Sheila Raye Charles: Forgiving Her Father
Sheila is one of 12 children that Ray Charles fathered. She was raised in Cambridge, Ohio, by her mother and didn’t meet her father until she was 14 years old. Sheila suffered sexual abuse during her childhood and as a result spent many years struggling to find her identity. At 13, Sheila moved to Los Angeles to live with her Uncle Jerry and hoped to establish a relationship with her father.
Within a year, Sheila moved back with her mom in Ohio and headed for trouble. She ran away to North Carolina. When Sheila was 16, she was in an auto accident that lodged her right eye into the back of her skull. It took her many years to recover.
She returned to Los Angeles, this time with her mom and her brother Kevin. She tried to launch a musical career and had the opportunity to record at Ray’s studio under his supervision. Sheila travelled with the DeBarge family and found herself in Minneapolis to record at Paisley Park, Prince’s studio. Unfortunately, Sheila was unable to produce any music that the music industry found marketable so she began writing with various musicians and producers. In 1990, Sheila was voted New Artist of the Year at the Minnesota Black Music Awards and continued to receive advice from her father on her musical career.
“For a variety of reasons, I was unable to break free from my troubled youth and fell further into a dependency on drugs,” says Sheila.
Addicted to crack, Sheila ended up in federal prison three times, but that is where she ultimately found her freedom. While she was incarcerated, Sheila read the Bible and she felt that God would speak to her with different verses. Once when she was in lockdown for 15 days, Sheila wasn’t allowed communication with anyone else.
“Every minute of the day, from the time I woke up til the time I fell to sleep exhausted, I was reading the Bible and praying,” says Sheila. At one point, she laid on the ground, spread her arms out like Christ on the cross and said, “I am here at the lowest point humbly beseeching you, God. Fill my heart with your love, fill my mind with your wisdom and with your spirit and with your grace.”
FORGIVING HER FATHER, FORGIVING HERSELF
While Sheila was in prison, she learned to forgive herself. She spent 15 months at Bryan FPC and Houston Federal Prison. During that time, Sheila laid the groundwork for her book and life story.
“I denied my children,” says Sheila, who had five children and lost custody of them. “Try living with that! I tell you it cannot be done. That is why I chose death – the death found inside rock (crack) and pipe. Behind concrete and bars, I fought for life.”
Part of the answer to letting go of her past was forgiving herself and her father. “I was caught in a spiral that led to a place from which I thought there was no return,” says Sheila. She has been out of prison for six years.
Today Sheila is reconciled with her eldest daughter, Jeanna. She says the Bible promises that God will restore what the locusts have destroyed. “God is restoring my relationships with my other children,” says Sheila. “The waiting part is hard.” Of her faith, Sheila says: 1. There is nothing greater than God’s love; 2. The key to transforming is surrender; and 3. We all need to walk in the joy of the Lord. “That is what I’m doing right now,” she says.
Sheila’s mom passed away when Sheila was 36. Ray Charles passed away in 2004.
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