RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Time, now, for StoryCorps and today, a story of a life transformed. Julie Sanders is a mother of three from Portland, Oregon. She's 40 now, but when she was a teenager - 16 - she belonged to a white supremacist group. And one night in 1988 she found herself at the scene of a murder. She's kept this a secret from most of those she's close to. In fact, before sitting down with a friend at StoryCorps, Julie had rarely talked about her past at all.
JULIE SANDERS: I was on a search for people who wanted me around. My parents didn't. And there was nothing about me that felt special. So when I met these friends, it didn't matter if I was pretty or funny. None of that mattered. They liked me because I was white. Every weekend, we drank and then drove around, looking for a fight. And on nights they didn't have anyone to beat up, I was the target - even being almost choked to death by my boyfriend.
One time, six of us all get into the car. And there is another car. And in the car was - three black guys. A fight erupted. My boyfriend grabbed the bat. And I could see, from the back seat, the bat being swung; a man falling to the ground; and then everybody running. The man died. He was born in Ethiopia and had a son, but we just saw black.
After the murder, I ended up going to a girls' reformatory. And I have spent a lot of years just hiding from it; even, you know, when it would creep up on me in the middle of the night. It really didn't seem like a reality until I hit 20 and had my own son.
I think that I certainly have raised my kids different. All three of my kids are confident; care about other people. You know, my 16-year-old protects a cross-dresser at school. And when my kids do something like that, it really makes me feel like I am kind of changing that cycle. But I just still feel like - not a good person. And I don't forgive myself.
MONTAGNE: That's Julie Sanders at StoryCorps in Portland, Oregon. She recently completed a degree in social work, and she plans to work with kids who are at risk of joining hate groups. Julie Sanders' interview will be archived at the American Folk Life Center, at the Library of Congress. The StoryCorps podcast is at npr.org.