Writing my Wromgs Life, Death, and redemption in an american prison by Shaka Senghor


"In 1991, Shaka Senghor was sent to prison for second-degree murder. Today, he is a lecturer at the University of Michigan, a leading voice on criminal justice reform, and an inspiration to thousands. In life, it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish. Shaka Senghor was raised in a middle class neighborhood on Detroit's east side during the height of the 1980s crack epidemic. An honor roll student and a natural leader, he dreamed of becoming a doctor--but at age 11, his parents' marriage began to unravel and the beatings from his mother worsened, sending him on a downward spiral that saw him run away from home, turn to drug dealing to survive, and end up in prison for murder at the age of 19, fuming with anger and despair. Writing My Wrongs is the story of what came next. During his 19-year incarceration, seven of which were spent in solitary confinement, Senghor discovered literature, meditation, and self-examination, tools that he used to confront the demons of his past, forgive the people who hurt him, and begin atoning for the wrongs he had committed. Upon his release at age 38, Senghor became an activist and mentor to young men and women facing circumstances like his. His work in the community and the courage to share his story led him to fellowships at the MIT Media Lab and the Kellogg Foundation and invitations to speak at events like TED and the Aspen Ideas Festival. Writing My Wrongs is a redemption story told through a stunningly human portrait of what it's like to grow up in the gravitational pull of poverty, violence, fear, and hopelessness. It's an unforgettable tale of forgiveness and hope, one that reminds us that our worst deeds don't define who we are or what we can contribute to the world. And it's a lasting testament to the power of compassion, prayer, and unconditional love, for reaching those whom society has forgotten"--

Peer Review by Mr. Sorochak:

Writing My Wrongs captivated me from the beginning. Shaka's description of his redemptive moment brought tears to my eyes (if you can believe it) as I thought of the amount of emotion he was describing. He described a moment when he took full responsibility for the monster he was and decide to change. He did not change over night, but he slowly worked to become the man he wanted to be, not the man he felt he was being forced to be.

This book is driven by this transformation. Shaka speaks in vivid detail of the life of a prisoner in the Michigan State penitentiary system. The world he describe is a Darwinian one, where the "strong" thrive and the "weak" are trampled on. Shaka was originally one of the "strong," but he sees that being "strong" is robbing him of what it is to be human. As he goes through serving his 17 year sentence for murder, he finds an inner strength that allows him to turn from the insane world of the criminal justice system and find a peace he has never known.

Shaka's talent lies in his ability to relate to the reader both his acceptance of responsibility for his actions along with the way in which he used to feel, placing responsibility on everyone but himself. Though his writing, the reader can both see how misguided his view was, but also how easy, in fact natural and predictable this thinking was in him. As a result the reader can come away with understanding and empathy for the millions of young men and women still caught up in a way of life which has no future.

What the Web Says:

from Amazon.com Review:

I had never imagined living life any other way than my own. Living in white, suburban America, never in real danger or fearing for my life. I had always heard stories of rough neighborhoods where drugs and street crimes were problems but never sat down to think about it. When I found out I had to read Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor, I thought, “Great, another book I have to read for class.” I never thought that it could change my whole perspective of those who are incarcerated, cities with an abundance of drug and street crimes and the entire prison system in America.

The biggest disappointment that came to me was the fact that America will spend more money on prisons than on schools. Senghor wrote, “One of the things I noticed when we pulled up was how neatly manicured the lawns were and how new the buildings looked. The prison stood in stark contrast to the dilapidated schools that sat like scabs across Detroit’s dying landscape… The state was more willing to invest money in the upkeep of prisons than they were in schools” (87). How could America be more willing to maintain the pristine look of prisons rather than invest towards a brighter future for the children of our country? This was a huge wake up call to me that I’m glad Senghor gave me. I have such a hard time dealing with the fact that instead of trying to keep youth off the streets and out of prison by putting more money into schools the state is trying to keep prisons in tip top shape because chances are always leaning towards arrested once, arrested again. How could keeping the places where people go to serve their time be more important than the place youth goes to learn the difference between right and wrong? The place they go to learn how to build their futures and to all that life has to offer. For some school is the only place they have to get away, and in places like Detroit when schools lack the funds they need to provide that positive atmosphere, youth turns to the streets, where most end up getting arrested and back into the prison game.

