Leading the Stage From Behind Bars

03/08/2017 02:06 pm ET
Photo credit: Danbury Federal Prison

In the face of great adversity it is common to be overtaken by fear. Surrounded by utter darkness with seemingly no way out, many easily fold. Yet, there are a rare few who manage to triumph against the odds, take a stance, and pave the way for others. These courageous soldiers leave a lasting imprint in history. Undoubtedly, Jamila T. Davis, a 39 year old federal prisoner who has served over 8 1/2 years in prison, fits in this category.

On July 16, 2008, Jamila T. Davis, a single mother of two, was sentenced to serve 12 1/2 years for bank fraud. In a crowded courtroom in the District of New Jersey, the government prosecutors, led by then U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie (now Governor of New Jersey) accused Davis of being the 25 year old mastermind who devised an elaborate scheme to victimize Lehman Brothers Bank. Just 59 days after she was sentenced, Lehman collapsed. The company's bankruptcy findings revealed that the bank knowingly engaged in the same fraud that Davis was accused of inventing. Despite the new evidence that was unveiled, Davis was unsuccessful in getting her conviction overturned. Nevertheless, this courageous inmate refused to give up hope.

From behind bars, Davis, became the face of the popular #WomenOverIncarcerated movement, launched to create awareness about the lengthy sentences many women in federal prison have received for non-violent crimes. In 2013, Jamila met Grammy award winning singer, Lauryn Hill, at the Danbury Federal Prison Camp. Ms. Hill was serving a 90 day sentence for tax evasion. Davis explained to Hill the challenges that women face behind bars and the need for change. Hill encouraged the women to use their faces and stories to shed light on the injustice. She also assisted Davis in creating the structure for a non-profit organization, which Hill named "#WomenOverIncarcerated."

"When I met Lauryn Hill back in 2013 the encounter changed my life. I had already been incarcerated for 5 years and my hope had diminished. Ms. Hill literally breathed life back into me and showed me what was possible. She gave me back my permission to dream again, and inspired me to take action. It's her belief in me and the women who we were housed with that sparked the movement," stated Davis, who is the best-selling author of "She's All Caught Up," a cautionary tale about her life growing up.

In addition to books and films, Davis also has her hand in music. Davis and Hall, who also both rap, along with a few other inmates in their social clique have recorded music from behind bars. They plan to release an upcoming mix tape "Pink Panther Clique Music," featuring the new singles "Cause I" and "You Ain't Ready." Through the creative arts, Davis is determined to showcase the talent trapped behind bars and make sure the voices of incarcerated women are heard. She is leading the stage of a major movement from behind bars.

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