Book 24 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from April 19 - 25
**I received a copy of this book via Blogging for Books and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it**
Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison
by Shaka Senghor
Summary (via the book jacket)
In 1991, Shaka Senghor was sent to prison for second-degree murder. Today, he is a lecturer at universities, a leading voice on criminal justice reform, and an inspiration to thousands.
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 eleven, his parents' marriage began to unravel, and the beatings from his mother worsened, sending him on a downward spiral that saw him running away from home, turning to drug dealing to survive, and end up in prison for murder at the age of nineteen, fuming with anger and despair.
Writing My Wrongs is the story of what came next. During his nineteen-year incarceration, seven of which were spent in solitary confinement, Senghor discovered literature, meditation, self-examination, and the kindness of others - tools 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 thirty-eight, Senghor became an activist and mentor to young men and women facing circumstances like his. Doing work int the community and having 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.
In equal turns, Writing My Wrongs is a page-turning portrait of life in the shadow of poverty, violence, and fear; an unforgettable story of redemption, reminding us that our worst deeds don't define us; and a compelling witness to our country's need for rethinking its approach to crime, prison, and the men and women sent there.
This book was very well-written and gave me a perspective that I don't normally get to hear about. The author is intelligent, didn't have the stereotypical missing father, and still got caught up in the "glamour" of drugs to thrive in his neighborhood, which sets him on a path to destruction. I couldn't fathom that I was reading about the experiences of a young teenage boy because it's so far out of my realm.
The author is very self-aware and did a lot of introspection. Even if the reasons weren't correct or ultimately defensible (he took a man's life), he was able to explain why it felt like the only option at the time in a way that was understandable yet not defensive or self-pitying. That's a fine line to walk and I'm definitely interested in reading his other books and watching his TED talk.
Side note: I can imagine how incredibly frustrating it would feel that he needed to complete a program in order to be considered for parole but the prison didn't have enough resources to provide the program to everyone that needed it in a timely manner.
A Few Quotes from the Book
"As long as there was a threat to my freedom, I acted like I was ready to change, but the moment I got free, I didn't care anymore. It would take ten years and a lot [of] misfortune for me to understand that real change comes only when you are completely and thoroughly disgusted with your actions and the consequences that they produce."
"That's how my relationship with Brenda began. You know, "Boy meets girl, girl asks boy to borrow a gun, boy and girl start dealing crack together.""