Imagine being a back-up point guard on a high school basketball team that also has a future Hall of Fame Baseball Player on the roster…
Now imagine needing that player to write a letter that says you’re ready to return to society 35 years later.
This is the connection of Leesester “Papa” Chandler and Hall of Fame baseball player Kenny Lofton.
Chandler and Lofton both grew up in East Chicago, Ind. Chandler grew up in the West Calument Housing Projects, while Lofton lived just outside the projects.
“Kenny and I played sports together since we were 8 years old, starting with Pop Warner football, all the way to high school at East Chicago Washington,” Chandler said. “We all had it rough in that area, whether you lived in the projects or not. My first interaction with the police was my eighth grade prom. I’d driven without a license, but my mother had a lot of connections to the street with officers, so I was let go with a scolding.”
Sports gave Chandler a way to have some discipline in his life. If he didn’t follow the guidelines laid out by his family, he’d have to live someplace else.
Chandler played football and basketball in high school; he transferred from E.C. Roosevelt to E.C. Washington, where he and Lofton reconnected on the court. While at E.C. Roosevelt, Chandler played against future NBA Champion Rick Fox.
Moving to California in June of 1987, Chandler worked and played street ball. It just so happens that four of his high school teammates were already in Los Angeles, so they won several street tournaments.
In June 2000, Chandler was arrested and charged with illegal possession of a handgun. Having been convicted previously for a kidnap-robbery years earlier, under California’s Three Strikes Law he was given 25-to-life.
Chandler has taken self- help groups during his incarceration, including CGA (Criminals and Gangsters Anonymous) and Restorative Justice, as well as being a mentor in West Care. West Care is a substance abuse program.
“As I was getting ready for my Board of Parole hearing, my cousin’s wife, Michelle, asked if she could help me in any way,” Chandler said. “I asked her if she could ask Kenny if he’d write me a letter of support. My childhood friend…my teammate and now family member said it wouldn’t be a problem at all to help me out. When I got the letter, I was truly humbled…I hadn’t spoken to him since we were in high school but to know that our friendship still endured across time and space….Man, that meant a lot.”
Currently, Chandler is waiting for his sentencing reduction hearing.
Here is an excerpt from the letter written by Hall of Fame baseball player Kenny Lofton:
“…I am writing this letter on behalf of Mr. Chandler (Papa) as we call him… (we) grew up in the same neighborhood and going to school with him, interacting with him was such a great pleasure…I can guarantee that if he’s released, he will become a great pillar in the community. Sometimes it takes us men to fall down in order to bring ourselves back up to where we should be…”