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Carl Chatman: ‘It’s nice . . . I can live in comfort today in my house’

Carl Chatman Chicago hugs his sister Theresas brother Willie sister DrethMiller look Tuesday outside DixCorrections Center. He spent 11 years

Carl Chatman of Chicago hugs his sister Theresa, as brother Willie, and sister Dretha Miller look on Tuesday outside the Dixon Corrections Center. He spent 11 years in the medium-security facility after a wrongful conviction of rape. | Mary Beth Nolan/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 12, 2013 6:35AM

DIXON — Carl Chatman walked out of Dixon Correctional Center at about 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, a free man for the first time in 11 years.

His sister, Dretha Miller, 51, was the first to throw her arms around him and weep. Willie Chatman looked at his older brother and let out a hardy “yeah, yeah” — a phrase that Chatman often used and one that bounced between the siblings like a rallying cry as they traveled to the prison to bring their brother home.

Theresa Chatman, who championed her brother’s case consistently over the past 11 years, was the last to step forward.

“It’s over,” she cried. “It’s over. It’s over.”

Chatman had less than 24-hour notification that he would be getting out of prison after the Cook County state’s attorney dismissed the rape conviction that sent Chatman to prison on a 30-year sentence.

The siblings surrounded their brother in a huddle, two weeping while the other laughed to keep from crying.

“You are free. Go hug your family,” said Russell Ainsworth of the Exoneration Project with the University of Chicago, who escorted Chatman out of the prison and in front of a waiting microphone.

“It’s all because of you, brothers and sisters,” a smiling Chatman said as he greeted his family. “I finally laughed.”

Dretha wailed.

“Hey, Tina,” he said, calling sister Theresa by her nickname.

“I am going to stay in the house everyday where I can play,” he said.

“I can’t play on the street. I have a few more scars,” said Chatman, who will turn 59 next month.

“But I am a pretty boy about the head,” he said, referring to his full head of hair.

“For close to 12 years, I been knowing this was going to happen.”

On the way to Dixon, the siblings stopped at Wal-Mart to purchase Chatman’s coming-out-of-jail outfit. Theresa insisted that the siblings be color-coordinated — red shirt, blue athletic shorts — and blue and black gym shoes.

It had been more than a decade since Theresa shopped for her brother. She bought the gym shoes a couple of sizes too small.

But Chatman was too excited to complain about pinched toes.

The only thing Chatman wanted to do was go home.

“It is a real good feeling,” Chatman told reporters. “Because it’s nice today. I can live in comfort today in my house in my neighborhood. It is almost like a dream come true.”

Chatman’s first meal outside prison was barbecue chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans at Culver’s.

He looked around nervously as he slipped into the booth and waited for his sister to write down the orders.

Afterward, the siblings climbed into Willie’s 1995 Cadillac DeVille and headed to Theresa’s house, where Chatman would be staying.

Before long, Theresa fell asleep on his shoulder — as the car traveled home.


Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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