Hours before reality TV star Jen Shah reported to federal prison on Friday, the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star explained that her conviction for running a fraudulent telemarketing scheme, which resulted in a sentence of six-and-a-half years behind bars, has been "the most difficult time in my life."
In an interview with White Collar Advice, Shah said she didn't know that she was being investigated for a crime until she was arrested in March 2021. She flat-out denied the charges then and pleaded not guilty, but she switched to a guilty plea in July 2022.
"I was absolutely in denial that any of these accusations were real," said Shah, whom prosecutors said defrauded hundreds of victims, many of them elderly, over almost a decade. "Because I'm like, I'm not a bad person. No. I've helped so many people. I'm a good person. I would never do these things. I truly... I believed that. I really believed that."
It was seeing the evidence at trial that made Shah have a change of heart.
"The biggest thing for me was seeing an actual list of victim names. It became a reality for me at that point, that there were actually people hurt from this," she said. "Because prior to that, I kept thinking, 'Well, I've never talked to a victim myself,' so I’m thinking that I couldn’t have done any of those things."
Shah thought she had been honest with her lawyers and with herself, but looking back, she was in what she called a tunnel.
"My actions caused harm to people. I did not want to accept that at all. I was lying to myself, and telling myself what I wanted to hear," Shah said. "The reality of going to prison? I did not want that to be a reality. That wasn't supposed to be my reality and that thinking fostered more bad decisions for me throughout the legal process."
The reality star said that though she was "nervous and scared to be away from my family," she also felt hopeful on the eve of her surrender to the FPC Bryan in Bryan, Tex.
"There is a sense of relief, because, throughout this entire journey, there was so much ambiguity going through it, and there was so much unknown," she said. "Now, for the first time, I'm in a position where I know what is happening tomorrow. I know what's happening. I know where I'm gonna be tomorrow. I know what my plan is going forward, so there's a sense of relief that I'm going to be able to put the past behind me and finally start truly healing and forging a new path."
She had already worked out how she would be spending her days in an 18-page release plan, one of the two things she expected to take into prison with her; the other was the Quran.
"[The plan] is going to help me stay on track, hold me accountable, and it's something that I'm going to build on while I'm in prison," Shah said, describing the plan as a road map that will ensure she pays back her victims and prove she's worthy of her family, which includes her husband, Sharrieff Shah, and their two adult sons, as well as her mom.
Shah's release plan requires, for example, that she journals about her experience in prison, something she plans to do daily. She'll share her words publicly through a new website.
"I plan on spending my time waking up early, spending the early morning time writing, reading. I have built into my release plan the first 12 books on my reading list that I'll be, you know, sharing with everybody and also doing book reports on," Shah said, noting that she'd chosen books about leadership and personal development for the first six months. "Exercising. I also want to give back and hopefully be able to inspire other women and... hopefully create some kind of course for teaching in the prison… to teach this release plan."
Shah's plan even covers projects for when she's released, when she hopes to return to the entertainment industry.