It was a hot, humid night on July 11, 2002. My friend Craig Boogie was driving me through Manhattan, New York, in my white two-door Mercedes Benz CL600 when we pulled up to 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, gesturing for me to get out.
“No, Craig! I’m not going to any club tonight.” I answered flatly, leaning back in the seat and covering my thin caramel face with my big black designer glasses.
Craig proceeded to beg me to come in, but I dismissed him, rolled up the window, and turned on the radio. Seeing that it was a desperate cause, Craig entered the club without me. I figured he’d just make a quick stop, but several minutes passed and Craig still hadn’t returned. I called his phone several times, with no answer.
Agitated, I got out of the car, locked the doors and angrily proceeded to make my way to the crowded nightclub. When 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 executives from the music industry. I felt honored and distinguished because everyone treated me like a queen that night. He was 25 years old and a billionaire. He had reached what he perceived as true success. I went from being a small-time girl from the suburbs of Jamaica Queens, New York, to being a respected and highly sought-after businesswoman. He lived in a prestigious gated community in northern New Jersey. He had a collection of high-end luxury cars and enough diamond jewelry and fur coats to fill a store. In my mind I was determined to live. Unfortunately, my success was short-lived.
On July 16, 2008, just six years later, I stood in front of Judge José Linares in the United States District Court of Newark in New Jersey waiting to be sentenced on bank fraud charges. Suddenly my past had caught up with me. What I perceived as a common business shortcut ruined my life and destroyed my business.
My heart began to race as I waited for the judge to impose his sentence on me. It had been 5 long years since my federal investigation began. He eagerly wanted to end the 5 year nightmare he 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 hereby 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) testified as he struck his wooden mallet.
Inside I was instantly numb. I tried to put it together to calculate how many years equaled 151 months. “Twelve and a half years, oh that’s crazy!” I said when the bailiff came over to stop me.
They gave me a few moments to remove my 4 carat diamond ring, my matching diamond tennis bracelet and chain, and my diamond bezel watch. I stuffed my expensive jewelry into my oversized Louis Vuitton bag, along with the keys to the new Escalade I had recently purchased. I made my way to court, definitely not expecting to be sent to federal prison. When I handed my belongings over to my attorney, along with the valet parking ticket for my car that was parked in the municipal courthouse parking lot, his face turned beet red. It was clear that he too was caught off guard and could not believe that the judge had sentenced me to more than a decade behind bars.
In a matter of moments I made a great transformation. They forced me to take off my designer clothes and shoes, and gave me a khaki prison jumpsuit and worn blue sneakers to change into. This can’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. In fact, I was living my worst nightmare!
Stripped of all the worldly accessories I used to hide my insecurities, I stared in the small rusty mirror in my prison cell. Instantly, I hated the reflection of the image I saw. Full of pounds of guilt and shame, he was overloaded and discouraged. When the prison doors closed behind me, I felt like my life was over!
Day after day, I wallowed in negative thoughts, interpreting the 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. Was caught! Sobbing with anxiety and pain, my life passed before my eyes. I thought of all the things I had done and all the people I did my best to please. Even more disappointing, I was abandoned by those who I thought were really my friends. The sharp ache of pain and disappointment repeated continually, forcing me to realize how unfounded were the superficial things that I so passionately pursued.
Desperate, desperate, I looked for the Bible that a woman in the next cell had given me. For countless hours I read. Each page that ended, seemed to get stronger. In the darkest place in my life, through the word of God, I could see the light. For the first time in many years, I was quiet enough to hear the quiet inner voice ministering to me. Instantly, I was condemned. I knew that to survive the long journey ahead of me, 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 that 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 that what we think is a shortcut always turns out to be the wrong way!
Behind bars, I had to raise my children in a prison 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 missed. Not only have I had to suffer, my family has also been left with the pain of my mistakes.
Having paid a severe price for my actions, I realize that nothing was worth jeopardizing my freedom! I am sharing my story with you so that you can hear my message and learn from my mistakes. No matter how desperate it may seem or how easy you think it is to do something, avoid crime at all costs! Either way you cut it, you will be caught in the end! So, stay in school, get your education, and passionately follow your dreams. Hard work will pay off in the end and it won’t be taken away from you. Believe me, crime just doesn’t pay, so DON’T DO IT!