When life gives you lemons, make orange juice: The Real Orange is the New Black story that didn't make it to Netflix
How Inmate No. 59253-O53 reclaimed her time and put a name behind her number: Jamila T. Davis Q&A
This is not an "I was innocent and framed" story. Nor is it a "woe is me" story. This is a "I messed up, I took ownership, and I took the fall for everyone" story. This is a "why you should never put your faith in the system" story. This is a "it can happen to you" story. A "the hype isn't worth losing your kids" story. Better yet, it is a "because we are mothers does not mean we are saints" story. I am giving you all these disclaimers so you can know what to expect and so that you can understand that Beaut&Beast does not just highlight the shining moments of motherhood but the setbacks, come ups, and moments when we had to fight to keep the title of Mother.
Meet Jamila T. Davis a best-selling author, motivational speaker, and prison reform advocate. The once self-made millionaire had her World turned upside down in 2007 when she was convicted of mortgage fraud and sentenced to 12+ years in federal prison. She went from raising her two young children by herself to watching them grow up from a prison cell. Rather than letting her situation cage her mentally, she put pen to the paper and created some of her best work behind bars. Check out her story below where she discusses prison, the judicial system, motherhood, and recreating your life:
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- What was your mindset like prior to receiving your conviction? Prior to becoming a convicted felon, I was a single mother and hustler. Although I loved my children, I was always on a constant search for love. It is important to understand that many of my actions were based off this search. I wanted to be loved. I am stressing this point because many of the people that are incarcerated have suffered some form of abuse whether it was emotional or physical. When you have been thru this trauma it is hard to understand how to love yourself, so you search for that love in others. So my mindset was no different. I had my son at a very young age, I suffered from low self-esteem, and I kept getting into the wrong relationships for the wrong reasons. Half the reason of my destructive behavior and crime can be attributed to looking for love in men. I got pregnant again two years after I had my son and my relationship with my daughter’s father was unsuccessful as well. It hurt me that my children had different fathers and I felt bad about my inability to provide a family. I tried to do other things to “makeup” for this and I failed miserably. Instead of investing my time into them, I was so caught up in providing materialistic items to my children and being an ultimate provider. In the end, my children needed their mother and I took that from them. They suffered for years without me because I had my mindset all wrong. I had the idea of self-love and love all wrong.
- Lehman bank had several fraudulent cases for millions of dollars all over the United States. However, you were headlined as “the woman who collapsed Lehman bank” during your trial. What is your perspective on what happened? Listen, the mortgage broker I met had the inside connects with Lehman bank on making sure the deals I did went through. A corporate lawyer structured all the deals and submitted the legal paperwork to seal those deals. They got 2-year sentences a piece. They were both white middle-aged males and no one at Lehman bank received any jail time. I was painted as the mastermind who orchestrated this elaborate scheme that resulted in this “perfect” bank failing. I admit, what I did was wrong but I was not looking to hurt anyone. My “masterplan” was to get this money, fix the homes, sell them, and pay back the loans. I saw what I did as simply a means to an end, a shortcut. My conviction taught me a hard lesson on the biases of our judicial system and it devastated me. However, to allow myself to turn into a victim would not have done me any favors. I had to change my frame of mind, educate myself, and try to understand how I could be a better person from my situation. My conviction led me to create a platform and raise awareness in regards to the lengthy sentences that are given to nonviolent criminals and first-time offenders.
- Do you feel that being an African American woman attributed to prosecutors being so harsh in your sentencing even when you tried to make a plea deal? Absolutely, racism is very prevalent in our country. I did not want to believe that. As a kid I went to mixed schools, I lived my life believing that life was fair, and I treated everyone equally. However, reality slapped me in the face when I stood trial against our justice system. If I had any doubts that my situation was uncommon, they were quickly affirmed a few years later. I was part of a study at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, CT where the sentencing against white males and other minorities in white-collared crimes were compared. The result of this study was that women get 300 percent greater sentences than white males and African-American women get 400 percent greater sentencing than white males. During my trial, the judge frowned upon me when the location of my properties were disclosed. I was making purchases on large estates in upscale areas; I was asked why I did not purchase properties in urban areas. The message I received from my sentencing, “How dare you enter the white man’s World without permission”? For that, I was punished… for daring to go into these areas of prestige versus staying in my lane.
- What is WomenOverIncarcerated and why do you feel this platform is necessary? WomenOverIncarcerated is an advocacy group created to shed light on the lengthy sentences of nonviolent, female federal offenders. Our mission is to give voice to these women and rally for sentencing reform. This platform and the discussions it creates is necessary because we have a population that has been buried alive and forgotten about. I have been able to have personable relationships with women whose lives have been taken on first offenses and nonviolent crimes. For example, my mentor Michelle West was convicted to serve two life sentences plus 50 years (CLICK HERE for an article relating to her case). I have experienced how the prison monopoly has damaged families and it compelled me to do something about it. I am giving my life to this cause until change comes because I have suffered from it on a personal level.
- Felons cannot vote, they cannot rent, 8x10 jobs will not employ them, and if they are on probation, they have to pay for classes, probation, community service, etc. as soon as they are released. What resources are out there to help felons recreate their life after incarceration? I am going to be quite honest; I do not know many resources that help people. If there are resources, they are scarce and probably extremely limited on the help they can offer. The only way you can effectively move into a life change is to start your own business or get with a trade that is felon friendly. You have to learn how to create your own resources, shine light on the epidemics we are facing, and pull your sisters or brothers together and pave the way. Learn to help yourself and others that were in an unjust situation. Many people are so shamed about being a felon that they do not want to talk about it. You have to speak out about it so other people can see and want to get involved with reforming this system.
