SARASOTA - The daughter of a big star was in Sarasota Tuesday, but the venue where Ray Charles’s daughter Sheila sang and spoke might surprise you.
Sheila Raye Charles and her husband spoke to prisoners at the Sarasota County Jail Tuesday. The prisoners came to hear her because she is Ray Charles’s daughter, but they left inspired and many were moved to tears by the story of her painful journey, her terrible downhill spiral, and her miraculous transformation and recovery.
Shelia and her husband Michael take their prison ministry, called "One Way Up", all over the world. "We got to prisons, we go to homeless shelters, we go to juvenile detention centers," says Michael Stepcoe.
First Michael gets the attention of the inmates by telling them he's been just where they are now. "I served time in Ohio…for counterfeiting securities. It was my federal case, and my state case was I had guns."
Then Sheila tells them her story. "All the lying I had done, the stealing, the cheating, the robbing, the abandoning my children, my crack cocaine-addicted son who was less than a pound when he was born, the hurt and damage that I had done to my family."
She served time in federal prison three different times and lost custody of her children. “I only got to see my daughter one hour...after she was born. And there I was in prison, and I had lost all five of my children, my career, my life and everything in my life was destroyed."
She says her famous father Ray Charles was no help. "All he cared about was his music. It was the music, the women, and then the kids. Used to call him the “dew drop in Daddy”, because he do drop in when he feels like it."
The women applauded, laughed, and sometimes sobbed because her story was so similar to theirs. She told them she hit rock bottom in that prison cell, and that’s when she turned her life around. "It was the hurt that drove me to call out to God."
Today, Sheila Raye Charles is clean, sober, and has dedicated her life to helping others. "With God using me to go back into the prisons, to go back into recovery groups, where the need is."
As she ended, the prisoners spontaneously gathered around her and joined hands in prayer. "Just hearing her life experiences, and applying her life experience to mine, I know the more I believe and the further I go with my belief and my faith, I know I can make it,” said inmate Cheranlounda Nix.
As the prisoners went back to their cells, so many had a smile on their faces and they have a hope for the future they'd never had before.