*Who would ever guess that prison is a place where you could run into success? That you could reach heights in your career from a jail sentence. And who would ever think an analogy of opposites, “prison” and “blessing,” could or would be paired together?
Well, for Wahida Clark, prison was a blessing. She took her experience at the women’s federal camps in Kentucky and West Virginia, and used it as an opportunity to reach new heights in her life.
It was there that the Jersey born, talented woman began to write her first novel that gave birth to several others. Five in fact and counting. With a new edition, “Justify My Thug,” released in April, she has her fans drooling over her work.
In this Q&A with EURweb’s Lee Bailey, she tells us all about the new book, her blessings and her accomplishments.
Wahida Clark: Wahida means unique, one of a kind.
LB: Wow. I guess that’s why I’ve never heard it. Is that your own creation or …?
WC: Actually, my husband gave me that name.
LB: I find you to be a very interesting person. You’re seemingly very low key. And you seem to be very conservative, but yet you’re into Thugs. I’m confused. When growing up, were you attracted to the Thug lifestyle?
WC: You’re very observant.
Well, I married a thug. The thug series came about when I was locked up in federal prison. My husband was locked up also and we had 2 teenage daughters at home. And I had to do something while serving in prison to set up a foundation while serving my 9 ½ years. It costs money to live in prison. You have to buy food, you have to do your laundry, buy toiletry items. So I said “what can I do to make money?” I told my husband, “I’m going to write a book. I need to do something to make money.” (He writes also. He writes something totally different from me, though).
So, he said to me, “If you’re going to write to make money, Wahida, you’re going to have to write some Iceberg Slim/Donald Goings type stuff.” And that’s when I started writing. That was the birth of “Thugs and the Women Who Love Them,” my very first book. The characters and the series just came to life and it just caught on like wildfire.
LB: Well, were you writing from what you knew or from what he told you? How intimately do you know the thug lifestyle?
WC: In the series, there’s 4 main female characters. I used me and three of my best friends that I came up with. The story just took on a life of its own. So there’s a little bit of me in each of the female characters and there are experiences that I experienced throughout the books. So, yes, I came up in the hood, in the ghetto, liking thugs. Running around with thugs and thought I was a thug.
LB: How do you explain your demeanor, then?
WC: Really, I am an introvert. Writing, that’s my job. So, when it’s time to work, I have to get into the job mode, I have to get into that character. But, when you have me on the phone, this is me.
LB: Does that character have a name?
WC: Yes, she has several. Tasha, Angel, Jazz and Kyra.
LB: A schizophrenic Thuggette?
WC: Absolutely. You hit it right on the nose.
LB: What do you think of yourself?
WC: What do I think of Wahida?
LB: And the Thuggettes?
WC: Well, I’m grateful for the Thugettes. They have allowed me to have a job. They have allowed me to touch many people. I get lots of mail from people who, in their 20s, 30s and 40s, are saying, “your book is the first book I’ve ever read in my life.” I get a thrill out of hearing that.
LB: Let me back up and ask you about your home life. What kind of a household did you grow up in?
WC: My father, he left. He and my mother were separated, I think, when I was 7 or 8 years old. Then me and my little brother and my mother moved with my aunt and my uncle. So I had my mom in the household and my aunt, my mother’s oldest sister, and my uncle. So, I was raised up by them. That’s who I grew up with. On the west side of Trenton, NJ .
LB: Was it stone hood there or…?
WC: Well you know how it is, neighborhoods are nice then they just start going down. So, I was there when it was a nice neighborhood and then it started going down, and now when I go back today, my mouth is just hanging open.
It’s the hood. I grew up in the hood. Partying, smoking weed. Drinking. Hanging in the park. Even though I was an A student, I still did all of that.
LB: Now, your husband, did you meet him when you were a teenager?
WC: Yup, I met him when I was a teenager.
LB: And he was a Thug?
LB: What did you like about him? What did you like about the lifestyle?
WC: As kids we like to have fun. We liked to party. We liked to hangout and that’s what I did.
