In 1991, at the age of nineteen, Shaka Senghor shot and killed a man. He was a young drug dealer with a quick temper who had been hardened by what he experienced selling drugs on the unforgiving streets of Detroit. For years, as he served out his sentence for second degree murder, he blamed everybody else but himself for the decision he made to shoot on that fateful night. It wasn't until Shaka started writing about the pain from his childhood and his life on the streets that he was able to get at the root of the anger that led him to prison. Through the power of journaling, he accepted responsibility for his violent behavior and now uses his experience to help others avoid the same path.
This is an incredible book that every one should read once in their lives. This is what Writing My Wrongs made me feel:
1. CONTRIBUTION: I thought I was contributing and helping enough till I read your book Shaka, there is so much more I can do and this pushed me to find non profit that helps women to teach them what I teach (I am a coach for women, I teach women how to boost self-esteem and be happy).
2. JUDGEMENT: I do have a confession to make. Before I met you part of me would still judge others if they killed someone... F#%K that!!! I stopped doing it the moment I met you and read your book. Your book taught me that no matter what we have done in the past we ALL can change and improve.
3. EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE: after all what happened to the Author, he managed to survive and work hard so he can now help his community. This reminds me and teach me that no matter what, everything is possible if we fight for it.
4. FORGIVENESS: meeting the author in person and reading his book helped me to open my heart towards forgiveness and more generosity.
5. CONFLICTS IN DETROIT: I was a total ignorant about how drugs operate within a city in the US, Realities in each country are different and I used to think here it was the same than in Chile (where I'm from), when is not. Yes, there are similarities, but Chile has just 17 million people, so you can control more what's going on in such a small country. I hope you can visit Chile one day BTW!!
I wanna thank you again for your honesty to tell your story, not many people got the courage you have.
Thank you for choosing to be light for yourself and for us.
Title: Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison
Published: March 8, 2016
Author: Shaka Senghor
The Review: Writing My Wrongs
Shaka Senghor's memoir, Writing My Wrongs, exemplifies an emotional exposé, riddled with confessions that enlighten the audience and gives a human face to the incarcerated. What I was expecting was another book of distorted and dehumanizing criminology, basking in some super-imposed and caustically tainted surreal world. The thing is, I got that and much, much more than I imagined. I got an understanding.
The book is straight forward, no smoke and mirrors, optical illusions, or sleight of hand. There is no need for advanced degrees or unabridged dictionaries. Needed is an open mind, and the desire to delve into the place that is misunderstood. Senghor writes from the heart; from a place that he didn't know existed, and because of that discovery, the sincerity pours from every page.
"I STARED AT THE BATTLE-SCARRED IMAGE IN FRONT OF ME AND KNEW I NEEDED TO BEGIN THE LONG, TEDIOUS PROCESS OF MAKING PEACE WITH MY PAST. I OPENED UP DEEP WOUNDS THAT HAD BEEN STUFFED WITH THE GAUZE OF ANGER AND SELF-HATRED. I FORGAVE ALL OF THE PEOPLE, WHO HAD TEASED ME IN MY CHILDHOOD, MAKING FUN OF MY JACK-O'-LANTERN-SIZED HEAD BY CALLING ME PUMPKIN. I FORGAVE EVERYONE WHO HAD MADE FUN OF MY GAP-TOOTHED SMILE. I RAN MY HAND THROUGH MY LONG DREADLOCKS AND FORGAVE EVERYONE WHO EVER CALLED ME NAPPY-HEADED, MAKING ME FEEL INSECURE ABOUT THE CROWN MY CREATOR HAD BESTOWED UPON ME. THE WORDS FROM MY PAST RICOCHETED AROUND IN MY MIND LIKE ERRANT BULLETS, HURTING NO LESS NOW THAN THEY HAD BACK THEN."
Senghor's tale is a familiar one; more familiar, perhaps, if you're a part of the PoC planet. Familiar, even if you have never lived on that planet. It is inherent; spiritual -- transcending caste, gender, and often race. We just understand it better than most. His introduction reveals that there's a depth to the mentality of the convicted, a depth he knew long before the was behind bars....
