Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Introduction

Everybody loves a good comeback story. Whether it's Darth Vader following Luke back to the light side or Snape turning out to be way more of a good guy than we thought, we all want to see somebody come back from a tough past.

Shaka Senghor's Writing My Wrongs is exactly that kind of story. (Minus the blue lightning and wizard duels, but hey: you can't have everything.)

Before he'd turned twenty, Senghor had sold drugs, done drugs, and shot somebody. He was sentenced to decades in prison before he was old enough to rent a car. This book is the story of how he came back from that.

In fact, now he's a bestselling author and respected community leader. It's kind of like being Obi-Wan and J. K. Rowling rolled into one.

It didn't happen overnight—in fact, he spent nineteen years in prison. It took a lot of those years for Shaka Senghor to turn around the unhealthy patterns of his past and become who he wanted to be. Published by Convergent Books in 2016, Writing My Wrongs is a gripping and timely story of hope and transformation.

And it really is a great story. From Senghor's hair-raising experiences as a teenage drug dealer living on the streets to his harrowing stories of solitary confinement to his slow but super inspiring growth into the man he actually wants to be, Senghor's narrative is pretty insanely riveting.

And luckily for the reader, one of the things Senghor discovered along the way is his talent for writing, so he really knows how to tell that story. To call it a page-turner is an understatement.

Along with being a great read, this book gets at questions we all want to know the answers to. Things like:

  • Can we really change, or are we stuck with the worst version of ourselves?
  • What does it take to change so that your life is not about past mistakes, but about becoming the best version of yourself?
  • Where do you find the strength to do that? In understanding and forgiving yourself? In relationships with other people? In spirituality?

Senghor tells his story of what transformed him. Even if your life is less dramatic than his—which, let's be honest, it probably is—you'll still be inspired by Senghor's tale. We think it has something to say to everyone about learning from past mistakes and becoming the best person you can be.

What is Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison About and Why Should I Care?

So maybe a prison memoir sounds about as far from your day-to-day life as science fiction or historical fantasy. The idea of getting locked up behind bars sounds about as realistic as getting a flying car, and everything you know about prison comes from Johnny Cash songs and Orange Is The New Black.

In other words, you're lucky and you're privileged.

But that doesn't mean that Shaka Senghor's story isn't relevant. In fact, Senghor's story and the way he explores these questions are especially relevant for Americans living in the 21st Century. In recent years, lots of Americans from really different political perspectives have started to question U.S. prison policies.

It's not just every day that you hear the same thing from Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul, but they both agreed in 2015 that the U.S. has a huge prison population—almost a quarter of people in prison anywhere are in prison here, even though the U.S. only has about 5% of the world's total population.

There are lots of complicated historical reasons for this, but the bottom line is that it seems too high to a lot of people on both liberal and conservative sides of American politics. And there's been some bipartisan work to try and change the system, but that conversation is by no means over.

In other words, America is likely to be thinking about the issues Senghor raises for a long time…and you should as well.

Because, even if words like "parole" and "plea deal" only reach your ears when you're watching a cop show in the safety of you're living room, the prison system and the men and women inside it are important to care about.

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Resources

Websites

Shaka's Official Site
Shaka's thoughts on lots of things.

Shaka's MIT Media Lab Page
Here's Shaka's cool looking homepage at the MIT Media Lab, where he was a Director's Fellow.

Movie or TV Productions

Credit Where Credit's Due
Shaka had a few credits on IMDB.

Three Minutes of Fame
Shaka's own home page has a mini-documentary about him…and it's excellent.

Articles and Interviews

It's Time for Tech to Embrace Prison Reform
A quick read where a writer (a standup comedian who worked for The Onion and The Daily Show, just to make everything cooler) shares Shaka's ideas on getting out of prison and tech.

Video

Shaka's TED Talk
Shaka gives an awesome talk that pulls together a lot of the themes of Writing My Wrongs. (It's a TED Talk so you know it's gonna be good.)

Shaka on Oprah
One of the best conversations of Oprah's whole life, according to Oprah. You can watch it here.

Audio

Shaka Does NPR
Five minute long NPR interview with Shaka.

Images

Shaka Senghor at Detroit BMe (Black Male Engagement) Awards
Picture of Shaka and some Knight Foundation officials at the Detroit Black Male Engagement Awards.

Shaka Senghor, Martha Minow, and Joi Ito, Cambridge, MA
Picture of Shaka with Martha Minow, Dean and Professor at Harvard Law School; and Joi Ito, Director of MIT's Media Lab and author of the Foreword to Writing My Wrongs.