It was a hot, humid night on July 11, 2002. I was being chauffeured around Manhattan, New York City, in my two-door, white, Mercedes Benz CL600 by my friend Craig Boogie, when we pulled in front of a busy night club.
“Jamila come with me for a moment.” Craig said zealously as he jumped out of the car and walked around to the passenger door, signaling for me to get out.
“No Craig! I ain’t going to no club tonight.” I responded adamantly, reclining my seat back and covering my slim, caramel toned face with my large, black designer glasses.
Craig proceeded to plead that I come in, but I dismissed him, rolled up my window and turned up the radio. Seeing that is was a hopeless cause, Craig went into the club without me. I assumed he was only going to make a quick stop, but several minutes went by and Craig had still not returned. I called his phone several times, no answer.
Agitated, I got out of the car, locked the doors and angrily proceeded to make my way into the jam-packed night club. As I entered the building, I heard loud familiar voices shout, “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 they all treated me like a queen that night. I was 25 years old and a multi-millionaire. I had made it to what I perceived was true success. I went from being a small-time girl from the suburbs of Jamaica Queens, New York to being a well-sought out, respected business woman. I lived in a prestigious gated community in Northern, New Jersey. I had a high-end collection of luxury cars and enough diamond jewelry and fur coats to fill up a store. In my mind I was set for life. Unfortunately, my success was shortly lived.
On July 16, 2008, just six years later, I stood in front of Judge Jose Linares at the Newark Federal District Court in New Jersey awaiting to be sentenced on bank fraud charges. My past had suddenly caught up to me. What I perceived as a common business short cut had ruined my life and destroyed my business.
My heart began to race as I waited for the judge to impose his sentence upon me. It had been 5 long years since my federal investigation began. I anxiously wanted to end the 5 year nightmare I had encountered. In a few minutes this long saga will be all over, I thought to my self as I recited Psalms 23 silently underneath my breath.
“I hereby sentence you to 151 months in federal prison and 5 years probation.” Judge Linares, a plump, middle aged Cuban-American (who could pass for White) declared as he banged his wooden gavel.
Inside I instantly became numb. I tried to pull it together to calculate how many years 151 months equated to. “Twelve and a half years, oh that’s crazy!” I said as the bailiff came over to take me into custody.
I was given a few moments to remove my 4 carat diamond ring, my diamond tennis bracelet and matching chain, and my diamond bezel watch. I tucked my expensive jewelry into my oversized Louis Vuitton bag, along with the keys to the brand new Escalade I had recently purchased. I had driven myself to court, definitely not expecting to be sent to federal prison. As I handed my belongings to my lawyer, along with the valet ticket for my car that was parked in the court’s municipal parking lot, his face turned beet red. It was clear he also was caught by surprise and couldn’t believe the judge had sentenced me to over a decade behind bars.
In a matter of moments I made a huge transformation. I was forced to remove my designer clothes and shoes, and I was handed a khaki prison jumpsuit and rundown, blue skip sneakers to change into. This couldn’t be so, I thought to myself. In the blink of an eye, I went from being a free woman to federal prisoner #59253-053. I was indeed living my worst nightmare!
Stripped of all the worldly props I used to hide my insecurities, I stared in the small, rusted mirror in my prison cell. Instantly, I hated the reflection of the image I saw. Filled with pounds of guilt and shame, I was over-burdened and disheartened. When the prison doors shut behind me, I felt like my life was over!
Day in and day out, I wallowed in my negative thoughts, playing out my funeral arrangements in my mind. Confined to a 5 1/2 x 9 prison cell, I had no one to lean on or turn to. I was trapped! Sobbing with anxiety and grief, 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, I was abandoned by those I thought were really my friends. The sharp pain of hurt and disappointment repeated continuously, forcing me to realize how baseless the superficial things I chased so passionately after were.
Desperate in despair, I reached for the Bible a women in the next cell had given me. For countless hours on end I read. Each page I finished, the stronger I seemed to get. In the darkest place of my life, through the word of God, I was able to see the light. For the first time in many years, I was quiet enough to listen to the still inner voice that ministered to me. Instantly, I was convicted. I knew in order to survive the long journey that was ahead I had no choice but to change my ways and follow the path God desired for me.
This journey has not been easy, but I can say with 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 what we think is a short cut always turns out to be the long wrong route!
Behind bars, I’ve had to raise my children from a prison visiting room. My son was 11 years old when I was first incarcerated. This past June he graduated from high school, which was one of the many memorable occasions I’ve missed out on. Not only have I had to suffer, my family has also been left to bare the pain for my errors.
Having paid a severe price for my actions, I realize nothing was ever worth jeopardizing my freedom! I’m sharing my story with you so you can take heed to my message and learn from my mistakes. No matter how desperate you may seem or how easy you think it is to make a come up, avoid crime at all cost! Which ever way you cut it, in the end you will get caught! Therefore, stay in school, get your education and passionately follow your dreams. Hard work will pay off in the end and it won’t be snatched away. Take it from me, crime just doesn’t pay, so DON’T DO IT!