Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 16

By Shaka Senghor

Chapter 16

  • Where we start: Michigan Reformatory, Ionia in—you guessed it—Michigan.
  • When: 1994
  • Shaka's back in solitary. At least this time he knows what it's like. He sleeps in the morning when it's quiet and reads late at night while the other people there make tons of noise.
  • Shaka's dad comes to see him and gives him some news from home. His younger sisters are growing up.
  • Brenda is trying hard to raise Jay, the son she and Shaka have together. And Jay is growing up without Shaka.
  • Shaka is depressed by all this.
  • After six months or so, Shaka manages to get back out of solitary. He keeps growing spiritually with his Islamic brothers, and he becomes a spiritual advisor.
  • That means he gives talks at services and becomes a counselor for others. He's also in charge of communicating with other religious groups in the prison.
  • Shaka uses his new spiritual advisor position to advocate for better education methods in his brotherhood, writing study guides to help other guys understand what they're learning.
  • He also gets them reading more revolutionary literature.
  • Shaka also gets a job in the rec center, which turns out to be where lots of the shady deals go down.
  • He uses this position to make it easier to coordinate revenge strikes by the brotherhood.
  • But Shaka's getting tired of retaliating when other groups do something. He doesn't like the tension of telling everyone that white supremacy is the problem, but then coordinating attacks on other Black inmates.
  • Not surprisingly, this stresses Shaka out a lot. He starts to rethink his life, but he also doesn't know how to get out of the cycle.
  • Then something new happens, and it does change Shaka's life. He writes an article for the prison newspaper. It's about his sister's struggle with drugs and his emotional response to it.
  • Shaka's supervisor is so impressed he takes it home for his wife, a magazine editor, to read. She thinks Shaka has a future as a writer.
  • This is news to Shaka, so he's pretty excited.
  • In fact, this is the first time Shaka's gotten a compliment that doesn't have to do with violence in a long time.
  • And it's a game changer for him. He feels like he can be talented at something other than harming others or selling drugs.
  • And another good thing starts happening. Shaka gets a rep for being fair and a diplomatic negotiator among the other inmates.
  • He might be in prison, but he's learning key skills and he's actually making the situation better for other guys.
  • But new tensions start up between a couple of the inmate organizations and the prison officers. As they escalate, the officers set up some of the organization leaders.
  • Eventually one of the officers gets Shaka transferred to Carson City Correctional Facility.
  • Shaka just keeps getting transferred around for three years.
  • The prisons themselves are nicer than they might be—they look like recreational centers. But one of them, Gus Harrison Correctional in Adrian, has more racial tension between inmates and guards than Shaka is used to.
  • Shaka does keep connecting with the Melanic brothers at each place, and he keeps working to educate younger guys and build healthier relationships between organizations.
  • When he's at Adrian, Shaka hits the halfway mark on the low end of his sentence. Halfway is eight years.
  • His dad, son, and stepmom come to see him and his dad congratulates him on working to stay out of trouble.
  • The good news as this chapter wraps up? Shaka says he was going to find light at the end of the tunnel.
  • The bad news? He says that didn't happen right away.
  • Instead, he got sent to Muskegon, where he faced a test of everything he'd learn.
  • A test he says he's going to fail.
  • Well, at least we know not to get our hopes up.