"I OPENED UP DEEP WOUNDS THAT HAD BEEN STUFFED WITH THE GAUZE OF ANGER AND SELF-HATRED."
He was the victim, since birth, of suspicion, profiling and humanity; viewed as sub-human and questioned so vehemently that he eventually questioned himself. The beauty is that Senghor did not sweeten the story; he told it, from the guts and grime of his grim reality. He gave the reader, while walking them through chambers of secrets, the gore, and the glorified details, but accepted responsibility for his actions; holding himself accountable while seeking something greater than himself. And because he was so viewed, he opted to fulfill the illusion.
Shaka Senghor explains where and how his psychological odyssey began; of how his mother kicked him out of their home, how he solicited money from strangers to eat and laid his head wherever his head was allowed to lay. He besieged us with a profile of how desperate measures and the need to be a part of some greater ensemble leads to unimaginable outcomes. The reader is made cognizant of matters that draw the path to desperation. Was he always desperate? I cannot say that he was, nor can it be accurately surmised if the lifestyle he chose was fulfilling some greater void. Perhaps, the transformation from pauper to low-level prince provided him a false sense of prosperity and worthiness. But, he equally tells of the functionality and normality of his childhood home. He states that the arguments between his mother and father were, perhaps, no different than those in any other household, until his parent decided to separate.
WHEN HE FINALLY EXPLAINED THAT HE WOULD BE MOVING TO A PLACE IN HIGHLAND PARK THAT COMING WEEKEND, ALL KINDS OF THOUGHTS BEGAN FLOWING THROUGH MY YOUNG MIND -- THOUGHTS ABOUT MY FATHER AND ALL THAT HE MEANT TO OUR HOUSEHOLD. I THOUGHT ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS AND HOW HE WOULD ORGANIZE US KIDS TO PUT UP THE CHRISTMAS TREE. I THOUGHT ABOUT HOW HE WOULD GIVE US AN ALLOWANCE EVERY OTHER SATURDAY SO THAT WE COULD GO SKATING AT ROYAL SKATELAND. I THOUGHT ABOUT THE SOUND OF HIM PULLING INTO THE DRIVEWAY EACH NIGHT AT APPROXIMATELY 11:45 P.M. WHEN HE GOT OFF WORK.
I WAS SCARED. IT WAS AS THOUGH EVERYTHING THAT SYMBOLIZED FAMILY AND STABILITY HAD BEEN SUCKED OUT OF THE ROOM.
Fear was a lingering theme, an irrefutable manta. Senghor was afraid, even when he showed no fear (murder, solitary confinement, and parole review boards). He was afraid of being a better student, a better son, a better father, and a better man. Issues that festered in his community settled in his head and left him figuratively "sitting shoeless on the curb with officers standing at the ready" (my words). He wanted what everyone else wanted, yet circumstances of his own creation disallowed him the opportunity.
It was the murder he committed that seemed to be his free-fall spiral of change. As a convicted murderer, the confinement was real. The long prison sentence would have only two outcomes: Constructive or Destructive. He initially took the more common road, but the practice was not worth the punishment. So, he changed course; he discovered books, discovered words, rediscovered himself, and began to write. Fear redirected his path, strongly dictated his destiny, allowed him to succeed in prison, made him invisible and ultimately made him a writer. Fear saved his life.
Shaka Senghor made many people (those who have read his book and those who have listened to his lectures) realize that there exists a human being beneath the orange, yellow, green, gray, or black and white striped jumpsuits. He needed to forgive and be forgiven, to love and be deeply loved in return. Indeed hardened men abound behind bars, but emotions are often more powerful than circumstance. When all seemed lost he found forgiveness and a "ride-or-die" love. Emotions carried him through.
Read Writing the Wrongs. Get entangled in its complex web and enlighten yourself with what might otherwise be dark. It is a redemption song; a symphony of hope, and, even if it doesn't perfectly fit in your idea of "good literature," worth excavating for its many hidden treasures.