Shaka Senghor’s personal reflection through his time as a youth before he went to prison was a startling reality check to me. Every time he had the chance to leave his life on the streets he always ended up going back until finally it was too late. I always had hope for him when he said that he would be moving away and living with someone else away from the ‘hood. It made me so upset to read of the way he was living his life. Running away from home at the age of thirteen and living on your own? The first and only job he got was selling drugs to his friends? I work at a golf course selling food to people and get stressed out when people give me a hard time about their order. I cannot possibly imagine the stress and hurt that a thirteen-year-old boy felt selling crack on the streets of Detroit. Detroit is a harsh city to live in, and I never truly understood that until I read Shaka’s first hand experience. Along with pain and hurt from being away from and being forced to find acceptance in the streets was the desensitized sense of violence. Senghor wrote, “We were all desensitized to violence and accepted it as the way of the world we came up in. In fact, I don’t recall a time when my life wasn’t marred by violence” (97). To be so unaware of the effects of violence is not that far beyond me. With so much violence depicted in the media everyday, it is not that much of a surprise to me that more and more violence is happening. What is surprising however, are the effects it has on the people. Shaka and his friends had become so desensitized to violence that they would get drunk and high and continue to carry a gun when they were definitely not capable of making responsible decisions with them. If I had not read Shaka Senghor’s Writing My Wrongs, I never would have gotten this incredible first hand look into life on the streets, and how harsh and intense it was to live in a city like Detroit.

Throughout my experience reading Writing My Wrongs, I learned so much more about the experience a prisoner has during their sentence. At the beginning of his journey through prison, Shaka was full of hate and anger and didn’t know how to handle himself in stressful situations. He lashed out and got himself sent to the whole several times where he learned after awhile that the only person he can truly really on was himself. He read often to increase his intelligence and to simply pass the time, he also spent so much time writing down his emotions, coping through the hurt and anger. It was through these writings that he was able to reflect in upon himself and make the transformation into the person he wanted to be rather than the person he was when he entered prison. Senghor wrote, “So with pen and pad, I clung with my sanity; between that, writing letters to my family and reading their letters to me, I redeemed my soul” (249).

Reading Shaka Senghor’s Writing My Wrongs changed the way I perceive prisoners. I always forget that they are still people who made mistakes. They can learn from their mistakes if they truly put the effort into trying. A saying that rang true for me as I read this book was you get out of life, what you put into it. Not only for a person going through a huge transformation like Shaka, anyone who wants to see a change in their life has to put in the effort. This was a wake up call for me because I had been going through the motions for so long and now I have a feeling of hope that there are better things out there for everyone.

What another prisoner says:

from Amazon.com review:

Greetings my brother. My name is Rico Sims. I'm from Sacramento California however currently I'm in the state of Texas. I'm serving a 20 year sentence for murder I pled bargain for. I'll be 38 years old June, I was arrested in June 2010. 17 days before your release. I just finished reading your book and I must admit I was touched to my breaking point. However, you gave me hope and more of a appetite to learn and energy to keep walking my time down. From the first page to the last. You had my mind captured. You really have an inspirational testimony yet that wasn't the only thing that caught my attention. Our lives were similar in some ways when it comes to the streets. Living in California, pistol play was more of the norm then pop warner football or other activities teenagers got involved in. By far did I just wake up one day and say I wanna change. My change came with the reality of our fallen race and the people I have cause so much pain. My victim and his family, my wonderful family and witnessing our brothers and sisters deteriorate over greed. And most knowingly admitting to being a big part of this devilish lifestyle.

I want to help even more and agree with you. It's time my brother and I want you to know that we have brothers like you working in endlessly to make a difference.

Keep up the great work Shaka, please know you're a blessing to me and our brothers and sisters.


Created with images by AlexVan - "prison prison cell jail" • TryJimmy - "jail prison police" • S Baker - "Bars" • Ken_Mayer - "Prison cell" • Steve Snodgrass - "Cellblock"

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