Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 11

By Shaka Senghor

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Chapter 11

  • Section 2 of the book opens back in 1987 with teenage Shaka in his pre-prison years in Detroit. He's contemplating killing himself.
  • He's in a friend's basement hanging out with new friends and drinking alcohol. He hopes they'll notice his sense of desperation, but they seem to be having a good time.
  • Shaka decides to joke about killing himself instead of telling them seriously that he's in need of help.
  • His friends laugh or blow off Shaka's comment. Although Shaka was often around guns and violence as a teenager, no one around him ever talked about suicide, and he didn't understand depression or the mental health risks he was experiencing.
  • Now he wonders what had happened to all of them back then, why they could laugh off the thought of suicide.
  • But at the time, he didn't know how to cope with his feelings. He and his friends keep drinking for another half hour, and then Shaka heads home to his father's house.
  • Though his dad and stepmom and other family members have tried hard to make a good space for him in the basement of their house, Shaka feels like he doesn't belong in their home.
  • He's also having trouble fitting in at school, and he feels burdened and depressed.
  • As he walks, he decides to commit suicide when he gets home. He has a sawed off shotgun hidden under his mattress, and he plans to use it to end his life.
  • Things are so bad in the world of Shaka's mind that he even smiles as he thinks about how his parents will feel guilty when they find his body.
  • He thinks maybe they'll regret their decision to get divorced, and maybe his mom will regret ignoring him and saying she wished he'd never been born.
  • As Shaka comes into his house, he does feel guilty when he thinks about his stepsister and his nephew, who live there too. He knows they'll be really upset if he goes through with the suicide plan. But he hides those emotions and keeps going into the basement. He doesn't even turn on the lights.
  • Shaka sits in a reclining chair next to his bed and smokes a cigarette, then thinks about life since he's moved into his dad's house.
  • Lots of good things seem to be happening, including a real sibling connection with Shaka's stepsister, some friends in the neighborhood, and a nice home environment.
  • But Shaka has trouble settling into his new home. He can't get over being rejected by his biological mother, and that makes it hard for him to accept the loving home his father and stepmother are trying to give him.
  • Shaka knows his dad is worried about some of Shaka's behavior. His grades aren't as good as they were and he often skips school or gets kicked out.
  • Shaka says that the most troubling thing about this time in his life is that nobody stopped and asked him what was wrong.
  • Much later, his father told him about his own struggles at that time. His dad was coping with being divorced recently.
  • He was also trying to build his new relationship with Shaka's stepmom while, not to mention watching out for his three biological children and three stepchildren.
  • But Shaka doesn't know that at the time, and he continues to brood about his situation, thinking about all the times his mother has beaten him.
  • Once, he tried to show her a good grade on a test and she threw a cast iron pot at his head. Shaka continues thinking miserable thoughts until he feels bold enough to grab the sawed off shotgun.
  • Shaka keeps thinking about his mom's abandonment of him, and then he tries to resent his father for not taking a firmer stand against his mother when she beat him.
  • But Shaka can't really blame his situation on his father. His dad isn't perfect, but he really is a good guy, and he definitely loves Shaka.
  • Shaka knows his father will be heartbroken if he commits suicide, but he plans to go ahead anyway because he feels so terrible.
  • He gets as far as taking the safety off the shotgun.
  • But fortunately, he realizes the sound of the gun would wake his nephew, and after that he can't bear to pull the trigger.
  • Shaka lights another cigarette and then goes upstairs to try and find some prescription medication. He plans to overdose.
  • Shaka actually takes a bunch of pills in an effort to overdose, then goes back to the basement and waits to die. But again, the thought of his nephew helps him.
  • He's afraid his nephew will come down to the basement the next day and find him dead, and Shaka just can't stand that thought. He's starting to feel dizzy from the medication, but he goes to find his stepsister Vanessa.
  • When Shaka tells her what he's done, she gets his dad. Shaka feels cared about, even if he's in desperate straits. He goes back to his room in the basement.
  • Shaka's dad comes down, asks what's wrong, and checks his pulse. After Shaka tells him what he has taken, his dad goes upstairs. Shaka still doesn't know what his dad did during this time (maybe checked to see what the medication was?).
  • Then his dad brings down some coffee and he and Shaka sit and smoke for a while drinking it. Shaka's dad talks to him for about an hour, saying how much he loves Shaka and how he sees how smart Shaka is.
  • Shaka realizes his dad means it. As time goes on, they both realize Shaka will be okay. Luckily, the pills weren't as dangerous as Shaka thought. Shaka's dad sits with him as Shaka drifts off to sleep.
  • Shaka's family doesn't really say anything about his suicide attempt the next day.
  • No one suggests counseling, and his biological mother doesn't get in touch.
  • Shaka does come to the realization he won't try to kill himself again, which is a definite positive. But he still feels terrible emotionally, and he doesn't know what to do with his emotions.
  • Things keep getting worse for Shaka after that. He gets back into selling drugs, has conflict with his dad due to lax school attendance and late hours, and watches his older brothers get sent to prison.
  • After being arrested on a drugs charge, Shaka gets sent to a Job Corps program in Kentucky.
  • The program doesn't sound too bad—it basically teaches trade skills and helps people finish their education. And it's on a campus in the middle of some nice woods and mountains.
  • What's not so awesome is that this is one of Shaka's first full-on encounters with racism. He grew up in a mostly white neighborhood, and his parents encouraged their children to treat all people equally.
  • But someone from the nearby town calls the Jobs Corp and threatens to blow up the building if the African Americans in the program don't leave town.
  • Shaka and his colleagues get evacuated at three a.m., and while they're waiting for the building to be checked out, they see a cross burning in the forest near the campus.
  • But in spite of this awful encounter with racism, the program continues, and Shaka actually is getting something out of it. He gets a GED and also learns how to do carpentry.
  • What's less cool is that he's also back to selling drugs.
  • When a security guard calls Shaka "boy," Shaka has a fight with him. The authorities cut him from the program and stick him on a Greyhound to Detroit.
  • As he rides back on the bus, Shaka thinks about how he's heading right back to his old life, and how disappointed his dad will be.
  • This time, though, Shaka says the consequences of his choices will really land hard. And that will change him permanently.

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