Cori’s Pick: Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor
In a recent internet rabbit hole moment, I ended up on the MIT Idea Lab site in their Director’s Fellows listing. (I truly don’t remember where this internet endeavor started, where it was going, OR how many clicks I must have made to end up there, hundreds?) I was perusing the bios and came across a gentleman by the name of Shaka Senghor. After that I was on librarian autopilot, researching and hunting for information about his story until I got Shaka’s biography in my hands and I devoured it in just a couple of days.
Shaka grew up in Detroit and in 1991 at the age of 19 he ended up in prison and was sentenced 17 to 40 years for second-degree murder. He was incarcerated for 19 years, 7 of those were spent in solitary confinement. His story is not one of wrongful imprisonment; he was guilty of murdering a man. Shaka never denied that. While reading his story though, you do get a better picture of his fragmented family life that snowballed into a choice of life on the streets – and ultimately selling illegal drugs.
Through the chapters of his book, Shaka lays out the early years of his life, the fracture of his family, his choice to sell drugs, his anger towards life, and the realities (and corruption) of prison. But while serving his sentence, Shaka gets to a place of self-examination and redemption. In 2010, at the age of 38 he was released from jail and is currently a Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab, a college lecturer, and author as well as a leading voice in criminal justice reform.
This book, while tragic, gave me so much hope. One statistic I saw from 2019 showed that 64% of prisoners who had been convicted of violent offenses were arrested within eight years. Shaka beat the odds. They were all against him – lack of resources, lack of support, lack of love – but he overcame. Not everyone gets a second chance after a bad choice (and some that do don’t take full advantage of it), but Shaka did and that means others can too. I am so glad my internet rabbit hole landed on his name; this book is inspirational and worthwhile!