Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 3

By Shaka Senghor

Chapter 3

  • Chapter 3 zooms back to 1986, five years before Shaka's arrest on a murder charge.
  • It opens with someone holding a pistol to Shaka's head.
  • Shaka is just fourteen at the time, and he's terrified when he's attacked by Tiny and Tone. Tiny is addicted to both heroin and crack, and Shaka is terrified.
  • Why?
  • In the streets of mid-80s Detroit, everybody knows that drug addicts will do anything to get their next fix, even murder.
  • As crack got popular in the 80s, the situation worsened in inner cities and violence escalated as crack addicts attacked people for drugs.
  • Shaka is carrying drugs hidden in his underwear, which is why Tiny and Tone are threatening him. He knows they won't hesitate to kill him for the drugs, even though he's just fourteen.
  • Shaka has only been dealing drugs for a few weeks at this point, and he's expecting to die today. He gives the assailants the drugs they want, and they also take the money he has in his pockets. Shaka is expecting Tiny and Tone to shoot him and push his body down the basement stairs. Talk about scary.
  • Luckily, the addicts don't kill Shaka—they just chase him away.
  • As he struggles to make sense of what just happened to him, he makes his way to a Coney Island restaurant nearby.
  • He wants the people there to recognize that he's in trouble and reach out to him, but he's too proud to share his emotions with anyone, especially his fear and sense of shame over the fear.
  • Shaka finds a pay phone and calls his boss, Miko.
  • By this point, Shaka has talked himself into believing that he's just angry, not scared.
  • He won't risk telling any of the other drug dealers that he's afraid.
  • Shaka says he hadn't really thought about the possibility that he might die when he became a drug dealer.
  • He thought about the money he could make, and he hoped he could buy other things with it, like happiness, love, and safety.
  • But he didn't really think about the possibility that he might die or wind up in prison because of the drugs.
  • Miko says he'll meet Shaka at a large white house used as a drug spot.
  • Shaka doesn't like the house because it's a wreck and because the narcotics police are keeping an eye on it. But he goes there and waits for Miko.
  • As Shaka waits on the porch, he thinks back to how he left his mother's house and eventually wound up on the streets dealing drugs.
  • Yep, it's flashback time again.
  • It all started when Shaka's parents began to grow apart. Shaka says his life as a kid was filled with family, food, and great music.
  • Sadly, over time, his parents' marriage began to fall apart. They separated for the first time when Shaka was eleven.
  • Shaka's dad says he will always be his kids' father, but he'll be moving out because things aren't working in the marriage.
  • Shaka experiences his parents' separation as the end of stable, trustworthy family life.
  • Shaka's dad tells Shaka he needs to take on responsibilities like washing the car for his mother, taking care of his younger sisters, and maintaining his honor-roll grades.
  • Shaka and his dad cry, holding onto each other. They pack up things that belong to his dad.
  • Then Shaka's dad makes one of the most important promises of the whole book: Shaka's father says he will always be there for Shaka no matter what.
  • Shaka tells us that his dad has never let him down.
  • When Shaka's dad does move out, Shaka doesn't realize that it's just the start of a lot of ups and downs for his family.
  • His parents try getting back together about a year later, but it doesn't work.
  • Eventually they decide to separate again.
  • This time, Shaka's mother tells him that she can't keep raising him now that he's a young man; she tells him that he'll be better off living with his dad.
  • Though Shaka's mom does seem sad about the situation, and she says she'll love him no matter what happens, Shaka experiences her choice as a deep rejection of him.
  • The pain of that rejection and the ongoing struggles in his parents' marriage leads Shaka to pull away from trusting his parents and listening to them. It's a pretty huge turning point in Shaka's life.
  • Shaka's parents do try to get together again about a year after this. But this is no Parent Trap style happy ending.
  • In the meantime, Shaka's relationship with his mother has really been damaged. Shaka has been living with his dad. Though his father cares about him, Shaka is on his own when his dad is working during the day.
  • Shaka uses this freedom to start smoking cigarettes and to hang out with girls. He definitely isn't interested in living by his mother's strict guidelines.
  • When Shaka moves back in with both parents during their second reconciliation, his mother insists on her rules and Shaka rebels against them whenever he can.
  • His dad tries to support his mom, but basically Shaka has already settled into a belief that if he can avoid caring about anything, he can avoid being hurt.
  • So Shaka isn't interested in changing his life for the better at this point.
  • Shaka's mother reacts with frustration and begins to beat Shaka.
  • One day when he fails to do a chore the way she wants, she slaps him in the face, then makes him undress and hits his back and legs with a belt. When she's done, he has welts.
  • Shaka is going to church with his mother on Sundays, and she promises that Jesus will answer all his prayers.
  • Shaka hopes that prayer will change his mother, but she doesn't seem to treat him any better no matter what he prays.
  • Finally, Shaka decides he's going to leave his mother's house.
  • He's tired of the way she treats him, and he's afraid he'll lose it someday and retaliate by attacking her physically if she doesn't stop.
  • She regularly tells Shaka he can leave if he doesn't believe in her rules, so finally he does.
  • Shaka really wants his mother to worry about him and to come looking for him. But she doesn't do that, so he decides to live on the streets.

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