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A Sudden Awakening:A Cautionary Tale For Today’s Youth!
It was a hot, humid night on July 11, 2002. I was being driven around Manhattan, New York in my two-door, white, Mercedes Benz CL600 by my friend Craig Boogie when we pulled over on a busy night. club
“Jamila come with me a moment.” Craig said eagerly as he jumped out of the car and walked around to the passenger door, motioning for me to get out.
“No Craig! I’m not going to any clubs tonight.” I replied adamantly, leaning my seat back and covering my slim, caramel-toned face with my large, black designer glasses.
Craig kept pleading for me to get in, but I dismissed him, rolled up my window and turned on the radio. Seeing that this was a hopeless cause, Craig went into the club without me. I figured he would just make a quick stop, but a few minutes passed and Craig still hadn’t returned. I called his phone several times, no answer.
Agitated, I got out of the car, locked the doors and angrily went to enter the crowded nightclub. As I entered the building, I heard loud familiar voices yell, “SURPRISE, Happy Birthday!”
Hugs and kisses greeted me from my friends, who were mostly celebrities and music industry executives. I felt honored and distinguished because they all treated me like a queen that night. I was 25 years old and a multi-millionaire. I achieved what I perceived to be true success. I went from being a little girl from the suburbs of Jamaica Queens, New York to being a well sought after, respected businesswoman. 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 a store. In my mind I was set for life. Unfortunately, my success was short lived.
On July 16, 2008, just six years later, I stood before Judge Jose Linares at the Newark Federal District Court in New Jersey awaiting trial on bank fraud charges. My past 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 has been 5 long years since my federal investigation began. I anxiously wanted to end the 5 year nightmare I faced. In a few minutes this long saga will be over, I thought to myself as I silently recited Psalm 23 under my breath.
“I hereby sentence you to 151 months in federal prison and 5 years probation.” Judge Linares, a chubby, middle-aged Cuban-American (who could pass for White) declared as he tapped his wooden gavel.
Inside I immediately became discouraged. I tried to pull it together to calculate how many years 151 months equals. “Twelve and a half years, oh that’s crazy!” I said as the bailiff came to arrest me.
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 put my expensive jewelry into my oversized Louis Vuitton bag, along with the keys to the brand new Escalade I just bought. I drove myself to court, certainly not expecting to be sent to federal prison. As I handed over my belongings to my lawyer, along with the valet ticket for my car, which was parked in the municipal parking lot of the courthouse, his face turned beet red. It was clear that he was also surprised 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 huge transformation. I was forced to remove my designer clothes and shoes, and was handed a khaki prison jumpsuit and worn-out blue shoes to change into. This couldn’t be like this, I thought to myself. In the blink of an eye, I went from being a free woman to federal inmate #59253-053. I was indeed living my worst nightmare!
Stripped of all the worldly props I used to hide my insecurities, I looked into the small, rusted mirror in my prison cell. Immediately, I hated the reflection of the image I saw. Filled with pounds of guilt and shame, I was overburdened and discouraged. When the prison doors closed behind me, I felt like my life was over!
Day after day, I wrapped up 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 caught! 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 had tried so hard to please. Even more disappointing, I was abandoned by those I thought were truly my friends. The sharp pain of hurt and disappointment recurred incessantly, forcing me to realize how baseless the superficial things I had been chasing so passionately were.
Desperate for despair, I reached for the Bible that the women in the next cell had given me. For countless hours I read. Every page I finished, the more I seemed to become. 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 still enough to listen to the quiet inner voice that ministered to me. Immediately, I was convicted. I knew that in order to survive the long journey that lay ahead, I had no choice but to change my ways and follow the path that God wanted for me.
This journey was not easy, but I can say by the grace of God that 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 short cut always turns out to be the long wrong way!
Behind bars, I had to raise my children from a prison visiting room. My son was 11 years old when I was first imprisoned. Last June he graduated from high school, which was one of the many memorable occasions I missed. Not only did I have to suffer, my family was also left to bear the pain of my mistakes.
Having paid a severe price for my actions, I realize that nothing is ever worth compromising my freedom! I share my story with you so that you can heed my message and learn from my mistakes. No matter how desperate you seem or how easy you think it is to come up with, avoid crime at all costs! Any way you cut it, eventually you’ll get caught! So, stay in school, get your education and passionately follow your dreams. Hard work will pay off in the end and it will not be hijacked. Take it from me, crime just doesn’t pay, so DON’T!
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