I vacillated between 4 and 5 stars but ultimately, this book is a solid 4 because while it is a compelling, engaging read, it doesn't radically stand out from any other redemption story out there. Redemption stories are, by their very nature, predictably full of plot lines that crest, dip then crest again. However, this is the first time that I've really understood how the prison system is designed to rob people of their humanity. The constant upheaval, the threat of violence from all corners, the social isolation-- all of this serves to set inmates up to fail. Should someone be punished for committing a crime? Yes. Should someone be made to feel that there's no hope for change? No. What good does it do to return angry, demoralized people to society? Not much, as far as I can tell, and neither can Shaka Senghor, who has made it his mission in life to help children find a way to express their anger, frustration and disappointment without succumbing to violence. So read this book for the story itself, and for a reality check.
Short Form Review: Author Shaka Senghor provides an insightful look into prison life, contextualizing it with personal anecdotes from his youth. Purposeful and inspirational, readers learn exactly how one learns to love and forgive after committing murder.
Five years into his sentence for a murder resulting from a drug interaction gone awry, author Shaka Senghor received a letter. Sent from the victim’s godmother, the letter expressed both her forgiveness of his transgression, and her hope that he found peace.
Tonight, I had the opportunity to ask where he thought he’d be if he hadn’t received that letter. Pausing to think about the question, his initial reply was a simple, “I honestly don’t know.” Pausing again, he continued by adding that it was this letter that gave him the space and the closure he needed to begin forgiving himself for taking a life. The letter “softened his heart,” which had been hardened from years on the street compounded by years behind.
Senghor served almost two decades in prison after being sentenced at 19 years old, and spent seven of those in solitary confinement. Writing My Wrongs is not an necessarily indictment of his sentence; he admits having committed the crime, and takes responsibility for his actions. Instead, Senghor uses his story to illustrate the linkages between his youth and his adulthood. Readers are taken through his disappointment with his on again off again parents, his fear as a 14-year-old entrenched in drug dealing, and his shame at his 11-year-old son finally finding out why he was incarcerated.
Disappointment, fear, and shame were dominant feelings in his youth, but Senghor develops passion as an adult Senghor– passion to do right by his sons and his fellow inmates. Listening to Senghor speak tonight, all that remained was an overwhelming sense of purpose. He spoke eloquently about his position on prison-related policies, such as President Obama’s effort to reduce youths in solitary confinement. But he also got into the nitty gritty. Into subjects those who haven’t spent excessive time in prison wouldn’t know to discuss. Recounting his last few days of imprisonment, Senghor recalls that only began to really receive help preparation for his release 60 days prior. “Nineteen years in jail, and they give you 60 days to get your life together,” he said, before detailing how things like this play into high American recidivism rates.
Literacy– not prison, saved Senghor. Long days and nights in prison repeatedly bested him, further and further away from the moral code he’d hoped to live by. If nothing else Writing My Wrongs shows that prison life brings out the best in nobody. Reading books such as the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and even religious texts such as the Bible, were what grounded him. Writing was equally as powerful, allowing him to connect the dots between his past adolescent anger and his current adult fury. When he finally got out of prison, writing is how he decided he would make a difference.
I gave this book a 4 out of 5. Those with an interest in mass incarceration issues and other issues associated with poverty and drugs should put this at the top of your list. It’s mandatory. However, it’s worth stressing that it’s appeal is wider than those with a niche interest such as myself. Universal themes such as justice, forgiveness, and failure (not in that order) make this a book fit for any shelf.
And hell, if Oprah is reading it, you should probably at least give the dust cover a skim, right? That said, check out his interview with Oprah this Sunday on Super Soul Sunday.
I read this book concurrently with Just Mercy, and it occurred to me partway through that while I'd read books like that one that dealt with the prison-industrial complex, bias, and wrongful convictions, and I'd read books about people held captive for other reasons, I hadn't (that I could remember) read a memoir by a person who served a prison sentence for a crime he fully admits to committing. It's one thing to hear the worst-case scenarios about prison life from an author trying to shock you into fomenting for change, and another to hear about the day-after-day experience of someone who spent 19 years behind bars. It was enlightening in a way no other book I'd read about prisons had been.
