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A Sudden Awakening:A Cautionary Tale For Today’s Youth!
It was a hot, humid night on July 11, 2002. I was being driven into Manhattan, New York in my two-door, white, Mercedes Benz CL600 by my friend Craig Boogie when we pulled up in front of a busy night club.
“Jamila come with me for a moment.” Craig said excitedly as he jumped out of the car and walked to the passenger door, motioning for me to get out.
“No Craig! I’m not going to any clubs tonight.” I replied adamantly, reclining in my seat and covering my thin, caramel face with my large, black designer glasses.
Craig kept begging me to get in, but I dismissed him, rolled up my window and turned on the radio. Seeing that it was a hopeless cause, Craig went to the club without me. I assumed he was just making a quick stop, but several minutes passed and Craig still hadn’t returned. I called his phone several times, no answer.
Flustered, I got out of the car, locked the doors and angrily walked into the crowded nightclub. As I entered the building, I heard loud familiar voices call out, “SURPRISE, Happy Birthday!”
Hugs and kisses greeted me from my friends who were mostly celebrities and music industry executives. I felt honored and distinguished as everyone treated me like a queen that night. I was 25 years old and a multi-millionaire. I had reached what I perceived to be real success. I went from a little girl in the suburbs of Jamaica Queens, New York to a sought after, respected business woman. I lived in an upscale gated community in Northern, New Jersey. I had a top notch collection of luxury cars and enough diamond jewelry and fur coats to fill a store. In my mind I was ready for life. Unfortunately, my success was short lived.
On July 16, 2008, just six years later, I stood before Judge Jose Linares in Federal District Court in Newark, New Jersey, awaiting sentencing on bank fraud charges. My past had caught me off guard. What I perceived as a common business shortcut had ruined my life and ruined my business.
My heart began to race as I waited for the judge to hand down his sentence. It had been 5 long years since my federal investigation began. I was anxious to end the 5 year nightmare I had encountered. In a few minutes this long saga will be over, I thought to myself as I recited Psalm 23 silently under my breath.
“I sentence you to 151 months in federal prison and 5 years of probation.” Judge Linares, a plump, middle-aged Cuban-American (who could pass for White) declared as he tapped his wooden gavel.
I immediately went numb inside. I tried to put it together to work out how many years equals 151 months. “Twelve and a half years, oh that’s crazy! I said as the bailiff came to arrest me.
They gave me a few minutes to remove my 4 carat diamond ring, diamond tennis bracelet and matching chain and diamond bezel watch. I put my expensive jewelry in the oversized Louis Vuitton bag, along with the keys to the brand new Escalade I had recently purchased. I had driven myself to court, certainly not expecting to be sent to federal prison. As I handed over my belongings to my lawyer, along with the parking ticket for my car parked in the municipal courthouse parking lot, his face turned beet red. It was clear he was taken aback and couldn’t believe the judge had sentenced me to over a decade behind bars.
In a few moments I underwent a huge transformation. I was forced to remove my branded clothes and shoes and was given a khaki prison jumpsuit and blue skip blue trainers to change into. It couldn’t be like this, I thought to myself. In the blink of an eye, I went from a free woman to federal prisoner #59253-053. I was truly living my worst nightmare!
Stripped of all the worldly props I used to hide my insecurities, I looked at the small, rusty mirror in my prison cell. Immediately, I hated the reflection of the image I saw. Loaded with pounds of guilt and shame, I was overwhelmed and heartbroken. When the prison doors closed behind me, I felt like my life was over!
Day after day, I wallowed in my negative thoughts, replaying my funeral arrangements in my head. Locked in a 5 1/2 x 9 jail cell, I had no one to lean on or turn to. I’m trapped! Crying with anxiety and grief, my life flashed before my eyes. I thought about all the things I had done and all the people I had tried to please. Even more frustrating, I was abandoned by those I thought were truly my friends. The sharp pain of pain and disappointment kept recurring, forcing me to realize how baseless were the superficial things I so passionately pursued.
Desperate with despair, I reached for the Bible a woman in the next cell had given me. For countless hours I read. Every page I finished, the stronger I seemed to become. In the darkest part of my life, through the word of God, I was able to see the light. For the first time in many years, I was still enough to listen to the still inner voice that ministered to me. Immediately, I was convicted. I knew that to survive the long journey ahead I had no choice but to change ways and follow the path God desired for me.
This journey was not easy, but I can say by the grace of God I made it! Today, six years later, I see things so differently than before. Through my mistakes I realize the importance of education and hard work. My experience has taught me that what we believe to be the short cut always turns out to be the long wrong cut!
Behind bars, I was forced to raise my children from a prison visiting room. My son was 11 when I was locked up for the first time. Last June he graduated from high school, which was one of the many memorable occasions I missed. Not only did I have to suffer, but my family has been left to bear the pain of my mistakes.
Having paid a heavy price for my actions, I realize that nothing was ever worth compromising my freedom! I am sharing my story with you so that you will heed my message and learn from my mistakes. No matter how desperate you may seem or how easy you think it is to make a discovery, avoid the crime at all costs! No matter how you cut it, you’ll get caught in the end! So stay in school, get your education and follow your dreams with passion. Hard work will pay off in the end and they won’t take it away. Take it from me, crime just doesn’t pay, so DON’T DO IT!
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