Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 14

By Shaka Senghor

Chapter 14

  • To make this chapter a little easier to follow, we're giving you some up front details:
  • Setting: Standish Maximum Correctional Facility
  • Standish, Michigan
  • When: 1992, one year into Shaka's prison sentence (he's twenty)
  • Shaka adjusts to Maximum Security. Officers have tons of power, prisoners are locked down most of the time with even less freedom than in Shaka's previous prison experience.
  • How tough is it?
  • Shaka is even put in a restraint arrangement that's kind of like a leash.
  • And the window shutter on his cell door has to stay closed most of the time.
  • Shaka feels really alone for first time in his prison experience.
  • At least Shaka's neighbor across the hall slips him a note and some magazines.
  • This neighbor is in because he cut up the face of someone who owed him.
  • But the guy seems cool and mild-mannered, so Shaka attributes this to the general brutality of prison and how it messes people up.
  • There is one bright spot to where Shaka is now: the library is good, and Shaka starts enjoying Stephen King and Roots and Terry McMillan.
  • The not so bright spot: Shaka becomes more aware of the psychological disorders that many inmates struggle with. Budget cuts have pushed these people into prison instead of clinics, and now they have to cope with mental illness and prison.
  • Shaka is surrounded by people who are seriously disturbed.
  • Related incident: Shaka is nice to a dude called Reed and shares half his food with the guy for two weeks. At the end of it, the dude insults him.
  • It seems likely Reed is struggling with mental health issues.
  • Shaka plans to stab the guy so other prisoners won't get the message they can disrespect him. Prison is a tough place.
  • But the guy never gets out of the hole into general population.
  • Turns out some prisoners stay in solitary to protect themselves. Whenever they might get out, they break a new rule and stay in.
  • This has got be one of the bleaker ways to game the system, but there you go.
  • Finally Shaka gets out of solitary, after almost a year.
  • Here's a quick rundown of some of the stuff that he comments on:
  • Afterward, he actually has trouble adjusting to walking without handcuffs/shackles.
  • He feels lonely and doesn't have much to do: no radio or tape player.
  • Lack of money from family and friends means no TV.
  • No TV means Shaka is bored and can't participate in conversations about TV.
  • Worse, this makes Shaka feel like family and friends aren't supporting him, since they haven't sent money.
  • The next day Shaka meets somebody he knows called Day Day.
  • Day Day sends him some chips and candy and offers to help if Shaka needs something else. Day Day also introduces Shaka to the Melanic brothers locally.
  • Shaka officially joined the Melanics in Carson City, and he likes the other Melanic brothers, but he also has trouble fitting in. Lots of them are older than he is.
  • Shaka tries playing on the basketball team with Day Day and friends from the Melanics.
  • Turns out basketball here is pretty cutthroat.
  • Unfortunately, we mean that literally. Lots of people use it to prove they can win at something after being told again and again that they're losers.
  • It can get really violent, and nonfatal stabbings often result.
  • Sometimes it's even worse, and murder and riot are real risks.
  • This leads to a big conflict. KO (another Melanic Brother) shouts at a member of another Islamic group who's refereeing and it looks like a hands-on fight is going to start.
  • Shaka prepares to fight. Fortunately the fight doesn't actually happen, but Shaka later finds out the guy he was going to challenge used to be a hit man.
  • The other guys are impressed that Shaka was willing to stand up to him. That's good for Shaka's reputation, but he decides one season of basketball is enough.
  • He's worried that the tensions involved in basketball and the way KO picks fights will get him in trouble, and he's got no desire to go back to solitary.
  • Shaka gets transferred to another unit and finds some community and learns awesome stuff with the Melanic brothers.
  • Shaka grows in appreciation of African contributions to world, and his African heritage.
  • He learns from Baruti, an older guy who becomes a wise mentor figure.
  • Shaka also finds community by reading Black authors with the Melanic brothers.
  • But there were some less positive things Shaka did or learned in the Melanics, as cool as they were in many ways.
  • Unfortunately, they also taught him more about organized violence in prison environment. Organizations like the Melanics may be seen as soft and easy to target if they don't organize to get revenge on people who insult their members.
  • When somebody hassles a Melanic and Shaka gets involved in the retaliation, Baruti tries to stop him with wise advice.
  • Shaka helps out with the retaliation operation anyway and is wildly successful at getting revenge. Unsurprisingly, things like this lead to Shaka being conflicted about the Melanics: The group does all these great things for him and other members, but also pulls him into violence in some cases.
  • Shaka moves back to Michigan Reformatory after a year at Standish.
  • Time for some spoilers:
  • Spoiler 1: Shaka's going to be forever connected to Baruti, and will meet his son at Michigan Reformatory.
  • Spoiler 2: This time at Michigan Reformatory is going to be the thing that really transforms Shaka.
  • Spoiler 3: It's gonna get pretty bad before that awesome transformation occurs.
  • A few important things happen here once Shaka does transfer back to Michigan Reformatory:
  • Shaka Meets Baruti's son Yusef, and they become friends.
  • Shaka works to bring different groups in the prison together and cut down on violence among them, and is pretty successful at it.
  • Shaka gets a key visit from family including his son, now two years old.
  • Shaka notes that he and Brenda have broken up by now.
  • The family visit is deeply moving and challenging.
  • It takes Shaka's son a while to warm up to him.
  • Shaka feels horrible that his son has to leave and he can't go along.
  • Shaka has to endure a standard strip search after this emotionally wrenching separation.
  • What happens, you ask?
  • Shaka had been trying to settle down and just focus on getting through his imprisonment when his son comes to visit, but afterward he's really angry in the wake of seeing his son and realizing he's cut off from helping him.
  • Shaka takes out his anger with violence against other prisoners.
  • He reflects at the end of this chapter how much he regrets taking out his anger on other guys around him, particularly other Black guys who are suffering from the same problematic results of racism and systemic injustice that Shaka is.
  • He says he was full of self hate and his actions didn't live up the man he was trying to become. (14.66)