For one thing, I was surprised at how often Senghor was transferred to a different facility — sometimes because his security level was being lowered or raised, but often for no discernible reason. I was also fascinated by the ingenuity of the prisoners to devise means of communication, even between people in solitary confinement. I couldn't believe how easy (and common) it was for prisoners to make weapons and attack other prisoners. I got a better sense of what resources prisoners had access to and how that changed depending on their security level and their behavior.
Senghor's story is not a simplistic "one day I saw the light and I never misbehaved again" narrative, though it would likely be condensed as such if someone else was summarizing his story. He did have several "awakening" moments — when he felt responsibility for his son, when he learned to forgive himself, when he discovered how writing could help him process the trauma of his childhood, when he found hope that he might be released — but these were followed by setbacks as he still felt justified in attacking others at times. I felt this provided a realistic picture in how hard it was to overcome the patterns that had been ingrained in him since childhood.
For most of the book, it flips back and forth from his life in prison to his life on the streets up to the time of his arrest. I thought this firsthand account was valuable for understanding why Senghor turned to selling drugs, why he chose to carry a gun, even why he panicked and shot someone. He does not excuse his past behavior, but he does provide a full picture that could help dismantle some people's stereotypes about prisoners, drug dealers, etc. I did not find the back-and-forth to be confusing, and I think it was the right choice for a more engaging narrative than providing a straightforward, chronological narrative.
Senghor's writing is pretty good aside from his over-the-top use of similes, which became grating after a while. I am interested to read his fiction and see how it compares to his memoir writing. I listened to this book on audio, narrated by the author, and while I got used to his fairly flat affect, I would still recommend reading this in print.
This gave me a lot to think about, and I'm grateful to Senghor for putting together the story of his life and for Whitney for bringing this book to my attention. If you've never read a firsthand account of what it's like to serve a long prison sentence, this is worth a read.
My students and I have been reading this really important book this semester, hot off the shelf. It never fails, as with all of Shaka's books, it is the one reading they ALL get into! Afterwards, they are able to put all the pieces together of the things I have had them read and watch and think about in the course. A must-read for sociologists, criminal justice majors, teachers, and all parents! Congratulations, Shaka Senghor on this life-changing work. It is the blueprint on how we might read and WRITE ourselves into a new way of being human.
incredibly readable and engaging. Senghor details the circumstances of his life that led to his shooting and killing a man, and what it took to redeem himself by both his own standards and society's standards. A hard look at what prison life is like and how difficult it is to emerge with your sanity and dignity intact. I'm so glad I read this.
Sometimes I wonder why I read the memoirs that I do and then I realize I connect to the brokenness of the storyteller but have yet to find healing and that is sometimes true for the storyteller too.
“I didn’t have the tools to process all I had experienced, and those feelings had festered like rotten meat, turning into the source of the violence that had me possessed me for all those years”.
Told from both his youth and his time in prison, Shaka engrosses us in how hurt transformed his world. Disappointed in his parent’s unstable love for each other and his mother’s lack of understanding of his needs, Shaka ran to the cold streets for shelter.
A lot of his first happened at 14 as this age stamped the beginning of being in the drug business and the beginning of his sexual encounters to the point that relating to kids his age no longer seemed appealing. Though caught up in the game, he understood the severity of the drug as he watched and interacted with attractive women who would come through doing sexual favors in exchange for rocks. “Within a few months, these same women would develop the visible signs of addiction—dirty clothes, bloodshot eyes, and muddled hair”. The same drug he sold eventually caught up to him at 14 when smoking fifty-ones - joints laced with crack, was all he wanted.
The drug game is risky but there is nothing like being in a room of people and being alone. Being hit hard by life left and right until suicide becomes the option and yet no one around you has the need to understand the struggles of mental health for a Black boy. Being kicked out, begging for food, wanting love to be stable, depressed, and having the plan to kill himself and yet it was not his time.
With the continuous crime and being shot himself, Shaka turned cold. An armor as he walked around with his gun with the drive to make sure his life was never again in the hands of someone else until he took a life himself and now prison was where he would end up. “No one told me that if I didn’t find a way to deal with the fear I felt, I will become paranoid; would reach a point where I would rather victimize someone else than become a victim”.
