Nate Sanders

Nate Sanders, 63, has spent almost half of his life in prison, sentenced to an indeterminate term for murder. After more than 20 unsuccessful parole hearings, he had little reason to hope for his release.

“For a while, I was really on the edge,” he recalls. “I was doing all I could, earning good time, but nothing happened. It frustrated me to the point that I almost gave up.”

Sanders had a strength in reserve, however: his devoted, close-knit family. His devotion to them – five sisters, a daughter, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren – never flagged. They, in turn, rallied around him, encouraging him to retain his optimism and keep alive his abiding faith.

“I’ve got the support of the right people in my life.”

He responded by pursuing every educational opportunity he could find – from criminal law to architectural drafting, and much in between. He read everything he could find that had the possibility of helping him stay current on what was happening in the world outside prison walls.

“The key,” he says, “is not to think you know so much. If you do, you fall by the wayside.”

He labored long hours as a clerk and, later, in data processing, realizing that learning computer skills was vital, especially in view of the accounting education he earned as a youth. He was elected President of the JCs, and honed his leadership skills by directing the chapter through the process of managing and coordinating various charitable events. “That experience taught me a lot because I’m very business-oriented.”

Sanders was finally paroled in 2008, only to be welcomed on the outside by the dauntingly oppressive economic recession, which obviously made finding gainful employment an even greater challenge than normal. But with his naturally positive attitude and usual pluck, he didn’t let that prevent him from succeeding.

“You gotta knock them doors down and talk to people,” he says. “If you help yourself and people see you trying, they’ll help you.”
Never one to shun manual labor, he quickly got a job as a maintenance worker – first as a janitor and, eventually, as a supervisor of a Safer Foundation crew working with the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation. Despite his keen mind and sharp wit, he enjoys the exercise benefits of physical work such as landscaping and painting, which he hopes to continue doing.

Sanders is also a dedicated member of the Campaign in Support of C-number Prisoners. He remembers all too clearly his own despair and frustration as hearing after hearing ended unsuccessfully. He works tirelessly on behalf of those still behind bars, offering support, hope and counsel. He knows the dejection they inevitably feel at hearing hackneyed boilerplate excuses for their parole denials. And he can empathize with those prisoners who face the burden of trying to satisfy a supposedly rehabilitative corrections system that has lost sight of its purpose.

“There are guys in there who I know deserve parole – I mean I’ve known them for 10 or 15 years,” he insists. They deserve to be helped. They need to know they’re not alone.”

In addition to his work on behalf of C-number prisoners, Sanders seeks out any and all opportunities to sound the alarm about life behind prison walls. With the help of his sister – a Baptist minister – and a friend who once worked for the Cook Country Sheriff’s Department, he is bringing his cautionary message to troubled teens throughout the City of Chicago, speaking at community centers and juvenile detention facilities. He hopes to reach as many as possible among their generation…before it’s too late.