,” Chandler explained. “I’ve been going to school, preaching and ministering up to this day. I’m already certified as a member in good standing. Now I preach wherever they want me to go. I’m also the coordinator of AME’s prison ministry in the Chattanooga district, which has 18 to 20 churches involved. I’m trying to get more people involved in the prison ministry. I believe in going back into the prisons and telling people about God.”
In his last offense, committed Dec. 13, 1979, Chandler was found guilty of burglary in the third degree. The jury set his punishment at a minimum of six and a maximum of 10 years incarceration. However, this conviction, unbeknown to Chandler, triggered the application of Tennessee’s Habitual Criminals Act and introduced a separate proceeding in 1980 to determine whether Chandler was guilty of being a habitual criminal under Tennessee law.
Before he fully realized what was happening, Chandler was convicted and sentenced to life in prison; he was deemed eligible for parole upon serving not less than 30 years of his sentence. As each year passed, Chandler stayed busy reaching out to fellow inmates and preaching to those who would listen. Before he knew it, the converted criminal was being released on parole, in 1993.
The day of his release, Chandler married his wife, Julia, in Knoxville where NFL legend Reggie White was in attendance, according to Chandler.
“Reggie was a good friend of mine. I was with Reggie just before he passed away. We went to Atlanta and had a good time. I use to work out with him,” Chandler said. “Reggie put me in my first business, which was a salon in Knoxville. I’ve been free ever since.”
The owner of Chandler’s House of Style in Cleveland admits he was brought up in the church, but strayed and found himself running from God.
“My father’s daddy was a preacher, my father’s brother was a preacher, his kids are preachers. But I kept running through a revolving door. I had to repent, turn away from sin and not keep doing it again. God showed me how to stop running. Today I’m a minister who preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Going back into prisons with a message of hope — after living among inmates who lost all hope — has been “a blessing,” according to Chandler, a preacher at Price Memorial AME Zion church in Cleveland.
Chandler said he would like to see more preachers take the Gospel to prisoners who need to be ministered to as much as people on the outside.
The father of six daughters, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren said he has a heart for helping prisoners who need to be reminded that there are second chances for everyone, everywhere.
“Why aren’t we carrying the word about Jesus into more prisons?” he asked. “These inmates are not hopeless. They just made a mistake. Why aren’t more churches going into jails, into nursing homes, into hospitals telling people about Jesus Christ — that’s our job. Jesus said ‘I was sick and you came unto me. I was in prison and you came unto me. I needed food to eat and you came unto me.’ We’re not doing that. Why aren’t we doing what we’re supposed to be doing?”
Chandler said he will be reaching out to the faith-based community in Cleveland and Chattanooga to concentrate more on prison ministry and encouraging others to volunteer.