LB: So, your books today, do they reflect your childhood, or adulthood or your husband’s childhood or adulthood?
WC: I started off when I was 14 in the book “Thugs and the Women Who Love Them.” I started there. That was part one. In that book the characters were teenagers, 14 and in junior high school. And the new book, “Justify My Thug” that came out April 26th, that’s part 5 to the Thug Series, so throughout the books the characters grow up, go to college, get married, relocate. That’s how the series develops. So right now if you were to pick up part 5 everyone is grown and married.
LB: Wait a minute, Thugs go to college?
WC: Yup. Okay, when you think of thugs, everyone thinks of stereotypes. They think of someone who’s really, really bad. I was a thug. I have a college degree. They’re all kinds of thugs. There are corporate thugs, there’s street thugs. Take your pick, Mr. Bailey.
LB: Yeah, you’re right ’cause there are some in the pulpit too.
WC: There are government thugs, too.
LB: We all know that! (LOL) So you mentioned that there is a series of 5 books? Was it thought out from the very beginning to be a series? Was that the strategy?
WC: First of all I never thought I could write a book, it wasn’t even on my agenda, but the characters took on a life of their own and once I started writing I couldn’t stop. My husband was saying, “Wahida, you have to stop. That’s what amateurs do, once they start writing they keep going.” So I sent the manuscript into the publisher and the first thing he said was we have to turn this into 2 books. And that’s how I got part 1 and part 2: “Thugs and the Women Who Love Them” and “Every Thug Needs a Lady.”
Then my characters still had more to say and my readers wanted more, so then came part 3, “Thug Matrimony,” then came part 4, “Thug Lovin'” and now we have part 5, “Justify My Thug.”
LB: Are you stopping because you’ve run out stuff to write, or…
WC: No, this is just part 5. I couldn’t get everything in part 5, so there will be a part 6.
I don’t know when it will stop.
LB: Interesting. I’m gonna have to sit down and read about the thug life.
WC: Put your seat belt on though, I have to warn you. Put your hard hat on.
LB: Okay, how did the prison thing come about?
WC: I was working at a telemarketing firm in GA. I went to prison for mail fraud and money laundering. They convicted everyone, the owners of the company, everyone. I was the top sales person and I took it to trial and I lost. I was sentenced to 125 months which is 10 years and I did 9 and 1/2 years.
LB: If I remember correctly you started writing the thug thing while you were in jail? So you went to jail not because of any so-called thug activity?
WC: Right, I had a job. A 9 to 5. Ironically, that’s what I went to jail for.
LB: So were you doing criminal activity knowingly?
WC: According to the prosecution, they said we knew what was going on. We sold advertising products. I just went to work everyday. Clocked in everyday. So that’s why I went to trial. I felt I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wasn’t twisting people’s arms to buy the products. The government thought other wise
LB: Isn’t that sort of ironic?
LB: You embraced the thug life growing up. Got out of it and got caught up in a thug operation without even knowing it.
WC: Yup, that’s how I went to prison. One day I was at work on the phone talking to a customer and I hear this loud noise and I think, “what are they fighting out there?” Next thing you know my office door comes open and they’re screaming, “get on the floor!” with guns to my head. And I hear them saying “you got the girl, you got the girl!” and unbeknownst to me the girl they were talking about was me.
LB: What were you guys selling?
WC: Advertising products. High-end promotional products. Gold and brass calculators, Monte Blanc pens…
LB: What was criminal about it?
WC: Doesn’t take much for mail fraud. Wire fraud, which is just the phone. Mail fraud, which is just a letter and money laundering. Read the Golden Hustler, by Wahida Clark, it talks about my case.
LB: Jeez. But it’s all good, right?
WC: Actually going to prison to me was a blessing. At first it wasn’t of course. It was, “Oh my gosh, why is this happening to me.” But it really was a blessing. A blessing.
LB: So, in jail you create the series and I understand that in jail you run into Madame Thuggette herself, Martha Stewart!
