Study Guide

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

By Shaka Senghor


  • Shaka ends with a short but powerful afterword. He talks about looking through the locker he kept with him in prison. He finds a letter written by the godmother of the man he shot.
  • She sent it when Shaka had been in prison for about six years.
  • It came at a really important moment in Shaka's life: he was super conflicted because he wanted to grow into a different person but he didn't want to give up his old instincts.
  • But the powerful letter his victim's godmother wrote expressed a profound hope.
  • She really thought Shaka could change, and she said so in the letter. She told him about the pain of losing her godson, and how it still affected her and others in her family.
  • But she also said she loves and forgives Shaka. She's a Christian, so she believes that God loves Shaka, and she does too. And she makes it clear that she believes Shaka can actually change, through God's help.
  • Shaka wrote back to the letter, and they wound up corresponding. It took about five years for the changes his godmother hoped for to really start happening. But they did.
  • Shaka says this is basically how hope works. It might seem misguided or even silly to some people.
  • Yet years later a kind word or an act of forgiveness may really be one of the things that gives someone power to change.
  • Shaka says that his own life could have turned out lots of ways, and that bad things are not inevitable for anyone.
  • He says he was angry and lost, and lots of other teenagers are too, but he thinks no one was born stuck in anger and loss, and there's hope to come back even for someone who's in that cycle.
  • We really do need to give Shaka the last word here. Here's how he closes the book:
  • "That's why I'm asking you to envision a world where men and women aren't heldhostage to their pasts, where misdeeds and mistakes don't define you for the rest of your life. In an era of record incarcerations and a culture of violence, we can learn to love those who no longer love themselves. Together, we can begin to make things right."(Afterword, 16).

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