Sheila Raye Charles — daughter of legendary performer Ray Charles — will be singing and sharing at 6 p.m. Thursday at Cornerstone United Methodist as a part of the church’s Celebrate Recovery program. The 12-step program is open for anyone with hurt, habit or hang-up. They eat together, praise and worship together and alternate weeks of lessons and testimonies.
“Sheila will be leading us in the praise and worship segment and she will be the one who shares her testimony that night,” program coordinator, Rhonda Dunlap, said. “After she shares her testimony, we are going to eat dessert and just hang out with her.”
Charles didn’t grow up bouncing on her father’s lap or have him there to attend all of her school functions. In fact, Sheila had a relationship restricted to phone calls until she was 12.
“As I got older, I really wanted to perform and sing, and I also wanted to build an intimate relationship with my father,” Charles said. “So, my mother called my father and told him I was moving to Los Angeles and wanted to attend a performing arts school. He lived there and I was so excited about meeting him and finally building a relationship with him, but it was unfortunately hard. My father’s life consisted of music, women and children, in that order. Once I got there, I had to make an appointment to see him and all of my dreams of getting to be with him were soon depleted. With all of the things going on in his life, it was hard for any of his children to get into an intimate relationship with our father.”
Sheila Charles’ life was one filled with turmoil over her father, and battling addiction to drugs that started early in her life.
“I started off in junior high school, just drinking a beer or smoking a joint, but I couldn’t understand the feelings of sadness and sorrow and always wanting to escape. I believe a lot of these feelings were because of abandonment issues that I felt for my father and the sexual abuse I experienced as a little girl. I eventually ended up having a 20-year crack cocaine addiction that caused me to lose everything.”
Sheila was in federal prison three times, had battled drug abuse, gave birth to three cocaine-addicted babies and lost custody of all five of her children. All of these things are what Charles describes as the ultimate pit of hell. By her third prison sentence, Charles’ mother had died and her father refused to speak with her. It was in her jail cell that she decided she no longer wanted to live in the hell that was her life.
“I ended up on the concrete floor of the federal prison, had fallen off my bunk, crying out to god. I told god to save me or take my life, because I couldn’t live like that anymore, and god spoke to me. I don’t care how crazy people think that sounds, I will attest to any man, woman and child that god is real and answered me audibly. I could hear him fill up that whole room. God told me to turn my life over to him; my life, my will, my career, my children. He told me if I gave myself to him that he would turn everything around and would give everything back that the devil had stolen,” Charles said. “I lied on that floor and told him that I was his. He filled me up with his holy spirit and showed me how to minister his work to his people.”
Following release from her third prison sentence, Charles travels the country and sings her father’s music as well as gospel, while also spreading her story and preaching god’s word. She has visited 29 jails and prisons in seven states. She has been to five of these facilities more than once. She has shared her story at more than 218 churches, recovery groups and service organizations.
Charles has turned her life around, keeping sober, marrying the man who travels with her, and has even gained permission to contact her children.
“Two years ago god opened the doors to the court,” Charles said. “The court and government line of child protection services and the foster parents all petitioned for me to never see my children again and lost. These people never believed, never believed that I would change, and I did.”
Although Charles was never close to her father and he never got the chance to witness what she would do with her life, she still believes he is proud of her for continuing his legacy.
“I know that my father is in heaven, he did know god. I know he is looking down upon my life and he is praising god for saving his child. He didn’t know how to save me, because he couldn’t; only god could,” Charles said. “I know he is up there saying go, girl, go, because I am continuing his legacy.