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A Sudden Awakening:A Cautionary Tale For Today’s Youth!
It was a hot and humid night on July 11, 2002. My friend Craig Boogie was driving me around Manhattan, New York in my two-door white Mercedes Benz CL600 as we drove into a busy night. club.
“Jamila come with me for a moment.” Craig said eagerly as he hopped out of the car and walked over to the passenger door motioning for me to get out.
“No Craig! I’m not going to any clubs tonight.” I replied firmly, tilting my back and covering my thin, caramel-colored face with my large black designer glasses.
Craig kept begging me to come in, but I turned him down, rolled up my window and turned on the radio. Seeing it as 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.
Exasperated, I got out of the car, locked the doors and angrily continued my journey to the crowded nightclub. As I entered the building, I heard loud familiar voices shouting, “SURPRISE, Happy Birthday!”
Hugs and kisses greeted me from my friends who were mostly celebrities and music executives. I felt honored and respected as they all treated me like a queen that night. I was 25 years old and a multi-millionaire. I had reached what I considered 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 a prestigious gated community in Northern, New Jersey. I had a top-of-the-line collection of luxury cars and enough diamond jewelry and furs for a store. In my mind I was ready for life. Unfortunately, my success would soon be 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 suddenly caught up with me. What I thought was a common business shortcut had ruined my life and destroyed my business.
My heart started pounding as I waited for the judge to give me his sentence. Five long years had passed since the federal investigation began. I was eager to end the 5 year nightmare I had faced. In a few minutes this long saga will be over, I thought to myself as I recited Psalm 23 quietly under my breath.
“I hereby sentence you to 151 months in federal prison and 5 years of probation.” Judge Linares, a chubby, middle-aged Cuban-American (who might have picked White), declared, banging his wooden gavel.
Inside, I immediately went numb. I tried to put it together to calculate how many years 151 months equals. “Twelve and a half years, oh, that’s crazy!” I said as the bailiff came to take me into custody.
I was given a moment to remove my 4 carat diamond ring, diamond tennis bracelet and matching chains, and diamond watch. I put my expensive jewelry in my oversized Louis Vuitton bag, along with the keys to the brand new Escalade I recently purchased. I had driven myself to court, certainly not expecting to be sent to federal prison. When I gave my stuff to my lawyer and the valet ticket for my car parked in the court’s municipal parking lot, his face turned beet red. It was clear that he was surprised too, and couldn’t believe that the judge had sentenced me to over a decade in prison.
In a few moments I made a huge change. I was forced to take off my designer clothes and shoes and was given a khaki prison jumpsuit and worn blue trainers. This can’t be, 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 stared at the small, rusted mirror in my cell. I immediately hated the reflection of the image I saw. Loaded with pounds of guilt and shame, I was overwhelmed and depressed. When the prison doors closed behind me, I felt like my life was over!
Day after day I immersed myself in my negative thoughts and replayed my funeral arrangements in my mind. I had no one to lean on or turn to in the 5 1/2 x 9 jail cell. I was trapped! Sobbing with badness and sadness, my life flashed before my eyes. I thought about all the things I had done and all the people I tried my best to please. Even more disappointing was being rejected by those I thought were truly my friends. The sharp pain of hurt and disappointment kept coming back and forced me to realize how baseless the superficial things I was chasing so passionately were.
In desperate desperation, I grabbed the Bible that the women in the next cell had given me. I read countless hours. Every page I finished, the stronger I seemed to get. In the darkest place of my life, through God’s word, I was able to see the light. For the first time in many years, I was quiet enough to listen to the still small voice within that ministered to me. I was immediately condemned. I knew that in order to survive the long journey ahead, I had no choice but to change my ways and follow the path that God wanted for me.
This journey has not been easy, but I can say by God’s grace that I did it! Today, six years later, I see things so differently than before. Through my mistakes, I understand the importance of education and hard work. My experience has taught me that a short cut always turns out to be a long wrong way!
Behind bars, I have had to raise my children from the prison’s visiting room. My son was 11 years old when I was first incarcerated. Last June, he graduated from high school, which was one of the many memorable occasions I’ve missed. Not only have I had to suffer, my family has also been left to reveal my pain for my mistakes.
After paying a heavy price for my actions, I realize that nothing was ever worth risking my freedom for! I share my story with you so that you can consider my message and learn from my mistakes. No matter how desperate you seem or how easy you think the invention is, avoid crime at all costs! Any way you cut it, you’ll get caught eventually! So stay in school, get an education and follow your dreams with passion. Hard work will pay off in the end, and it won’t be robbed away. Take it from me, crime just doesn’t pay, so DON’T DO IT!
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