TAMPA — Shawntrece Sims lost a year of her life to prison.
No one could have known those days would be so precious. But early on in a nine-year federal sentence for tax fraud, cancer turned up in her bones. Nothing could be done, except by a judge who set her free in November.
She died in January at age 32. Her obituary listed a husband, daughter, three sons and stepchildren, and it referred to her as "Ms. Boo."
Her minister, the Rev. Henry Melvin Harris Jr., says she was sorry for what she did.
"She was trying to fix a lot of the things that had been wrong," Harris said. "Some things are not fixable. You have to go through the misery of situations you may have created by your behavior. I think she was fully aware of that."
The government says she took $263,004 from the IRS, got caught, agreed to plead guilty, then took another $400,000 while awaiting sentencing. She owed restitution of $672,887.
A few days after her release, the court issued a final judgment of forfeiture, giving the government a Jaguar automobile she had put in a relative's name. A month after her death, she lost her appeal to the 11th Circuit.
Harris believes she ultimately found forgiveness.
He presided over her funeral at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church in Tampa, though he had moved to a new church in Spring Hill.
He tried to comfort those who loved her by telling them God had recognized her repentance and freed her from a long, lonely sentence in prison.
Still, he saw a river of tears.
"Even though she's free, it had a price," he said. "She had to leave the family, this earth, this life."
Times staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.