By: Jamila T. Davis
When I walked through the doors of Danbury Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), in August 2008, I was a nervous wreck. For many years I was far removed from street life. Living in my million dollar luxury condo, secluded in a gated community, it was a culture shock walking through the gates of the high security facility as a prisoner.
My first few days in the FCI were hell! I was surprised to run into one of my old hair dressers from back home. She had disappeared suddenly and now I knew where she was, locked up. My beautician knew me pretty well, as she had made frequent house visits to style my hair. At first it felt good to see a familiar face. Little did I know her presence would come with immediate consequences!
In prison, the first thing that is taken away is our pride and confidence. Stripped of our street clothes, make-up and jewelry, we are all on the same level, so many women try their best to be a stand out to save the last bit of their self-esteem. Often lies are told to mask feelings of hopelessness and inadequacies, so it's hard to tell what's true. With that said, when my beautician saw me, she finally felt validated to be able to say I was her client from the street, so the women could see she wasn't just a prison hair dresser. I didn't understand this at the time. All I knew was she bragged to all the women about the money I paid her, the cars I drove, the elevator in my home and the NFL player I dated, whose hair she also braided on occasion. I was furious! In a den of hungry lions, she made me out to be a prissy, rich chick from New York City, which instantly brought me drama. Thinking I was an easy target, one of the women she worked with pressed me and it was on and popping from there!
I couldn't believe what my life had resulted to. I felt like an animal trapped in the jungle. I was miserable and desperately wanted a way out, but I was stuck! Fights were breaking out all around me, including passionate lover quarrels. To think I had to spend 12 1/2 years under these gritty conditions sent me into a deep depression.
Frustrated beyond belief, I buried my head in the books at the law library, praying for a way out. At one of my darkest moments, I met a bright light. I was blessed to be introduced to Michelle West, a smooth tone, brown skinned woman from Detroit, Michigan, who looked good for her age. I complained to Michelle about my experience. She asked me about my sentence and I broke down and cried. I told her I was given 12 1/2 years and there was no way I could make it. Her response I will never forget. It was what I least expected!
Michelle told me she was sentenced to LIFE in prison plus 50 years, as a non-violent drug offender. When she explained the details of her case, my mouth dropped. I stood shocked, in disbelief! She told me she had been down for close to two decades. She said my sentence was chump change, compared to hers, and I needed to boss up and deal with it. This woman spoke with extreme calmness and confidence. From her demeanor she appeared not to have a care in the world, yet that was far from the truth! I instantly admired her strength and courage, and was drawn to her.
After my conversation with Michelle that day, we became close friends. Daily she schooled me on how to do my time. She said the key to staying sane was to be productive. I followed her advice to the letter, which helped me to cope tremendously through my journey of incarceration.
Michelle is an OG! Despite the hand she's been dealt, she's made the best out of it and has inspired many others, such as myself, to hold on. Michelle has been away from her family for over two decades and is in a desperate fight to regain her freedom. Her only hope is to gain a pardon from President Obama. Her daughter Miquelle is working passionately for her mother's release. She is looking for help to rally her cause.
I want to share with you a clip from a documentary produced about Michelle West, so you can become more familiar with her story. Please watch the full link at https://revolt.tv/stories/2016/11/02/watch-freemichellewest-0700eb5980, and support the release of this incredibly courageous woman!
Michelle, I want you to know I love you and miss you very much! I am grateful for you teaching me the ropes. Without your help, I'm not sure I could have made it. Keep the faith and know change MUST come! You are deeply in my thoughts and prayers. You will overcome this tribulation! And, you will come out like pure gold!!