Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 18

By Shaka Senghor

Chapter 18

  • Where: Muskegon Correctional Facility
  • Muskegon, Michigan
  • When: 1999
  • It's summer. Shaka has just been transferred to Muskegon Correctional Facility.
  • Upside: Muskegon is considered the best prison to be in. Prisoners can even ride a bike or play golf there.
  • Downside: It's also one of the riskiest prisons to be in. People feel secure because of the nice environment and forget all the dangers of prison life until one creeps up on them.
  • Shaka gets into his by now normal routine, and things seem to be going pretty well. He works out. He studies. He builds community with the people in the prison. He also starts taking a class on being an automotive tech.
  • Things keep going well for a while. The Melanic Brotherhood holds their Day of Remembrance. This is a yearly ceremony to honor Africans who died or were enslaved during the Transatlantic slave trade. Shaka gives a speech about Nat Turner.
  • Some younger Melanic brothers find Shaka after the speech and say how much they respect his approach. They want to learn from him.
  • Shaka is still feeling ambivalent about being in an organization like the Melanic Brotherhood because of the challenges, like disagreeing with some brothers who Shaka describes as having a "might makes right" mindset. (18.7)
  • But the chance to mentor the younger brothers makes Shaka excited about being involved here.
  • Things are going pretty well by the time fall arrives.
  • Shaka is growing as a person, he's getting closer to freedom, and he's becoming the kind of leader he wants to be, inspired by his explorations of African history.
  • But in October, Shaka faces a huge test.
  • One day, after a pretty regular morning, Shaka is heading back after his automotive tech class. He really, really has to visit the bathroom.
  • Okay, why is this a problem? Because a siren goes off, and Shaka realizes that means everyone has to rush back to their own cell for a monthly count the prison authorities do.
  • There are no toilets in the cells, so Shaka has to rush to get to the bathroom and back before the count begins.
  • Bad news. When Shaka gets to the bathroom, the officer stationed there is a guy who doesn't like him.
  • Shaka and the officer had recently had a debate about prison policy.
  • Shaka was right, but the officer was annoyed and has been out to get him since then.
  • The dude won't let Shaka into the bathroom, although other prisoners are still going in.
  • Shaka knows he's down to only two options:
  • 1) get in minor trouble for disobeying a direct order, or
  • 2) do what the officer says and wind up urinating in his cell. Shaka feels like Option 2 would insult his dignity.
  • He brushes past the officer to use the bathroom.
  • Things get worse from there. The officer accuses him of an assault on staff.
  • This is just plain false. Shaka did ignore what the officer said, but he didn't assault the guy.
  • Shaka does manage to use the bathroom, but the officer won't let him leave.
  • The guy actually plants himself in the doorway so Shaka can't get out.
  • The officer demands to have Shaka's ID as Shaka is leaving. Shaka tries to stay calm and says it's back in his cell.
  • Things just keep escalating, with the officer bullying Shaka about the ID over and over. Shaka really doesn't have the ID with him, but the officer seems to be having fun hassling him about it.
  • There are still a few other inmates around, and they make a plea to the guy to let Shaka out, but he doesn't listen.
  • In fact, the officer just keeps ratcheting up the tension. He threatens not to let Shaka out until Shaka comes up with an ID—even though that's genuinely impossible.
  • Meanwhile, Shaka is getting more and more upset. He gets more and more stressed, and the frustration from years of being mistreated by guards builds up.
  • He starts thinking about all the horrific violence Black people in America have endured, including rape and lynching.
  • It all builds up until Shaka finally does attack the officer.
  • In the rush of the moment, Shaka actually feels like it's better to die or be in prison forever than it is to have his dignity attacked.
  • Eventually other officers manage to handcuff Shaka and take him to solitary. The guard he attacked is now unconscious.
  • As Shaka is hauled off to solitary, he's shocked to see the way the other prisoners look at him. They seem to be judging him, not the officer, even though they had disagreed with the officer earlier in the confrontation.
  • He says their judgment was worse than anything the government could do to him.
  • Then Shaka is locked up. In solitary. For four and a half years.

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