Shaka tells his story so bluntly and it is no different from his time served in prison. With the things he saw, the continued crime he committed, being a father in prison, trying to break out, calling shots, religion, facing the life he took, showing his humanity, and even finding love. Today, he is a great man with many accomplishments and can share his testimony because before, he was a scared boy controlled by fear of a wicked world.
“I thought about the psychological breaking point that men in prison reach, and I wondered what kind of mental pressure it would take for me to become a savage, capable of the most reprehensible acts of violence and depravity”.
Shaka Senghor breaks down the reality of being incarcerated, leaving no stone unturned. One thing I appreciated was his willingness to turn inward and not try to make excuses for his way of thinking or actions, yet telling it like it is while condemning his wrongdoings. His story sheds light on the ways the criminal justice system does not actually want to help people who are incarcerated. By discouraging them, beating them down physically and mentally, making it virtually impossible for them to sustain relationships with their loved ones, and mirroring the same power dynamics in society, we must ask ourselves: If we want incarcerated people to be productive, functioning citizens in society one day, do we give them the opportunity to redeem themselves?
Senghor transparently details his lived experience in Detroit and in the criminal justice system. He touches on rape culture, relationships between incarcerated people and people who are not incarcerated, and structural issues within the system. He also talks about the sexualization of Black boys, addiction, consequences of being in solitary confinement for long periods of time, the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma, the investment in prisons rather than schools, and much more. This book was excellently written and is an essential read.
Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison. That subtitle rings true throughout the entire book. James White, Pumpkin, Jay. Only 19 years old and his life is about to change.... He knew he was going to prison the night he shot to kill. He knew his life was virtually over when he had just made a new one. He knew Brenda was going to raise their baby alone while he sat in a prison cell. His lawyer promised 10 years, but he was sentenced to 40 years behind bars. He had been dealing crack and running around the 'hood since he was 14. He was shot at 17. He killed at 19. He never wanted this life, but what else could he do with a mommy that didn't want him and a daddy that was never around? Prison took its toll on Jay. But he eventually found himself, more importantly he finally found the strength to forgive himself and apologize for what he had done. He needed closure, but that closure didn't find him until almost 10 years into his sentence. He was willing to change and for that, I applaud him. He didn't deserve this life, his family didn't deserve it, his victim didn't deserve it. This memoir is told through alternating past and present. We see James become Jay. We see who Jay is in prison. We see the two personalities slowing merging into one. We see why he felt a certain way and why he reacted the way he did. He was part of a Brotherhood he felt the need to uphold. He wanted to mend the broken and feed the poor. He wanted everyone to be accepted within the laws of the jungle. That is how he found himself. Through his brothers. Through his father. Through Lil Jay. Through Ebony. For that, he will always be thankful.
Big shout out to Blogging for Books for sending me a copy of Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison!
This review and more can be found at A Reader's Diary!
A stirring depiction of growing up in Detroit in the 80’s and 90s, combined with a redemptive arc through (despite, not necessarily because of) the criminal justice system.
Simple and straightforward writing. Honest, both in Shakas depictions of his mistakes, and the portrayal of the difficulty of breaking out of a cycle of trauma and oppression.
I’m left impressed at the effort and difficulty it took Shaka to rehabilitate himself. And the lasting message I’ve absorbed is how far away from the professed ideals of rehabilitation and reintegration our criminal justice system is.
It would be hard to convince me that racism doesn't exist in America or that everyone grows up with similar opportunities. What I have learned as a physician is that my socioeconomically marginalized patients have the toughest time getting equitable treatment in healthcare and their poor health outcomes are a proof of that. I was very active within the African American community in Los Angeles as a medical student and resident but I had nowhere the understanding of what people in such communities have endured. The cycle of violence and lack of access and unfair treatments hinder progress and, as the author highlighted, perpetuate the slave tyranny mentality which is devestating for eveyone, not just our African American comrades. The author did an incredible job highlighting what he went through, where he stumbled, and why he did exactly what someone with his experience would eventually have to suffer through. I read a book like this and reflect on what I'm doing for such affected communities and the sad answer is nothing. I am equipped with great tools to make even a minute difference as a physician in such communities, even more so as a man, even more so as a man of minority status. But I feel crippled by my own battles with medicine and my role in healthcare. Still, reading this book shook me up a little and hopefully something great will come of it in this lifetime. The book is amazing to listen to because it's the author reading it. The story flows very well and he doesn't hide behind big words or fancy sentence editing. You'll be suddenly blindsided by a level of honesty I often don't have with my own self.