WC: Yes, it was ironic because my literary agent used to date her niece. So when I found out she was coming to Alderson (federal prison for women in West Virginia), my family told me “Marc said to tell Martha so and so and so and so” And Marc gave her a message from me to look me up. So when she got there, she sent for me to meet me. So, small world.
LB: Did she become a mentor?
WC: She was in there, just like me. I was on a mission and so was she. I was writing my books and getting my publishing company established, working on my business plan. She always had visitors and was running her business. We had the same work out schedule so we would see each other. So when I got my business plan together I asked her to look it over and she did.
LB: She was friendly to you?
WC: Yes, she was friendly to everyone. We actually did a workshop. Martha did a segment on running a business and business start ups and I did a segment on writing a book and getting published.
LB: Well if all prisons were like this the criminal justice system would be looked at in a completely different light. OK, so who reads your books? Who’s the audience?
WC: My audience is very broad. From 13-yr-olds to 70-y- olds. Men and women in prison. I was in a hospital in Valley Stream, NY and a white nurse comes up to me and says, “Wahida! I love your books!” So you never know! I have lots of fans in different walks of life.
LB: What do you think is the … commonality, I guess?
WC: The core audience? That is a very good question. The books have to be good and my books are darn good. Once you start reading them, you are hooked. People who are looking for a good book to read that they can’t put down, that’s what I give to them. I write for them.
LB: Give me a few comments on the current book.
WC: Justify My Thug. In the dictionary justify means show or prove. In the book the characters are supposed to be living the straight and narrow but things keep popping up, coming up that challenge them. Once you make up your mind to walk the straight and narrow, you will get tried. They try but these challenges keep coming up that they have to deal with. In the book it shows them making decisions.
It’s street fiction. It’s hood and relationships. My characters are married and have strong family ties.
LB: So thugs have loyalty, huh?
WC: Well, some do, some don’t. That’s the difference between the good thugs and the bad thugs. Thugs, believe it or not, have a code. They have a standard to uphold. Then there’s some that don’t have any standards at all. It depends on the thug or thugette.
LB: OK, we’re gonna wrap up in a minute, but do you see your self doing any other kinds of literature, mainstream or conventional?
WC: I am being pressed for my biography. And I am doing a book called “From Prison to Power” about how I got out of the prison system and stayed out, the blueprint to success.
LB: You, yourself are signed to Cash Money Content, Baby and Ronald Williams’ company, and you have your own publishing company?
WC: Right, Wahida Clark Publishing, I have my own publishing and printing company..
LB: Now, did that happen after you signed with Cash Money Content?
WC: No. I did the business plan for my company while I was in prison and as soon as I came home, I implemented it. My husband held it down, he rented office space for me and as soon as I came home, I jumped right into it. Wahida Clark Presents Publishing, I have about 13 authors. I just started a Young Adult book line and we also print books. There are some authors who don’t want to get published, they want to retain their rights and they want to print their books themselves. So they use us to print their books.
LB: So why are you on Cash Money Content and not on your own?
WC: In publishing, it’s all about distribution and building your audience. Cash Money has a huge audience. I need to get to that audience and that audience needs to get to me … be turned on to Wahida Clark.
LB: Then you utilize your audience and connections to propel the people under you?
WC: My books alone propel my publishing company. Cash Money is a marriage, per se for that audience. That new young fresh audience – Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj – they have to be turned on to Wahida Clark and Wahida Clark needs to be turned on to them.
LB: For your own company – as your own star rises as your audience grows, you use that success and notoriety to build your own company (Wahida Clark Presents Publishing) up and bring those under you up?
WC: And Cash Money is great about that. They publicize my publishing company on their websites and in the press releases. So the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
LB: Well thanks for your time Wahida. Anything you want to add before we go?
WC: I am very grateful to my readers who stuck with me book after book after book and they are very excited about “Justify My Thug” and once they read it they will not be disappointed.
“Justify My Thug” is available at bookstores and online at Amazon via this link.