Shaka Senghor’s compelling memoir is about redemption.
The text of Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison moves back and forth between two segments of Senghor’s life: his life as a teenager who started dealing crack at age 14 and his life as a convicted murderer in prison for 19 years.
The story lines, which eventually read as a complete life story, are informative, distressing, and eventually hopeful and powerful.
As Shaka explains the series of situations and choices that led him to commit a murder and end up in prison, it does not read as excuses. It read so that I could truly understand how it all could happen. In fact, I would have been more surprised if he didn’t end up in prison for something.
During his 19 years behind bars, most of which he admits were not productive or redemptive, Shaka eventually reached a turning point – while in solitary confinement, he began voraciously reading and then writing himself towards redemption.
Here is a snippet:
“I wrote about the physical violence I had suffered in my life, and how it had made me feel toward people. The way I had come to see it, no one had ever felt anything for me, so I didn’t have the obligation to care about anybody else. I discovered layers upon layers of scars, from feeling unloved and abandoned, to feeling like no one would ever care for me or stand up in my defense. I discovered that, like many young males who grow up in distressed neighborhoods, I probably suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. I had suppressed these feelings because there was no one I could talk to about them. 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 violence that had possessed me for all of these years. Each time I filled a page of my journal, I felt as if a great weight had been lifted.”
A case for prison reform
Shaka’s book presents a troubling view of our prisons. Ninety percent of prisoners are eventually released, and his observations show us why most of them will likely come out more troubled than when they went in.
Released on parole in 2009, Shaka now mentors kids in his community and is an advocate for criminal justice reform.
Shaka made lots of serious mistakes. Lots. He took a life. He would be (and is) the first one to tell you this.
But then he redeemed himself and will add more value to his community than many people do without being locked up for 19 years.
Shaka told his story on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and was recently named one of her “Super Soul 100” – a collection of 100 awakened leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity.
You can view the entire Super Soul Sunday that Shaka appears on here. It is about 45 minutes long (no non-Oprah commercials to wait through either)!
Shaka obviously has a natural talent for writing, and for leadership. I hope our society can figure out more ways to discover such talents in kids born into less than ideal situations and in those kids and adults who have already made poor choices.
“Transformation is possible if we create thee space for it to happen,” Shaka says.
“With just a little bit of hope and love we can transform millions of lives.”
Here is more information about his work for criminal justice reform: https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/can-prison-system-be-transformed-shaka-senghor-and-cut50
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