I first saw Shaka on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday and thought he was so powerful in telling his story so I knew I had to read his book. The book did not disappoint.
Shaka grew up in a middle class family in Detroit but he struggled with physical and emotional abuse he received from his mother. He doesn't go into great detail about the abuse but the reader knows it's a central part of why he turned to the streets. He wanted to feel loved and validated and thought the streets would provide that to him. But, of course, turning to the streets only wreaked havoc in his life and on the life of others.
Shaka details some of the horrific things he experienced while in prison on a murder charge and how he managed to turn his life around through reading and writing.
The only complaint I have about the book is the nonlinear fashion in which he told the story. I don't usually prefer books where the timeline jumps around.
Overall, it was a powerful book and I'm glad I finally sat down to read it.
Even an angry convicted murderer serving 19 years in prison (7 of those in solitary confinement) can turn his life around and become a positive influence and an asset to society. We need to stop judging and start loving more. A truly inspirational book about hope and redemption.
Reading this while finishing the last season of The Wire made me appreciate just how entrenched in realism the show is. But this isn't a review of The Wire, which you should definitely watch, it's a review of Shaka Senghor's memoir, Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison. It actually takes place in a number of American prisons, which was an eye-opener to me because I didn't realise the regularity with which prisoners are transferred. I first came across Shaka Senghor through a podcast episode (Conversations with Tyler, Episode 80) and was keen to read his memoir, which was both shocking and fascinating. Having read his memoir, I'm keen to read his other books -- particularly his novels.
I loved everything about this; the power of reading and forgiveness can take you to places that you never thought were possible. My favorite part? The author read the audiobook. What a freeing experience—to be able to read your testimony aloud.
Yet another great read by Shaka Senghor, only this book is his memoir, his true life story. He gives a very vivid and detailed description of his life in the streets of Detroit and the time he spent in prison. This is a story of a lost soul filled with, family issues, anger and a need to belong which he found in the streets of Detroit. After landing himself in prison for murder he had time to re-think his wrongs, which took a while but he slowly turned his life into something meaningful and positive before and after his sentence.
This story was very well written, and I found after starting the book I could not put it down. The story read back and forth from his life on the streets to his time spent in the prison system then ended with the here and now. I was able to relate to his story because of my familiarity of the city and I knew and hung out with guys just like him growing up in Detroit in the 80′s (yea I did). It’s funny where life can take you with just your way of thinking, and you never know why some people make the life decisions that they do. I have nothing, but respect for Mr. Senghor for allowing us into his head to see what he was thinking then (as when he did his wrongs) and what he now realizes (as to why those things may have happened). Reading his story I couldn’t help but feel empathy with what he was going through.
My favorite parts of his story were, how his father's love for him never wavered, he was there for him through it all, very touching, as well as the ending, which is just the ending of the book. He has found, self-love, his soul mate (OMG, so beautiful...I'm a sucker for a good love story), started a family and a willingness to help others, especially our young black males.
I commend Shaka for telling his story and being real. After reading this I am convinced that every young black male in Detroit or any urban city should read this book...I'm almost certain if they are headed down the path he went this book will do something to help them change their mindset.
Great job Mr. Senghor… This sista is proud of you and what you have and are accomplishing. Keep Moving Forward and Doing What You Do!
There have been a lot of prison memoirs published over the last decade. There is much to be learned from these memoirs, and it's important that there is space for these experiences to be heard, but some are more skillfully told than others. Senghor is a talented, thoughtful writer who avoids too much sentimentality and portrays his experience critically and with an eye toward criminal justice reform writ large, and not just as it applies to his own story.
