Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 13

By Shaka Senghor

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Chapter 13

  • Wow. That last chapter was pretty grim.
  • Good news: in this one, we get to revisit Detroit in 1990, while Shaka was free.
  • Bad news: this chapter is pretty much traumatizing for him, too.
  • It starts with Shaka's dad picking him up from the Greyhound station after Shaka gets sent home from the Job Corps program in Kentucky. Shaka's dad is pretty disappointed that Shaka got kicked out of the program, and he's not very sympathetic to Shaka's point that the security guard he fought with spoke to him disrespectfully.
  • He tells Shaka, "There is never an excuse to allow someone's words to stand in the way of your success."(13.1)
  • Shaka and his dad have a misunderstanding here.
  • Shaka wants to explain that he encountered intense racial prejudice for the first time in Kentucky, and he felt like he was standing up for other Black people by fighting with the security guard.
  • But what Shaka hadn't thought about was how his dad's early experiences might shape his response to the incident.
  • Shaka's father grew up in the sixties and seventies, a time when racial tensions were high in a lot of parts of America, and he'd signed up for the military when he was seventeen.
  • He'd experienced a lot of even tougher stuff than the prejudice Shaka faced in Kentucky, so he basically tells Shaka he should have been able to cope with it and find a way to succeed anyway. At this point in Shaka's life, he just can't understand why his dad isn't angrier about the racism Shaka has experienced. And his dad can't understand why Shaka didn't shrug it off and work around it.
  • But Shaka is glad to be home. He starts hanging out with a lot of his old friends.
  • Unfortunately, he also starts selling drugs again part-time. His friends Mack and Coop are selling cocaine on the same block, but they don't mind if Shaka sells a little too.
  • But one night things go really bad.
  • Shaka's sleeping on the couch at his sister Tamica's house when Coop wakes him up at two in the morning.
  • Coop is out of drugs but has a customer, so he asks Shaka for a few of his rocks.
  • Shaka gives him a bag and asks Coop to come by and tap on the window when he's done selling.
  • Shaka starts to go back to sleep, but then he hears someone screaming his name. He eventually realizes that Coop's baby's mother is shouting to him from across the street.
  • Pretty soon Coop rushes through his mom's front door with a gun.
  • As Shaka crosses the street toward the house where Coop is, Coop is shouting that someone tried to rob him. Shaka is still trying to figure out what's going on, until he walks into the house and sees a guy lying on the living room floor.
  • The guy is bleeding like crazy, and he says he's dying.
  • Coop shouts that he's planning to shoot the guy in the head. He claims the guy threatened to kill his entire family.
  • Shaka gets Coop to settle down enough to explain what happened.
  • The guy lying on the floor was a customer who had come to buy drugs from Coop earlier in the day. Then the guy had come back for more, and that's when Coop went to get a few rocks from Shaka.
  • When Coop got back to the house, the guy threatened him with a gun and also threatened to kill everyone in the house unless Coop showed him where the whole drug stash was.
  • Coop's daughter, mother, sister, and daughter's mother were all in the house, so Coop was terrified for their safety. He fought back, managed to get the gun, and shot the attacker in the chest.
  • Shaka thinks they should get Coop's mother to report the robbery attempt, and he says that will keep Coop from being charged with anything.
  • Coop was acting in self-defense, not to mention the defense of his family, after all.
  • But Coop is too panicked to think straight, and he wants to stick the body in the backyard of an empty house near Tamica's place.
  • Shaka tries to convince him that's a bad idea, but it doesn't work, and at the time Shaka says he didn't have the courage to insist on the right thing.
  • Once they get the body to the vacant lot, Coop actually fires more shots into the dead body. Shaka thinks Coop was covering up his fear and vulnerability by acting tough.
  • When the police do investigate, it's obvious to them that the body has been moved across the street. They say no charges would have been filed if the body hadn't been moved out of the house.
  • Eventually Coop gets five years in prison for what happened.
  • Before he goes to prison, Coop tells his brother Boe that Shaka would make a good employee in Boe's drug operation.
  • Coop and Boe click with each other and work together. The neighbors love them, for the most part, and they're very popular with the girls on their street.
  • But things are about to get much worse than they've ever been for Shaka.
  • Shaka has a misunderstanding with an ex-girlfriend who hasn't been honest with him, and he says some harsh things to her.
  • Two days later her new boyfriend comes by and gives Shaka a hard time about it. Shaka escalates the conflict and encourages the dude to fight.
  • But what Shaka doesn't know is that the guy isn't looking for a fistfight.
  • The guy pulls a gun and fires on Shaka, who is unarmed. He hits Shaka two times in the leg and once in the foot as Shaka runs for cover.
  • When Shaka gets to safety, he's overwhelmed by fear, loneliness, and anger. He can't understand why the guy tried to kill him.
  • His sister Tamica finds Shaka and takes care of him at her house. He's so upset that he tries to grab a gun and get revenge, but fortunately Tamica and Coop's mother calm him down.
  • No ambulance arrives for Shaka after a call to 911, which unfortunately is pretty standard in his neighborhood. Boe eventually takes him to the hospital.
  • At the hospital, Shaka almost feels like he's being cared for by robots.
  • It's sad, but in Detroit at the time it was no surprise to see a kid who'd been shot in the ER. The hospital staff do their jobs, but they don't get emotionally involved.
  • If the hospital workers seem stoic, the police officers who come by later are even more focused on work.
  • They ask a ton of questions and are pretty confrontational even with Shaka, who's the victim of the shooting.
  • Shaka says he doesn't know who the shooter was. That's because in his neighborhood there's a code that nobody tells the police about someone else in the community.
  • The police can tell Shaka is lying. They aren't too happy about it. One of them gets really mad, blames Shaka for getting shot, and calls him a bunch of names, mainly racial slurs.
  • Shaka says he felt victimized all over again, especially since the police officer didn't seem to care at all about his injuries.
  • Finally, a doctor turns up to treat the wounds. Shaka is hoping that he can tell the doctor about his fears and needs.
  • But the doctor doesn't say much to Shaka. He pretty much just digs the bullet out with needle-nosed pliers.
  • Oh yeah, a few bits of Shaka's flesh and bone come out with it. Bedside manner is definitely not this doc's strength.
  • Shaka goes to sleep after the procedure and wakes up to find his father, stepmother, and mother nearby.
  • Shaka's family is obviously concerned about him. But they're traumatized by it all too, and they don't really know how to help him.
  • In fact, nobody knows how to help Shaka.
  • Nobody offers him counseling or knows how to help him make sense of what he's feeling.
  • No one warns him that he'll become paranoid if he doesn't find a way to deal with his fear.
  • He doesn't even get a hug from anybody.
  • The only way Shaka knows to deal with all this trauma is to become angry, and to try and protect himself by carrying a gun everywhere.
  • He closes the chapter with one scary line: "Fourteen months later, I would be the one pulling the trigger." (13.42)

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