By Ameera Steward
When Jayla Groom went on Facebook last year and saw her mother’s mugshot on Crime Stoppers with a “Wanted” caption she said to herself, “What is going on?”
“I felt like, ‘I can’t take this anymore. I don’t know what to do,” recalled Groom, whose mother has been in and out of jail throughout Groom’s entire life.
“She’ll go for like two years and come home,” said Groom, 20, who is second to the youngest in a family of six children.
Groom, from Hueytown and a rising junior at the University of Alabama (UA), has penned a book about her experiences—“I AM: How to Own Your Truth and Go from Shame to Freedom,” which was published in March 2019. The book is about everything she has been through, including her mother being in and out of prison.
She decided to write it after a woman said to her, “You’re only 20 years old. What have you been through?”
“I was tired of being ashamed, and I was tired of hiding it from people. Groom said. “Most of my friends didn’t even know, and some of them still don’t know because some of them still haven’t read the book. … I was wearing a mask, hiding it, and I just got tired of that.”
The book is about “going from shame to freedom because, now, … [even though] I care that my mom [is] in jail and it does hurt, I’m not ashamed of it anymore. That made me who I am today. It wasn’t my story to tell, but it was part of my story because that is my mom, and my mom is like my best friend.”
Groom said her mom is doing OK and is still in county jail, where she’s been since September 2018.
“We’re still hoping for a good outcome,” said Groom, who added that her mother knows about the book and is proud of her daughter for writing it.
The book doesn’t mention exactly what led to Groom’s mother’s incarceration.
“It was kind of like stuff was still following her, and she couldn’t get away from it,” Groom said. “Once you do something [and] it goes unnoticed for a long time, eventually it’s going to catch up with you. That’s kind of what happened.”
She added that her mother was still struggling with things that were leading her back into the situation.
“I AM: How to Own Your Truth and Go from Shame to Freedom” is autobiographical, Groom said: “From the earliest memory I can recall, when my cousin told me my mom was in jail for the first time, all the way up until now, when that same cousin went to jail for capital murder.”
Freedom from Above
Groom said she was able to face her challenges with “prayer, fasting, and crying out to God.”
“When I told God, ‘I don’t want to go into my 20s in bondage,’ He gave me freedom,” she said. “I honestly can’t tell you [anything] I did [besides] ask God.”
Given all she’s been through, Groom said she had to write her book, which she completed in nine months, during which time she did both her own 21-day fast and a 40-day fast with her church, Oasis of Praise in Bessemer.
“I heard God tell me to tell my story,” she said. “I was telling Him, ‘Please don’t let this go viral, don’t let people start sharing [my mom’s picture on Facebook].’ It was in those moments that it was like, ‘You have an option. They’re going to see it. You can tell your side.’
“I said, ‘OK, I’m not going to get on stage and just go off on a rant about my mom being in jail, so what do you want me to do?’ It was like my eyes were opened and I heard, ‘You need to write a book.’”
Groom didn’t take it seriously at first, she said, “but it was deeper than that. God showed me … as I started writing.”
Loss of a Classmate
Groom said the story doesn’t end badly “because I understand what’s attached to family and what is trying to hinder us.”
“So, now it’s … what God has called me to do—to lead my family out of that because I understand now how the devil is trying to attack us and what he’s trying to place on us.”
Groom said she started by writing just a few titles for chapters, and looking back she has a lot to draw from.
“Going into my senior year [at McAdory High School], I think it was literally the first day of school, one of my classmates passed away,” Groom recalled. “At that moment, … I asked, ‘Why?’ I was messed up about his passing. I just could not understand. He wasn’t even 20 years old, and I couldn’t understand what was going on.
“It was at that point when I decided, ‘OK, it’s time for me to tell my truth because what if I’ve been through something that will help somebody else, something that will prevent them from doing stuff or lead them in a different direction in life?’”
Groom said her classmate, who died in a car accident, “was always happy, always smiling, always late to class. Even in the worst times, he could be getting in trouble, he was still laughing. … That’s why I think I took it so hard. We were in homeroom together every year since the eighth grade. … It just felt like out of all people, why him?”
She felt she needed to write about him because she never had to deal with death.
“For it to be someone I basically grew up with from middle school to high school, stages of your life when you’re becoming who you are, I just never thought it would be him. This wasn’t even the first classmate [of mine] that had passed away, but this one really did something to me.”
“Living My Best Life”
Groom said the book is a coming-of-age story. It includes the times when she would watch soap operas with her nanny, when she was in situations with boys; it addresses issues, such as depression, being suicidal, and her relationship with her father; it recalls her struggle with sex, as well as almost dropping out of school “because it was just too much. I felt like [school] was too much to deal with.”
Groom wants readers to understand that it doesn’t matter what you’ve been through, what you’re going through, what you’ve done, “you can still go from shame to freedom.”
“When people read my book, I want them to understand that those things don’t define you,” she said. “They help you become who you are going to become. … You can still do a complete 180 and be made new and transformed by what you’re going through.”
Since publishing the book, Groom said, “I can live my best life now.”
“I feel free. I don’t feel burdened. I don’t feel ashamed. Of course, those things still come up when people walk up to me and ask, ‘What’s your book about?’ … I feel those moments when I don’t want to open up about everything and people want me to go into detail. Then again, I know I’m called to this, so I open my mouth and tell them.”
Groom owns her truth now.
“It is what it is. This who I am. This is what I’ve been through. Now you can watch me as God takes me to where I’m going. … I’m not where I’m going to be; He’s still showing me and molding me. I’m also not perfect,” she said, adding that she still struggles sometimes.
“I guess people see that I wrote a book and think, ‘OK, Jayla has it all together,’” said Groom. “Jayla still deals with a lot of different things. I still feel alone sometimes. I still feel like depression tries to come on me, but now I just have the power and authority, and I know I don’t have to go through those things. I can just claim me, and I don’t have to be under … whatever is trying to cloud me.”
Using Her Voice
Groom, who is majoring in communications with a psychology minor at UA, wants to use her platform to reach others, so she does motivational speeches in Birmingham churches and at different events.
“Most of the time I get up there and preach the Word of God,” she said. “I take … what’s in scripture and basically apply it to my life to show them this is what God said, this is what happened in my life, this is [how you succeed] if you follow God and live for God.”
Everything Groom talks about, she said, involves God because “I don’t know where I would be without Him.”
“I AM: How to Own Your Truth and Go from Shame to Freedom” is available at Amazon.com (search for the book title). To learn more about Jayla, visit www.jaylamgroom.com.
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This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.