I am teaching a unique course this semester -- the first at my university that invites campus undergrads and incarcerated college students to co-learn together in a prison classroom. We'll read one book together as a large group (Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship) and small groups read an additional book, including this one. Students are asked to read each title through the lens of "the American Dream." Did Senghor ever have access to the American Dream as we define it as a nation? Did he have access to an American Dream that was distinctly his own? Are there systemic obstacles that prevent him from achieving that dream? Are there ways we, as individuals and as communities, can overhaul or re-design how all Americans gain access to that dream? If the American Dream is about working hard, did Senghor accomplish the hard work necessary to earn the dream, and was it, in the end, awarded? I can't wait to hear how our students wrestle with these questions...
“The ultimate betrayal, however, and the hardest thing for me to deal with, was my own betrayal. I had turned my back on myself the first time I picked up drugs, alcohol and guns. I had given up on myself. In fact, I had never even given myself a chance to succeed.”
In the wee hours of the morning an action and reaction in the span of a few seconds changed lives forever. A man was dead and nineteen-year-old Shaka was responsible.
“Writing My Wrongs: A Memoir” by Shaka Senghor is by no means an easy read but it’s definitely worth the read. He takes readers back and forth in time with detailed descriptions that create a strong sense of place. This emotional and moving memoir works on multiple levels. Shaka learns and teaches that you should try to learn from your past, but not let it define you. Themes of strength, courage, redemption and the healing powers of love and forgiveness reverberate throughout.
Shaka’s background could have easily been sensationalized, but it’s not. Instead he simply tells his story of survival, recovery, and success on his own terms. I applaud him for his courage, humility, and growth in laying bare his emotional and personal struggles.
“Writing My Wrongs” is highly recommended.
Love, love, love the title. Continued success, brother.
Excellent memoir of a man's fight from the streets through the broken prison system to redemption of his soul. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the personal impact of the racially polarised US.
[No star rating because that just seems wrong.] David Foster Wallace wrote an essay about how sports memoirs have so much promise--people flock to them because they're meant to uncover the psyches of those who have achieved athletic domination. What makes them win? What motivates them to be the best? And then you actually get something like "I had just won Wimbledon. And it was thrilling." There is a little of that with this book for me. The memoir is supposed to detail how Shaka went from a 19-year-old prisoner who had just committed murder to an engaged citizen inspired to make a better life for himself, his children, and his community. His experience itself is beyond impressive. But the explanation of how it happened left me wanting more. Shaka identifies certain things--a letter from his son, a letter from his victim's godmother, books, classes, a love interest--as part of what turns him around, but the book seemed to gloss over how these things actually changed his mindset. The writing just didn't get me there.
Wise, well crafted, and brimming with tremendous strength and talent. The redemptive journey from streets to prison to transformed man is of course a classic tale -- but Shaka Senghor's version is all at once artfully gripping, socially relevant, and deeply human. He makes us see and feel the world through his eyes: first as a hopeful and eager-to-please child; then as a lost and jaded youth, drifting through numerous forms of heartbreak and vicious self-sabotage, both on the streets and behind bars; and finally as he discovers reasons to love, recreate himself, and make a career out of mentoring others. This is one of very few books I'd recommend to just about anyone. It's about coming of age as an African American man, and it's also about being human: vulnerable, powerful, wired to survive and grow and love.
Very good autobio of a man who spends some time in prison: How he got himself there and how he means to get himself out. How his incarceration affects his family. And mostly how he works to help others put prison behind them or not go there in the first place.
It's quite readable though I saw a few places it could be tighter. Note: I hope i write as well someday. :)
A great memoir of how one can make such terrible decisions and not realize it until it's too late.....fast forward to now the author is making great contributions to his community and is a testament to how even the most hardened criminals can be rehabilitated.
