From her earliest days, Chanda's attitude toward life was simple: "It's me against the world." She was bullied for her weight as a little girl and got into fights. In second grade, she was kicked out of school for the first time.
But Chanda's childhood struggles were minor compared to being violated by her mother's boyfriend when she was 12—and the betrayal she felt when her mother would not stand up for her. Before she started 8th grade, Chanda was removed from her mother's home by child protective services and sent to a girls' home. Her life spiraled from bad to worse as she started down a path that included running away and addiction to alcohol and drugs.
"I just wanted oblivion," Chanda explains. "That's what I had been searching for my whole life."
'I just wanted oblivion. That's what I had been searching for my whole life.'
Quickly Chanda's path led to stripping, being trafficked to Florida, a dozen arrests for prostitution and dealing crack, and three prison sentences—all by the age of 24.
The third time Chanda was sentenced, she served her time at the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, Oklahoma. There, she heard the good news of God's love for her and gave her life to Christ. After release, she joined a church where she sang in the choir and worked as the pastor's secretary. Chanda was amazed when she learned that the associate pastor had feelings for her—even though he knew about her past.
"I just thought, 'If a man of God could take interest in me after all of that, I'm going to have some heaven right here on earth,'" Chanda says.
But life wouldn't go as smoothly as she hoped.
Chanda worked two jobs to make sure she and her husband had all the things she thought a preacher and his wife needed: a Cadillac, nice clothes, and big, fancy hats for Chanda. But their marriage was full of strife and betrayal. Chanda's life as a pastor's wife was nothing like what she had dreamed it would be.
Chanda's life as a pastor's wife was nothing like what she had dreamed it would be.
Although their marriage was on the rocks, Chanda was overjoyed when she learned she was pregnant. She had wanted to be a mother for a long time. She gave birth to a daughter who she named Kachandra in November 2000. But three months later, the unthinkable happened—little Kachandra died due to reactive airway disease. At first, Chanda threw herself into work to deal with her depression. Then Chanda started using crack again on Kachandra's first birthday. She had been clean for six years. But in her grief, Chanda fell deeper into addiction than ever before.
As a new mom, Chanda had gotten braids put in her hair to make it easy to care for. After her baby died, she never took them out and they turned into dreadlocks. She didn't care about anything but her next hit. Chanda didn't want to sell her body anymore, so she sold drugs to fund her addiction.
Seven years of darkness came to an end when Chanda was arrested in 2007. This time, she faced life without the possibility of parole. Chanda prayed to God, telling Him, "Look, if I have any say so, I'd rather not do life without parole. But nevertheless, if this is what you have for me and I have to spend the rest of my natural life in prison, don't let it be in vain."
'[God] if this is what you have for me and I have to spend the rest of my natural life in prison, don't let it be in vain.'
GETTING HONEST AND LETTING GO
Chanda was given a five-year sentence, and she promised God that she would use the time wisely. She read her Bible constantly, entered treatment for her addiction, and began attending a faith-based accountability program called Genesis One. She also read a book that helped her realize it was okay to express her true feelings to God.
"I learned He could handle my anger, and if I would just surrender my pain to Him, He would be able to use it," Chanda says. "[I learned] that God is not mad at me because I'm angry at Him. He is big enough to handle my anger, but He can't do anything with it if I don't give it to Him."
'I learned [God] could handle my anger, and if I would just surrender my pain to Him, He would be able to use it.'
A MASTERPIECE OF GOD'S GOODNESS
Chanda was released from prison in 2009, eager to start a new life of fruitfulness for God. She earned her associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees. For ten years, she worked as the Oklahoma City area director for Genesis One, the program she attended as a prisoner. And Chanda now serves as a Prison Fellowship Academy® program counselor at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in Oklahoma, a facility where she was once incarcerated. There she leads women through a curriculum designed to replace criminal thinking and behaviors with renewed purpose and biblically based Values of Good CitizenshipTM.
Chanda now marks her daughter's birthdays in a different way—not by numbing her pain with drugs but by honoring Kachandra’s life. On Kachandra's 13th birthday, Chanda started a girls' night for teenage girls at her church, inviting them to hang out and ask any questions they have without fear of judgment. On Kachandra's 18th birthday, Chanda incorporated her own non-profit, starting a transitional house for women called The RAFT.
Chanda's life verse is Romans 8:28: "All things are working together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose."
"In a stained-glass window, all those little intricate pieces of glass had to be broken," she says. "They had to be shaped to create those pictures. And so that's what my life is like. It's a collection of little broken pieces that hopefully, by the time it's over, will be a masterpiece of His goodness."
'In a stained-glass window, all those little intricate pieces of glass had to be broken. ... That's what my life is like. It's a collection of little broken pieces that hopefully, by the time it's over, will be a masterpiece of His goodness.'