- Do you feel that reform is really something the government wants to see or is it “once a felon, always a felon”? I think that a prisoner being reformed and their care during or afterwards is irrelevant to the government. The prison lane is a business and government officials have stock in the prisons. People enjoy people committing crimes because there is money to be made from it. We attribute to 5 percent of the World’s population yet house 25 percent of the World’s incarcerated population. The disparities in those numbers speak for the problems within the system. The government is not looking to do anything but make profit.
- Recent documentaries, books, etc. such as Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and the Netflix series, The Kalief Browder Story and 13th, etc. have compared the prison system to modern day slavery. As someone who has experienced life behind bars, what is your take? I think this is accurate. There are two type of jobs in jail, housework and hard-core work, i.e. “house nigga” and “field nigga”. You put people against each other by being selective on who gets what position and that ensures that they are not united. You tell them what to do, how to do it, when to do it and you are punished, i.e. “whipped”, if you do not work hard enough.
- Is the justice system only just for the rich? Here is the problem. The justice system is for everybody. Many of the crimes committed in the United States are nonviolent crimes. Given corrective methods and a real second chance, many of the prisoners really can change. What you see in prison is a different population than what society has us brainwashed into thinking. We have a large elderly prison population that upwards of 40,000 tax dollars are used to house in jail. What is the purpose of them being there if they can be out and paying their debts back to society? How are they a threat? When you dig deeper and start to see the disparities in the sentencing, cases, and crimes of the people actually in there you start to question justice. Why are murders, rapist, pedophiles, etc. receiving the same time as someone who evaded taxes for a couple years?
- You have written quite a few books behind bars. Which would you recommend as a first read for women and why? I would say, Unlocking the Prison Doors, is a great read to understand the message I am trying to spread. Even though it is written for women in prison, it should be a guide for women because it talks about self-love and co-dependence. For me, prison is defined as being locked in a place emotionally. I was in prison before I was there physically. That is what the book highlights, breaking women out of bondage. It raises your consciousness level even further because it is easy to get off balance on your life goals and lose sight of it all. To see a list of other books written by Jamila CLICK HERE.
- Growing up in poor urban communities, crime is almost second nature to some. Especially young black boys. To many people young men prison is a rite of passage. Why do you feel they are lured into such environments? How can we as mothers help change that perspective? Young men grow up with this mentality because these are the stereotypes created in our own community. When you are from the hood, you try to replicate what you see. Many times through our own culture, the “street life” is glorified and shown as cool. We have to show people and caution them about the detriments of this life. The majority of rappers that glorify this lifestyle have never dealt with the consequences or engaged in this lifestyle. We have to change the face of the community and create new role models. If you see a drug dealer, you want to be that. We have to start highlighting everyday people who made mistakes and came back from them. As a mother, use your life as an example that there is another way because the consequences of this street lifestyle are not worth it.
- As a multi-millionaire, I am sure you looked out for many of your friends, family, etc. prior to going away, was the same love reciprocated when you went to prison? Absolutely not, my friends forgot about me. The thing is people are in life, when life is going they are going to continue living in it. If you are not part of their present, you are forgotten about. The people I thought would be there were not and it hurt me greatly.
- Do you feel that being a mother pushed you to keep “getting to the money” even if it meant doing criminal activities? No, I had support. I just wanted to be that “cool kid” and live this hype. When I got money and started getting all the materialistic things it brought me esteem. I did not have that inner value within myself and that is where I went wrong, I did it because I was chasing an image and looking for love in the attention of people. I should have been looking inward for love and seeking the attention of solely my children.
- How did prison effect your household? My children were divided and taken away from me; other people were left to raise them. It psychologically damaged them. My parents were forced to take on my responsibilities. I missed a lot of my kid’s childhood, graduation; we had to communicate solely through writing and visitation.
- Do you advise for or against children visiting their parents in prison? It is necessary because without that interaction parents are going to lose the bond they have with their children. It is a hard time because the kids do not want to see their parents in there. However, if you do not visit them, you lose touch and forget that they are there. Even though it is painful its necessary, having that time with my children were some of my most joyful moments.
- What are your views on “a ride or die” and are there many women in jail because of this mantra? Many women are in jail because of this. Understand that anytime someone allows us to put ourselves at risk for his or her benefit than that is not real love. Every women should be their own best friend, protector, and provider. Self-love will protect you from putting someone else before yourself. We need to learn to love others as we love ourselves. That means protecting ourselves and taking our lives as serious as we do the people we love. We need to teach our children to love themselves and never compromise on self. If the person was willing to do for you what you did for them, you would not be in the situation to begin with.
- What is your take on supporting your partner as they transition from this lifestyle? One thing that I love about our men that they hustle. They develop skill sets that can be better than men working in fortune 500 companies can. Help them put a business plan together, show them they already have an entrepreneur mindset, and turn that into a business. Sometimes all people need are a little encouragement and a push in the right direction. If you love him, invest in him and vice versa. Learn what are your strengths or weaknesses and his, than use it to your advantage. People need to be lifted up and that is when they become successful so figure out how to give each other purpose. A great example, build a platform where he can help at-risk kids and see himself as an inspiration rather than failure. The Prosperity Bible, is a great read and tool for someone trying to change their life. It is a book about people who were successful in the 1800-1900’s and their principles on success and failures.
- Any last advice to mothers who may live a “fast or street” lifestyle? My advice is do not think it cannot happen to you. Everyone looks at other people and say, “that will never be me”. The truth is that your actions can catch up to you in an instant and regret kicks in immediately. If you really love your kids, you will struggle because if you are caught they will struggle. It is not worth it. At the drop of a dime, your life can change and it can all go from temporarily good to permanently bad.