Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 20

By Shaka Senghor

Chapter 20

  • This chapter starts with Shaka waiting to find out if he can get out of solitary. A counselor turns up and says that Shaka can go back to general population.
  • Shaka is thrilled, but also shocked. He'd really felt like he might be in solitary for twenty years.
  • Shaka is also thrilled when he finally leaves the solitary confinement building without having to wear cuffs and shackles. It's the first time since he came to the hole four and a half years ago.
  • Shaka gets a word processor as fast as he can.
  • He starts typing up the books he's written on paper while in solitary. He's in the midst of his third book, a detective story set on the street.
  • Shaka's word processor is old, so its memory gets full every time he writes thirteen pages. He has to print the pages and clear the memory before he can go on.
  • He pretty much spends all day typing for a few days until he has his manuscripts printed. Because he's in a single cell, he has plenty of writing time.
  • The prison Shaka's in makes some changes and gives him a roommate, who turns out to be a guy named BX.
  • Shaka knows BX by reputation and has a lot in common with him. They share:
  • Being in the same religious group, the Melanic Brotherhood
  • Having a lot of the same beliefs
  • Working in the law library at the prison
  • Caring a lot about their sons
  • BX is doing at least fifty-two years of prison time, and he keeps encouraging Shaka to get free and tell his story to change things in his community.
  • This really encourages Shaka to keep improving his life.
  • When Shaka gets transferred to Carson City, he's sad that BX won't be nearby anymore.
  • But surprise: BX gets transferred too, and they live in the same part of the Carson City facility. They collaborate to organize and to facilitate study groups with the other Melanic Brothers.
  • Their organizational skills are really needed, because racism is a giant problem at Carson City, much bigger than in many other places in the Michigan prison system.
  • BX and Shaka are able to improve the system somewhat by training the younger guys in how to use the prison grievance system to respond to problems.
  • They also organize events like a Kwanzaa celebration.
  • Then the administration asks them to do a Black history month program. They plan a set of activities and reach out to freed prisoners to help with it.
  • An organization called Helping Our Prisoners Elevate (HOPE) sends two people to help with the Black history month program.
  • One of them turns out to be Ebony, a woman Shaka has corresponded with but never met in person before.
  • When he does meet Ebony, Shaka is really impressed by her passion and commitment to helping Black communities and encouraging inmates to transform their lives and communities. He also thinks she's beautiful.
  • Shaka feels like he can't start anything romantic with Ebony—he needs to focus on making the program work and on his own growth and sanity.
  • Not long after this program, Shaka goes a Level Two unit. This is good, because it's only medium security and Shaka has more freedom.
  • But Shaka is also worried that the good changes to his character may not stand the test of being back in general population with inexperienced prisoners and guards hassling him.
  • As it turns out, Shaka gets moved to a different prison within two weeks.
  • He's back to the place he started serving his sentence way back in 1991, a prison called Riverside. It's gotten a lot stricter since Shaka was there way back when.
  • Here, Shaka really sees how much of the prison lifestyle he needs to leave behind.
  • He tries to focus hard on preparing for freedom, and that includes trying to avoid usual prison conflicts like tension with the guards or fights with other prisoners.
  • Shaka is able to establish pretty solid routines here, using the same patterns that had helped him before: reading, exercise, and writing.
  • He also connects with community, going to a Kwanzaa celebration and joining the National Lifers Association. Shaka's not serving a lifetime sentence, but he knows he can help others who are by using his organizational skills in this association.
  • Shaka also takes a business computer technology class.
  • Most inmates don't get much of a chance to keep up with technology, so they often are not prepared for jobs when they get out.
  • But this class is a great opportunity for Shaka to prepare for life on the outside, and he really finds it intriguing too.
  • One evening when Shaka is exercising with the brothers, he meets someone named Anthony who has actually started a publishing company outside of jail.
  • Anthony gives Shaka a lot of good advice on publishing his writing, and they often spend time together planning to collaborate in publishing after they're freed. This really helps Shaka to stay motivated.
  • Shaka's father and two of his sisters come to see him while he's at Riverside. This means a ton to Shaka, and he really enjoys joking with his family and looking forward to the future.
  • By now, it's 2006, and Shaka could be released in two years if the authorities go with the shortest sentence option.
  • Shaka can tell his dad is really looking forward to his release, and that really makes Shaka want to be free and to honor his family in the way he lives on the outside.
  • One day, Shaka receives an envelope with Ebony's name on it. But he thinks it's probably official HOPE business, so he doesn't get too emotionally invested. He sticks it on his desk and heads to lunch.
  • He and Anthony talk about publishing over lunch. They want to launch their own companies.
  • Shaka gets a pleasant surprise when he goes back to his cell.
  • The letter from Ebony isn't about the organization HOPE. It's actually a personal letter saying that Ebony would like to correspond with him because she knows how important correspondence from a sister can be to someone who's incarcerated.
  • The letter is nice and encouraging, but not exactly overflowing with heart emoji.
  • But Shaka is super excited.
  • He realizes he has to tell her how he feels about her.
  • He says, "I was at a point in my life where I knew it was going to take a special woman to help me break through the rest of the walls that prison had constructed around my heart." (20.41)
  • He really admires Ebony's character and determination, and he knows that he wants a relationship with her if she's open to it.
  • Shaka types a letter to her and says that he wants to build a friendship with the hope of it becoming a romantic relationship in time.
  • Ebony's letter back is pretty encouraging. Their correspondence gets off to a great start, and they really seem to be connecting with each other.
  • Not too long into their letter writing, Shaka asks Ebony to come and visit him.
  • She does, though she has to do it at Lakeland Correctional Facility, since Shaka is transferred there after he invites her to come see him.
  • Shaka's super-excited and kind of nervous when Ebony arrives, but he calms down when he's actually in the same room with her. As he puts it, "In the cold, cruel world of prison, I hoped I had finally found someone who could love all of me." (20.46)