“For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.”
Proverbs 24:16, KJV
“Never surrender, it’s all about the faith you got: don’t ever stop, just push it ’till you hit the top and if you drop, at least you know you gave your all to be true to you, that way you can never fall.”
When I started writing this series, I titled the first entry, The Glamorous Life. I named it so because as a young girl, I developed a fascination with gangstas and thug life that damn near took over my own life. In my eyes, the people that I saw on music videos and in blaxploitation films were the coolest, most hip individuals I would ever see on this earth; thus, they were glamorous to me. They had so much money, such great power and the utmost respect, especially the men. And while I sat and watched those characters play their roles on television and in movies, it never dawned on me that the consequence of their actions usually resulted in jail time or worse! I sometimes wonder if the idea of incarceration had been more of a reality to me, would that have stopped my participation in criminal activity? God only knows. I had a determination so great to fit in and be like everyone else, that I think Jesus Christ himself would have had to come down from Heaven to make me have several seats and get my life.
Nevertheless, I committed the crime and served my time, so I try not to dwell on that part of my life too much, you know? What’s done is done and I can’t change the past, but I can (and do) recognize the blessing that came out of my mistake. I am a better person for having endured those six months behind bars. I learned to appreciate my family and my life, two things I had taken for granted for far too long. My parents worked very hard to provide a great life for me. They instilled greatness in me from the moment of my conception and now that I know better, I owe it to them to live up to their expectations.
Because I didn’t want prison to define my life, my level of motivation increased tremendously once I got home. The first goal I set out to accomplish–graduate from college. After a few years of working like a slave for minimum wage, I decided to really put forth the effort to obtain my degree. It took me a total of 10 years to complete all my coursework, but I finally graduated from Langston University in the summer of 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism. I got a job in my field a few months later and I thought I had made it to the finish line!
As I’ve stated before, it’s funny how life turns out sometimes.
I thought overcoming my past would be my most difficult life battle, but when I got fired from my job-twice-and got denied for unemployment benefits, I realized my battles had only just begun! Also, my past life that I so desperately tried to outrun had finally resurfaced and I had no choice but to address it and accept it as a part of me, once and for all.
While searching for another job in my field, I got hired as a substitute teacher at the school where my Dad served as Superintendent. My favorite grades to sub for were the middle school kids, sixth and seventh graders. They reminded me of myself at that age–so naive, so impressionable. Somehow, some way, several students discovered that I had done time in the penitentiary and they became absolutely enthralled with all things Shaunna. They wanted to know what I did, where I did my time, how long did I stay and on and on and on… At first, I thought it best not to discuss that part of my life with those kids. I didn’t want to give them the impression that going to jail was cool. I didn’t want them to do what I had done at their age and glamorize thuggish images or thuggish mentality. I didn’t want any one of those kids to do something stupid that they might never be able to live down in life. I eventually let my guard down and shared my story with the class. I explained that I had broken the law and as a result, I would be considered an ex-con for the rest of my life. I stressed the importance of following rules and obeying parents. I really tried to say the right things, to be a positive influence on their young lives.
I realized later that the Heavenly Father had blessed me yet again. My chance for redemption had finally come and I felt like I had passed my test! I could have told those children anything and they would have gobbled it down and begged for more. Instead, I chose to follow the path of righteousness and be the leader my parents raised me to be.
I know it’s typical for an ex-con to say, “Prison changed me.” But in my case, it really did. For the longest time, I thought it changed me in a bad way, because within those walls, I learned how to be more scheming, more conniving, more manipulative. I learned how to be a better criminal. I also learned to view life from a completely different perspective, and now I know that it changed me in a good way. I am no longer concerned with being cool. I am perfectly happy with being myself and spreading that contentment to others. I used to think going to prison ruined my life, but after writing this series, I believe my incarceration brought me closer to God. In spite of all my trials and tribulations, I can still see how much He has done for me and the best is yet to come. Until next time…