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A Sudden Awakening:A Cautionary Tale For Today’s Youth!

It was a hot, humid night on July 11, 2002. My friend Craig Boogie was driving my two-door white Mercedes Benz CL600 around Manhattan, New York City, when we faced a busy night. club.

“Jamila, come with me for a moment.” Craig said eagerly as he jumped 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, leaning back in my seat and covering my slim, caramel-toned face with my large black designer glasses.

Craig started begging me to come in, but I dismissed him, rolled up the window and turned up the radio. Seeing that this was a hopeless case, Craig went into the club without me. I assumed he would just make a quick stop, but a few minutes passed and Craig still hadn’t returned. I called his phone several times, but he didn’t pick up.

Excitedly, I got out of the car, locked the doors, and angrily headed for the packed nightclub. As I entered the building, I heard loud familiar voices shouting, “SURPRISE, happy birthday!”
I received hugs and kisses from my friends, who were mostly celebrities and music industry executives. I felt honored and privileged to be treated like a queen by everyone that night. I was 25 years old and a multimillionaire. I reached what I felt was real success. I went from being an underage girl from the suburbs of Jamaica Queens, New York to a sought-after and respected businesswoman. I lived in a prestigious gated community in Northern, New Jersey. I had a collection of high-end luxury cars and enough diamond jewelry and furs to fill a store. I mentally prepared for life. Unfortunately, my success was short-lived.

On July 16, 2008, just six years later, I stood before Judge Jose Linares in the Federal District Court in Newark, New Jersey, awaiting sentencing on bank fraud charges. My past suddenly caught me. What I thought was a generic business shorthand ruined my life and ruined my business.

My heart began to pound as I waited for the judge to hand down his sentence. It has been a long 5 years since my federal investigation began. I was anxious to end the 5 year nightmare I was facing. This long saga will be over in a few minutes, I thought to myself as I silently read Psalm 23 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 could hand over White) when he struck his gavel.

I immediately went numb inside. I tried to add it up to calculate how many years 151 months equals. “Twelve and a half years, oh, that’s crazy!” I said when the bailiff came to take me into custody.

I was given 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 my large Louis Vuitton bag, along with the keys to my recently purchased brand new Escalade. I drove myself to court, definitely not expecting to be sent to federal prison. When I handed over my belongings to my lawyer, along with the driver’s license for my car parked in the municipal parking lot of the courthouse, his face turned beet red. It was clear that he too was taken by surprise and could not believe that the judge had sentenced him to more than a decade behind bars.

I went through a huge transformation in no time. I was forced to take off my designer clothes and shoes and change into a khaki prison uniform and battered blue sneakers. This can’t be, I thought to myself. In the blink of an eye, I went from a free woman to a federal prisoner (#59253-053). I was truly living my worst nightmare!

Stripped of all the worldly paraphernalia I used to hide my insecurities, I stared at the small, rusty mirror of my prison cell. I immediately hated the reflection of the image I saw. I was filled with so much guilt and shame, overwhelmed and depressed. When the prison doors closed behind me, I felt like my life was over!

Day after day, I was immersed in my negative thoughts, playing out my funeral arrangements in my mind. Locked in a 5 1/2 x 9 jail cell, I had no one to lean on or turn to. I’m trapped! Sobbing from 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 my hardest to please. It’s even more disappointing to be abandoned by those I thought were truly my friends. The sharp pain of hurt and disappointment kept recurring and made me realize how baseless the superficial things I was chasing so passionately were.

Desperately, I reached for the Bible that a woman in the next cell had given me. I read for countless hours. With each page I finished, I felt stronger. In the darkest place of my life, through the word of God, I could see the light. For the first time in many years I was quiet enough to listen to the still small voice that served me. They were immediately convicted. I knew that in order to survive the long journey ahead of me, I had no choice but to change my path and follow the path that God wanted for me.

This path was not easy, but with the grace of God I can say that I succeeded! 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 that the short way always turns out to be the wrong way to go!

I had to raise my children behind bars from the prison visiting room. My son was 11 years old when he was first imprisoned. He graduated from high school this June, which was one of the many memorable moments I missed. Not only did I have to suffer, but my family also had to bear the pain of my mistakes.

After paying a heavy price for my actions, I realized that nothing is ever worth jeopardizing my freedom! I share my story with you so that you can listen to my message and learn from my mistakes. No matter how desperate you seem or how easy you think it is to get high, avoid crime at all costs! No matter how you cut it, you’ll get caught eventually! So stay in school, study and follow your dreams with passion. Hard work pays off in the end and they don’t get carried away. Take it from me, crime just doesn’t pay, so DON’T DO IT!

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