Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 4

By Shaka Senghor

Chapter 4

  • Chapter 4 jolts readers back to Wayne County Jail in 1991.
  • Shaka's roommate is rolling a cigarette and talking to him. As the roommate's story unfolds, other prisoners start listening in.
  • The roommate tells how one inmate raped another man in the prison that morning. It's the first time most of the prisoners in the room with Shaka have really confronted the fact that rape by other inmates is a huge risk in prison.
  • Not only are the details of the story pretty brutal—the assailant put the guy in a chokehold till he passed out and then raped him while he was unconscious—but nobody did anything to stop it. Both the prisoners and the deputies were too shocked to respond, and besides the unwritten code for prisoners is to mind your own business, even if what's happening is truly awful.
  • This moment really makes Shaka think, unsurprisingly.
  • He makes a promise to himself that he won't come out of prison a worse person than he was at the beginning.
  • He understands the weight of what he's done in selling drugs and committing a murder.
  • But he also promises himself that he will never rape someone or rat other prisoners out to get favors from the guards.
  • But he also says that he was about to learn that being in prison makes it hard to keep the kind of promise he's just made.
  • Shortly after this moment, Shaka is moved to the cell block where he'll stay until being sent to a prison in northern Michigan.
  • He knows he'll have to be tough to survive in the brutal pecking order of prison life.
  • He's with other violent offenders, and he looks around to see if he recognizes any enemies or potential allies from his time on the streets.
  • He feels like everyone is watching him, and he sees two dudes who seem to be at the top of the food chain.
  • When they keep looking at him, he gives them a glare to show that he'll fight back if attacked. But he also looks away to show that he isn't interested in starting anything.
  • This balance is something he's already had to learn on the street in Detroit; he knows how to show people that they shouldn't mess with him, but he's not planning to start a fight over nothing, either.
  • Sadly, it's a crucial survival skill both in prison and in the street environment Shaka is used to.
  • Shaka heads to his cell and has a moment of panic about being in prison. Seems pretty reasonable, given the circumstances.
  • A dude Shaka describes as dark-skinned and bald comes to Shaka's door, and Shaka prepares for a fight in case the guy doesn't like him.
  • To his surprise, the dude just asks if Shaka smokes. Shaka says he does, and it slowly dawns on him that the guy is his roommate.
  • The guy offers Shaka some roll-your-own cigarettes, which is a better start than it might be.
  • When the cell block goes on lockdown for the night, Shaka and the roommate introduce themselves.
  • The roommate goes by "S," and Shaka is going by "Jay" at the time.
  • S and Jay have both faced murder charges, and S has already been sentenced to life in prison, but he still seems hopeful he can get out.
  • They talk late into the night. S gives Shaka a basic education in surviving prison, but he also says that maybe Shaka can win the case and go free.
  • After they talk, Shaka thinks about the trouble he's in and about the life he wants to be living instead. He wants to be a doctor, not someone who kills other people.
  • Shaka thinks about his girlfriend, Brenda, who's four months pregnant with their child.
  • Shaka has a daughter from an earlier relationship, but his ex has kept him out of that child's life. Shaka was very excited about being an involved father to the child Brenda is expecting.
  • Now he's deeply sad as he thinks about the possibility that he won't be there when their child is born.
  • Right before being arrested, Shaka promised Brenda that they would move away from Detroit and start a new life that would be good for their son.
  • But now he's not sure that can happen.
  • Then Shaka thinks about how disappointed and embarrassed his own father is about the arrest. Shaka stopped speaking to his father, mother, and stepmother after the arrest.
  • Shaka felt like he had to bear the consequences of his decisions without their help, since it was his own decision to live on the streets.
  • He didn't understand yet what it's actually like when you're a parent—after years and years he would learn that his father was lying awake at night thinking about him, but he didn't realize it then.
  • Shaka keeps thinking, and his thoughts don't get any happier. Next he thinks about how it felt when he fired the shot that killed his victim.
  • Then he thinks about how the people he saw as friends on the street betrayed him after the murder.
  • His best friend actually turned him in to the police, and others have made statements against him or taken the clothes or money he left behind on the outside.
  • Finally, Shaka thinks about how he's betrayed himself, which is kind of the point where this train of thought hits rock bottom for him.
  • He feels like he never really gave himself the chance to be who he could be. He realizes that a bunch of mentor figures asked him why he was wasting his potential.
  • In fact, the officers who arrested him asked him that. Shaka realizes that in some weird way the arresting officers actually believed in him more than he believed in himself.
  • That's a pretty tough realization for Shaka.
  • At the end of this freight train of tough realizations, the only thing Shaka can get himself to care about is the fact that he's facing a life sentence.
  • As he falls asleep, he just keeps thinking that it can't end this way.
  • Shaka spends a few weeks learning how to survive in prison.
  • It's a scary environment where you need to prove yourself and use whatever resources you can to survive.
  • Violence and money are the only ways to gain the respect of those around you, much like in the tough street environment Shaka had just been part of.
  • Soon, Shaka calls a woman named Georgia he knows from his neighborhood.
  • She helps him talk to his girlfriend Brenda. Shaka says he'll be home before their baby is born. Brenda is upset and says she needs him to be with her now.
  • They talk for a while, and Shaka realizes how much he really does love and care for Brenda. He makes a promise to himself that he'll get out of jail to give her the support she deserves, or die trying.
  • As Shaka walks back to his cell, he's feeling emotionally drained.
  • Another prisoner named Twin overheard the conversation with Brenda and makes a joke about it. Expressing emotion seems like a weakness to the guys in prison, so they hassle Shaka about the emotional conversation with Brenda.
  • Shaka knows Twin is just having fun, but he's annoyed, so he tells Twin to stay out of his business. An older dude named L, who's kind of a mentor figure to the other prisoners, tells Shaka to let it go.
  • L and Shaka talk for a while in Shaka's cell. Then Twin turns up to apologize, and Shaka apologizes for snapping at him. At least that conversation ended okay.
  • Guys in the cell gradually start looking up to Shaka as a leader after this incident, and L keeps giving Shaka advice.
  • Shaka makes another pal, his friend Gigolo. They sit and talk in Shaka's or Twin's cell most days. They take turns looking out of a few spots in the window that let them see the outside world.
  • Twin's girlfriend must really love him, because she stops by this window every day and stands there for a while so Twin can see her and know she's thinking about him. Shaka and Gigolo always move away from the window at that time so Twin can be there for her.
  • Shaka and Gigolo really respect Twin's girlfriend for this, and weirdly this eventually gets them into a physical fight.
  • A new guy starts hanging out with them in Twin's cell. One day they realize he's stolen a picture of Twin's girlfriend and vanished.
  • Twin, Gigolo, and Shaka end up fighting the guy. When a deputy breaks up the fight, they explain what the dude wanted the picture for.
  • The prisoners and deputy all find this funny, and that's the end of it.
  • Life in Wayne County Jail has been slightly better than expected, due to Shaka's friends, but soon an inmate named G gets sentenced to eighty-five years in prison for pretending to be a police officer and robbing some drug dealers.
  • He was hoping for a ten-year sentence, so this is a big jolt.
  • G comes to Shaka, says he knows how they can escape the prison, and shows Shaka a steel pipe he's been hiding.
  • And that's the end of the chapter. For a memoir, this book sure has a lot of cliffhanger moments.