Writing My Wrongs is a book with so many different levels of nuances. It speaks of a young boy's personal journey and the journey so many young black men take in through the justice system and how that system is a failure at the supposed reform that it is supposed to make in someone's life. The journey that Mr. Senghor takes from a young man scared of the dissolution of his parent's marriage, and the anger he harbored of his mother not loving him and telling him that she wishes he had never been born. The things that can happen to a child's psyche when those words are reinforced by corporal punishment in a demeaning way creates a hurt that if not dealt with can manifest itself in lending adage to the saying "hurt people, hurt people". Combine that with the fact that the neighborhood that used to be decent, has been corrupted with drugs and PTSD from growing up in such an environment or the men going to fight in a war that was not their own. The thought that mental health services was not a necessary means of coping and understanding feelings so all of those different factors get bottled up and remain unspoken; and that is only the author. Imagine that same scenario, time and again for others who are incarcerated with the same background and we can imagine how the root of the problem gets exposed. No education, no means of self sufficiency, no viable programs to help family with counseling services, and making prison systems for profit keeping them incarcerated, all leads to making the likelihood of some young person vulnerable to the system and keeping them there longer by authorities provoking an already volatile personalities, shows how the evidence is stacked against our young people. I know this has also made me rethink what should happen with inmates in prison. The absolute of authority should not always entrusted 100% because the authority is given to those who are imperfect. Some people do not have society's best interest at heart when trying to deal with those who are convicted and understanding that provoking those who already feel cornered increases the injustices that have been stacked against them up to this point. The book showed me that it's best to keep a mind occupied and give them a chance at education rather than to plot mischief because as it has been said time and again, idle hands is a devil's playground and that includes the mind. So much that I thought wasn't needed in prison life, could feed a person's desire to live or not or feel like they have hope or should they wallow in that despair and when that happens they lash out to keep and feel respect. Like I said, the book really made me think and I think it's good for young black men to read to be able to connect with a brother who has gone through it, did the tough work of self examination and valuation and has come out on the other side.
I met Shaka Senghor at the OLC Conference in Sandusky, Ohio in 2016. To this day, I still remember his speech bringing me to tears, although I can't remember the context (from what I can recall, I believe it was him either describing the time he was shot at 17 or the moment when he was arrested). I bought his book after his speech. Three years later, I finally read his book, and I really regret not reading it sooner.
My interest in the American prison system piqued after both reading and watching Orange is the New Black and although the show is fictional, I was totally aghast by the way prisoners were treated like animals.
Shaka's story not only describes the brutality and inequality of the American prison system, but it describes that it's entirely possible for someone to change for the better. I honestly CANNOT believe that he had to endure four and a half consecutive years of solitary confinement. From my time being a teen librarian, I know that there are teens out there right now who really need Shaka's help and I'm truly glad that there is someone like him out there right now helping youth escape and overcome the corrupted society that Americans (mostly white) have created.
The truth is that the prison system absolutely should NOT be focused on making (and saving) money; people are people, not numbers. It's not okay that guards are allowed to get away with unfairly treating prisoners and getting them sent to solitary over arbitrary "rules." And you know what? It's bullshit that many prisoners will end up going back into the system because they don't have outside support nor do they have proper reformation in prison. Prison was created to be a place where criminals could go to to better themselves but you know what it is now? It's just a zoo that we shove people in and we just keep shoving more people in.
I highly recommend reading this book as well as taking a look at #cut50, an bipartisan organization dedicated to cutting crime and incarceration, with the ultimate goal of reducing the prison population in half by 2025.
I have a hard time articulating my feelings about this one - I may have to circle back. Not even sure how to rate it yet.
This is the story of Shaka Senghor - how/why he ended up killing a man, at 19, how he spent the next 20 years behind bars, and how he's been trying to right his wrongs since he got out.
It was a very interesting read - the book does a really good job to make you understand how things get out of hand, it helps you to be more compassionate and empathetic, and to believe in second chances. The message is strong, and needs to be heard by all the lost kids out there.
There is definitely hope in the book - it is powerful to see him face his anger, change his point of view, and try to change his life around. The work he's now doing right now for the communities is amazing, and necessary.
However, most of the memoir was distressing for me to read. The broken homes, the street life, the numbness to death and right/wrong, the convictions - all this is the daily life of so many kids, it was really painful to read, and to realize that this is not changing. In addition, the horrific prison condition, the dehumanization of inmates, the violence and rage were also difficult for me to read. It was like watching Groundhog day, every time you feel you've made progress, the same crap keeps happening over and over again.