I listened to the book ‘Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison’ by Shaka Senghor this week on Audible.com.
Detroit native, Senghor spent nearly 20 years in prison for murder and lived nearly five years in solitary confinement. His book is a memoir of his early childhood days as a smart and happy child being raised with his siblings in a two parent household to how things quickly derailed shortly after his parent’s breakup. Not happy with his mother’s harsh disciplinary tactics, Senghor ran away from home at 14 and instantly got caught up in a life of crime which landed him in prison not long thereafter.
After being shot at the age of 17, Senghor vowed to never be a victim again and at 19 he shot and killed a white man who he felt had threatened him. He vividly shares the prison experiences that changed him from an angry and violent man to an avid student, reader, writer, and advocate for other prisoners who struggled as he did with coping behind bars.
There is no story that can prepare anyone for the prison experience, but ‘Writing My Wrongs’ does a great job of helping the reader acquire compassion for the state of mind of a prisoner. It’s easy to conclude that prisons are not designed to rehabilitate the majority of inmates who occupy that space for long periods of time, but Senghor demonstrates the tenacity and mental fortitude required to self rehabilitate when the desire is strong enough.
The final chapters present Senghor nearly 40 years old trying to adjust to life on the outside and the difficulties he faces trying to earn a living along with the obstacles blocking him from pursuing the goals he committed to if ever released. As we take our digital society for granted, Senghor is still trying to learn the technologies that were not a part of his life before he was imprisoned and certainly not required or in use while in prison. Fortunately, his work in the Detroit community connected him with the M.I.T. Media Lab who took sincere interest in his mission and helped provide opportunities to reach his goals.
My only knock on ‘Writing My Wrongs’ was that Senghor was the reader of the audio book. The story is so dramatic that it would have been better served to have a professional dramatic reader employed in that role. That knock is easily erased by picking up a copy of the book and reading it yourself. His writing style is as expert as some of the best that I’ve read.
Overall, it’s a great book that left me encouraged that there are plenty more people like him who made bad decisions as a youth and parlayed their anger and punishment into a better life for themselves and the people connected to them.
The book reminds us that we have no right to give up on anyone. As long as there is breath, there is the opportunity for change.
Check out Shaka Sengor’s Ted Talk below