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 through Manhattan, New York, in my white Mercedes Benz CL600 two-door, when we pulled up in front of a busy nightclub.

“Jamila, come with me for a moment.” Craig said jealously as he jumped out of the car and walked to the passenger door, waving me out.

“No Craig! I’m not going to any clubs tonight.” I answered firmly, leaning back in my seat and covering my thin caramel face with my big black designer glasses.

Craig proceeded to beg me to come in, but I waved him off, rolled up the window, and turned up the volume on the radio. Realizing that it was a lost cause, Craig walked into the club without me. I figured he was just going to make a quick stop, but several minutes passed and Craig still hadn’t returned. I called his phone several times, no answer.

Shaken, I got out of the car, closed the doors, and angrily proceeded to make my way into the packed nightclub. As I entered the building, I heard loud familiar voices yell, “SURPRISE, Happy Birthday!”

I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my friends, who were mostly celebrities and music industry executives. I felt honored and distinguished because everyone treated me like a queen that night. He was 25 years old and a billionaire. I had achieved what I perceived as real success. I went from being a small time girl from the suburbs of Jamaica Queens, New York to being a highly sought after and respected businesswoman. He lived in a prestigious gated community in northern New Jersey. She had a luxury collection of luxury cars and enough diamond jewelry and fur coats to fill a store. In my mind I was set up for life. Unfortunately, my success was short-lived.

On July 16, 2008, just six years later, I stood in front of Judge José Linares in Newark Federal District Court in New Jersey waiting to be sentenced on bank fraud charges. My past had suddenly 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 anxiously wanted to end the 5 year old nightmare he had encountered. In a few minutes this long saga will be over, I thought as I recited Psalm 23 in a low voice.

“I hereby sentence you to 151 months in federal prison and 5 years probation.” Judge Linares, a pudgy, middle-aged Cuban-American (who could pass for White) testified as he pounded his wooden mallet.

Inside I instantly went numb. I tried to put it together to calculate how many years 151 months equaled. “Twelve and a half years, oh, that’s crazy!” I said as the bailiff came over to stop me.

I was given a few minutes to remove my 4-carat diamond ring, diamond tennis bracelet and matching chain, and diamond-bezel watch. I kept my expensive jewelry in my huge Louis Vuitton bag, along with the keys to the new Escalade I had recently purchased. I had driven to court myself, definitely not expecting to be sent to federal prison. As I handed over my belongings to my attorney, along with the valet 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 couldn’t believe that the judge had sentenced me to over a decade behind bars.

In a matter of moments I made a huge transformation. They forced me out of my designer clothes and shoes, handing me a khaki prison jumpsuit and faded blue sneakers to change into. This can’t be so, I thought to myself. In the blink of an eye, I went from a free woman to Federal Prisoner #59253-053. I was indeed living my worst nightmare!

Stripped of all the mundane accessories I wore to hide my insecurities, I looked at myself in the small rusty mirror in my prison cell. I instantly hated the reflection of the image I saw. Loaded with pounds of guilt and shame, I was overwhelmed and discouraged. When the prison doors closed behind me, I felt like my life was over!

Day after day, I wallowed in negative thoughts, thinking about 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. He was trapped! Sobbing with anxiety and pain, my life flashed before my eyes. I thought of all the things I’d done and all the people I’d 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 was continually repeated, forcing me to realize just how groundless the superficial things I so passionately pursued were.

In despair, I reached for the Bible that a woman in the next cell had given me. For countless hours 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 still enough to listen to the calm inner voice attending to me. Instantly, I was 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 intended 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 very differently than I did before. Through my mistakes I realize the importance of education and hard work. My experience has taught me that what we think of as a shortcut always turns out to be the wrong long route!

Behind bars, I have had to raise my children in the visiting room of a prison. My son was 11 years old when I was first jailed. 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 had to bear the pain for my mistakes.

Having paid a heavy price for my actions, I realize that it was never worth jeopardizing my freedom! I am sharing my story with you so that you will pay attention to my message and learn from my mistakes. No matter how desperate it may seem or how easy you think it is to make something up, avoid crime at all costs! Whichever way you slice it, they’ll get you in the end! So, stay in school, get your education, and passionately follow your dreams. The hard work will pay off in the end and no one will take it away from you. Trust me, crime just doesn’t pay, so DON’T DO IT!

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