From behind bars, Jamila T. Davis, a 39 year old federal prisoner, has turned her adversity into a media empire by launching a major movement to create awareness about the epidemic of women in prison and mass incarceration. After being sentenced to over a decade in federal prison for a nonviolent crime, and encountering what she felt was injustice, Davis was inspired to take action. While incarcerated she earned numerous degrees, wrote over a dozen books, developed a curriculum to combat female offender recidivism, co-founded a non-profit organization, started a magazine, assisted in the creation of several film projects and created a hip-hop music soundtrack. Although her accomplishment are extraordinary for a prisoner, Davis encountered many obstacles on her journey.
On July 16, 2008, in a crowded courtroom in the District of New Jersey, Jamila T. Davis stood before Honorable Jose Linares to be sentenced. The government, headed 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 defraud the now defunct Lehman Brothers Bank. With the recommendation of the government, Judge Linares sentenced Davis to 12 1/2 years in federal prison for bank fraud. Just 59 days after her sentencing, Lehman collapsed, spiraling the 2008 financial crisis. The company’s bankruptcy findings revealed the bank knowingly engaged in the same fraud that Davis was accused of inventing. Despite the new evidence that was revealed, she was unsuccessful in getting her conviction overturned. Instead of giving up hope, this courageous woman decided to take a major stand that would benefit many others!
After serving close to nine years behind bars, Davis, a Queens, New York native has become the face of the popular #WomenOverIncarcerated movement. It was launched to create awareness about the lengthy sentences many women are serving as non-violent offenders. The movement was birthed after Cultural QuantiX conducted a study that revealed women who are white-collar offenders often receive 300% greater sentences than white men who commit the same or similar crimes. In Davis’s case, the seasoned, white, male attorney and mortgage broker, who instructed Davis and utilized their licenses to close the deals, each received two year prison terms. Davis’s sentence was over six times greater than theirs.
In 2013, directly following the results of the study, Davis met Grammy award winning singer Lauryn Hill at the Danbury Federal Prison Camp in Danbury, Connecticut. Ms. Hill was serving a ninety day sentence for tax evasion. According to Davis, Hill encouraged her and the women she was housed with to use their faces and stories to shed light on the injustice found in the study. She also assisted Davis in creating the structure for a non-profit organization, which Hill named “WomenOverIncarcerated.”
Inspired by Hill, Davis became a best selling author of “The High Price I Had To Pay” Book Series. The series give women behind bars a platform to tell their stories. Each volume features women serving decade plus sentences for non-violent crimes. In addition to writing books, Davis has become a prison reform activist. With over 30,000 loyal followers on Instagram (@jamilatdavis), she openly showcases the faces of incarcerated women and tells their stories to create awareness for her cause. The beauty and courage of these female offenders have gained the support of notable celebrities, causing many of their posts to go viral.
While incarcerated, Davis has also assisted in the creation of several film projects including a docu-series, done in collaboration with Hill, and the upcoming reality show “Left Behind.” The show which is hosted by Davis’s 20 year old son, Kywuan Warren, follows the lives of children whose mothers are serving time in federal prison. In addition to film production, Davis is responsible for the creation of “Unbolted Magazine,” an informative publication that highlights stories on criminal justice and prison reform news.
Davis’s latest project is “The Pink Panther Clique” fiction series, done in collaboration with New York Times Best Selling Author, Wahida Clark who also served over a decade in federal prison for a non-violent offense. Along with Clark, this work was produced by Aisha Hall, a prisoner and author serving a 10 1/2 year sentence for wire fraud, Sunshine Smith-Williams, a former prisoner and author, and Davis. This series is loosely based on their life stories. Davis recorded “The Pink Panther Clique Music EP” to promote the series and to shed light on the talent of women behind bars. The EP is a collaboration of hip-hop music composed by incarcerated women. It features veteran rapper Sonja Holder aka Sonja Blade, Aisha Hall, Catherine Johnson, Felicia Holt and Davis.
Through media and the creative arts, Davis has joined forces with female ex-offenders across the country to create awareness about the epidemic of women in prison and mass incarceration. This change agent has taken her adversity and turned it into a media empire, spearheading a major movement, all from behind bars!