Reported by Liku Zelleke
At one time, not that long ago, Katherine Graham made choices in her life that would eventually lead her down a dark path. The economic struggles within urban communities have led many like her to turn to drug distribution as a way to provide for their families. Like a lot of women, Graham says that it was her boyfriend’s charm that led her to make decisions that she would later come to regret.
As she puts it, “I went to prison for drug trafficking. I had a boyfriend, ended up allowing him to talk me into taking some drugs somewhere.”
Graham was 20 and had a bright future ahead of her. She had good grades and had lined up three scholarships that should have led her to a life of success and prosperity. Instead, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which is a nightmare for almost any of us.
But she didn’t give up. Once released from prison, Katherine has created a life story that would make any of us proud.
Right now, Graham is an entrepreneur who owns two successful businesses: Heritage Construction and a non-profit, Do it Girl, Inc, where she teaches young women hands-on lessons about working in the construction industry.
But how did she manage to turn her fortunes around? The answer lay in a copy of Black Enterprise she managed to get her hands on while serving time.
“I left out the room to go to mail call, and I put a mint in my mouth. It slipped down my throat and I was about to die. I fell to my knees and somebody came behind and hit me in the back, and the mint fell out. Right then God talked to me like, ‘I could have killed you.’ And I realized that what was going on in my life, God didn’t want it to be. When I got to mail call, I saw this magazine called Black Enterprise. And I started looking at it,” she recalls.
The images of successful black people between the covers inspired her and she started to learn life’s lessons from their stories. She also began to dream and visualize the new path she would take once she got out of prison. She was still that smart, beautiful, intelligent girl she once was, and it was a matter of reconnecting with this potential in order to get the most out of the years ahead of her.
Katherine’s experience as a crew leader in the prison’s construction work and with Habitat for Humanity helped her learn about handling heavy construction equipment. Upon her release, she found work at a newspaper and then as a project manager in a construction company in DC.
From there Graham would make it all the way to the top. We are happy for her and excited that, despite all the odds, Katherine has found her own financial juneteenth.
You can read here to find out about how she did it.
Financial Juneteenth lessons from this story:
1) Millions of black families have been decimated by the War on Drugs and mass incarceration over the last 40 years. Basically, jobs and education were removed from urban communities, replaced by drugs and guns. The evidence says that this was no accident, leading to millions of black people being incarcerated for drugs, killed over drugs, hooked on drugs or traumatized by drug-related violence or abandonment. It has been a living nightmare, responsible for the loss of trillions in productivity from the African American community.
2) You are never too late to get things right in your life. Some people have used prison as a personal university, where in the solitude of their situations, they’ve been able to become better educated than many people with master’s degrees. If you know someone on the inside of a prison cell, encourage them to spend every waking moment preparing for when they are released.
3) Who you choose to date or befriend can make a huge difference in your life and your ability to build wealth. Choosing the wrong boyfriend, best friend or companion can make the difference between a life of college and wealth or a life behind bars. This woman learned this lesson the hard way, but at the age of 20, it’s difficult to know how to make these decisions. Warn your children of the dangers that await them in society at large.