Chad Ijames hopes to inspire young people to make better choices than he did
BY BRANDY TEMPLETON
Incarcerated at a young age for selling drugs, Chad Ijames easily could have become a statistic, another life lost or wasted by drugs.
Ijames chose instead to learn from his mistakes, to take a different path, and to strive to be an inspiration to others.
On Wednesday evening, he shared his journey with an audience of young student-athletes at PowerCross Ministries in Statesville.
“We all have a story,” the 44-year-old told the boys.
Ijames was raised in a loving, Christian family. He was a good student and loved sports when he was coming up.
His first mistake “was hanging out with bad friends and running the streets,” Ijames said.
In 1997, at the age of 21, he was placed on supervised probation after being convicted of a felony drug charge, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
Three years later, a second arrest and conviction for possessing and selling drugs in Rowan County resulted in a 15- to 18-month prison sentence. He walked into Piedmont Correctional Institution on September 3, 2000.
That, Ijames told the rapt audience at PowerCross, was the lowpoint of his life. It was also the wake-up call that he needed.
“The first night I slept there — I didn’t want to come back,” he said. “It set me straight.”
During the 15 months he spent behind bars, Ijames had plenty of time “to reflect” on the course his life had taken to that point — and evaluate the situation in which he found himself.
“For one, your freedom’s gone,” Ijames said.
He vowed to lead a different life after serving his time, and said his Christian faith gave him the strength he needed.
“I read the Bible twice and learned a tighter personal relationship with God — he helped me out a lot.”
While nurturing his faith, Ijames also benefitted from a work-release job making powder coating for machinery like John Deere lawnmowers. Even though he was in prison, that opportunity gave his life a purpose, he said, and showed him the value of work.
Ijames describes his release from prison, on December 11, 2001, as “priceless.”
He was a different person when he came out and explained that he wouldn’t change his time in prison.
“I changed 180 degrees — the other 180 is a learning process,” Ijames said.
Today, as the founder of Ijames Inspirations, he is living a meaningful, productive life. He’s been married since 2014 and is driven to be a positive role model for his 9-year-old son.
He hasn’t told Caleb about his time in prison yet. He wants to make sure his son will understand before they have that conversation.
What he is doing in the present is much more important than the mistakes he made 20 years ago.
“I want him to watch my character and see how I speak to the family and his mom,” Ijames explained. “I want him to be a credible, disciplined man like his dad.”
He makes a living supervising work-release inmates who have earned the same opportunity that was afforded Ijames during his time in prison.
“I treat them like men first and foremost,” he shared. “I was on the bottom one time. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been there.”
He is at peace with everything that’s happened.
“I’m living my best life, trying to be a blessing, and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Ijames said.
Even with all the positives, Ijames has still has down moments in his life. In 2015, he lost his mother, Zelda, to breast cancer.
“She always had my back,” he said. “She’d tell me to ‘get it together.’ ”
While participating in grief counseling following his mother’s death, he felt inspired to start his ministry.
“My logo is in honor of my mom,” he shared. “I’m taking my pain and turning it around.”
He wants to use his pain and triumph to help youth and others who are struggling see their potential.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you look like — set your dreams, set your goals, and never give up— never give in,” he told the youth at PowerCross.
He plans to continue sharing his story and hopes it will erase the stigma that impedes other former inmates from being successful. He wants to help keep youth on the right track.
“I’m trying to lead by example — just look at my character,” Ijames said. “If I made it out and I’m doing okay, so can you.”
He often shares his favorite Bible verse, Galatians 6-7. He wants young people who are confronted with difficult, life-altering choices, to keep those words in mind when they decide how to spend their time.
“Be not deceived, for God is not mocked. Whatever a man soweth that he shall also reap,” Ijames quoted. “That’s the reason why I live the way I live today — because you reap what you sow in life.”