Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 5

By Shaka Senghor

Chapter 5

  • The next chapter sure doesn't relieve the suspense at the end of Chapter 4.
  • Instead, it flashes back to the beginning of Shaka's life on the street.
  • He describes how he's feeling hungry and dirty two weeks after leaving his home. He helps a woman load her groceries in her car in the hope that she'll help him get something to eat.
  • She gives him some change and a food stamp worth a dollar. He buys soda, chips, and cookies and eats it quickly.
  • Shaka's realizing that he really wasn't ready to leave home, and he doesn't know how to survive on the street.
  • People in his neighborhood make jokes about him, making him even unhappier.
  • So when a drug dealer named Miko offers Shaka a job selling for him, Shaka takes him up on it. Miko says he'll pay $350 a week and $10 for food on top of that. Shaka has to sit in a known drug pickup spot 24-7, but the money looks pretty attractive, so he signs up.
  • Shaka says he goes by "Pumpkin," a nickname from his aunt. Miko isn't impressed with this. He suggests a new nickname, Jay (Shaka's given name is James).
  • Miko finds out that Shaka hasn't eaten yet, so he buys him something at Burger King.
  • Then Miko takes Shaka to a rundown duplex house that's part of his drug operation.
  • He teaches Shaka the basics of selling "rocks," small units of crack that cost five dollars each. He tells Shaka to keep the bag of rocks in his underwear.
  • He also introduces Shaka to a sawed off shotgun and tells him to shoot it if necessary. Pretty grim stuff.
  • Shaka is taken aback. It hasn't occurred to him that he might shoot people if he's a drug dealer. He doesn't know how crack affects peopleā€”he's seen people fight after drinking alcohol or smoking pot, but he doesn't realize he's about to see people become killers because of crack.
  • Then Miko leaves Shaka in charge of his very own drug spot.
  • He has help from a woman named Dee, and Miko says he'll also bring a guy named Tee to be Shaka's partner, but basically Shaka is in charge.
  • Not exactly the kind of summer job his parents were hoping for.
  • Shaka makes his first sale ten minutes after Miko leaves, and he's soon doing a brisk business.
  • After a week, Shaka has made $275, and he's feeling rich.
  • Miko takes him to the mall to spend some of his new dough, and Shaka gets the hottest shoes of the time, a pair of Filas.
  • He's never been able to buy whatever he wants without worrying about money before, so he's pretty excited about the shoes.
  • Miko buys some stuff for him and treats him like a younger brother.
  • Shaka feels like a superstar the next time he walks around his neighborhood. Everyone pays attention to his flashy clothes, and he loves the attention.
  • Shaka keeps raking in the cash, and spending it even faster.
  • He's proud of his money and the things it can buy. But he's also lonely and overcompensating for the lack of love and acceptance he feels.
  • His drug sales partner is older than he is and they don't have much in common, and Dee and her husband are always high.
  • One day a regular customer named John invites Shaka's outfit to sell drugs out of his house. Shaka calls Miko, who congratulates him on coming up with ways to expand their business and promises to reward him if it works out.
  • John actually has a pretty nice brick house. He's lost his job and his family because of his crack habit, but he hasn't lost the house yet.
  • He's desperate, and he says that letting the drug business operate out of his place will let him hold onto the house and the drug habit.
  • The drug dealers see this as a great deal and move in the next week.
  • Quick history fact: it's the beginning of the crack epidemic when all this happens, and at this point Shaka's neighborhood is still one of the better places to be on the East Side of Detroit. Houses still look nice on the outside, but families in the area are starting to struggle with addiction.
  • Miko's operation sets up in John's house, which works out really well for them. Lots of John's friends have steady jobs and crack habits, and Miko is one of the first drug dealers to work in their upscale area.
  • The drugs business is booming.
  • Pretty soon Shaka is sitting in the basement of the house with a sawed off shotgun, watching people do drugs.
  • Since teenaged Shaka doesn't really understand addiction, he finds the crazy things people do while on drugs funny.
  • Though he doesn't notice at the time, he's becoming desensitized to how other people feel. He's also getting a pretty twisted view of adults and authority, since most of the adults he knows are drug addicts or dealers.
  • The drug dealing life is disorienting for Shaka.
  • Money keeps pouring in.
  • He's too young to drive, but he can rent expensive cars in exchange for drugs. He can also get clothes, TV sets, and even handguns.
  • Grown women who are addicts trade sex for drugs, and Shaka starts to lose touch with girls his own age, who aren't ready to do the things drug-addicted women do.
  • Shaka's parents had raised him to respect women, but that goes out the door in the crazy setting of a crack house.
  • Basically, Shaka says that drug dealing wore away at respect and ethics, period. The addicts didn't respect themselves, and it was hard for drug dealers to respect them. Addicts became deceitful, so people working with them grew suspicious.
  • Shaka says the big take home was that crack destroyed people and families, a process he saw over and over again.
  • Miko and Shaka keep having a lot of business success, expanding and making money. But being part of a drug operation means that Shaka is being exploited, even though he doesn't notice it as he keeps making money.
  • He doesn't have any plan for getting out of the life.
  • Shaka's losing his respect for his community and his sense of self. He describes himself as becoming a callous predator.
  • He's not as prone to anger or violence as the dudes he hangs out with at this point, but he says that anger and violence were the only way to survive in the world of drug dealing.
  • He ends the chapter ominously by saying it wouldn't be long before he employed them.

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