Study Guide

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison Chapter 8

By Shaka Senghor

Chapter 8

  • Back to, you guessed it, Wayne County Jail. But not for long. Shaka is back to the courtroom in this chapter. He takes a picture of himself and Brenda along.
  • When Shaka is in the holding room near the courtroom, he thinks he recognizes a guy with a long ponytail.
  • Turns out it's Seven, the guy who raped another prisoner back in Chapter 4.
  • Shaka doesn't think Seven looks like the kind of guy who would commit a brutal rape.
  • But there's not too much time to think about it, because Shaka is soon staring at the county judge. Shaka is just nineteen at this point.
  • Shaka's parents, his current girlfriend Brenda, and his ex-girlfriend Nycci have all turned up to support him.
  • Shaka really doesn't have any idea how the sentence will turn out. His lawyer is confident that the judge will be lenient since Shaka is young and is himself a victim of gun violence (he was shot not too long before).
  • In fact, the lawyer is sure that Shaka can get off with ten years or less. Shaka takes his advice and pleads guilty.
  • Shaka is smart, but he's not a lawyer, and he thinks his lawyer has already made a deal to get him a ten year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.
  • So it's an awful surprise when the judge tells Shaka that there's no preexisting agreement in place and Shaka could get any sentence, including life in prison.
  • Shaka is overwhelmed by trying to navigate the complexities of the legal system, so he doesn't try to get extra time or take the case to trial. He pleads guilty on the spot.
  • Shaka apologizes to the victim's family and asks the judge to be lenient. He gets two years for felony firearm possession, and fifteen to forty for second degree murder.
  • While Shaka is reeling from this terrifying news, he winds up back in the holding room and sees Seven luring another guy into a tiny bathroom area inside the holding pen.
  • In addition to overwhelming anger and loss, Shaka feels disgusted that he'll be around guys like Seven for at least the next seventeen years.
  • Shaka is soon transferred to Riverside Correctional Facility in upstate Michigan. All Michigan prisoners under twenty-one got quarantined there.
  • Weirdly, the lawns outside the prison are well-kept. Better kept than lots of the decaying schools in Detroit, in fact.
  • Shaka comments that it took him years to understand the politics behind this, but it seemed as though the state was more willing to invest in prisons than schools.
  • Shaka goes through a similar intake process to the one he's already experienced at Wayne County Jail.
  • Prisoners have to take off their regular clothes and dress in state prison blues. In the meantime, they're forced to stand around naked with a lot of people around.
  • Shaka starts to feel detached from his own body in response to these humiliating circumstances.
  • Then Shaka gets a prisoner number, and is told to remember it the way he remembers his name.
  • Next is a prison orientation. Prisoners are warned that they'll be locked down into their cells or put in solitary confinement if they break rules.
  • The officer in charge of the orientation also warns the prisoners against the following:
  • gambling,
  • borrowing money,
  • gay sex,
  • and basketball.
  • The officer says these (rather different) things are all big sources of conflict in prison.
  • The officer then explains that some people will do easy time in prison, some will make mistakes and bring trouble on themselves, and some won't make it at all.
  • He doesn't explain this scary sounding last idea, but Shaka says it didn't take long to learn what he meant.
  • That night, Shaka stares out the prison window and feels incredibly sad about how he's messed up and about the two children he can't be there for.
  • Shaka starts to pray. He gets angry with God, his parents, his teachers, and everyone else who he thinks has failed him.
  • He feels like no one loved him enough to stop his slide into drugs and violence. He doesn't think about how he's failed himself at this point, something he notes as he looks back at the event.
  • As time goes by, Shaka doesn't make a lot of friends in prison. He feels lonely, but he doesn't want to hang out with guys he sees as fake or as not sharing his values.
  • He also spends a lot of time trying to figure out how to get back to his family.
  • Shaka does connect with his father and Brenda sometimes as he can. He misses home a lot.
  • In Shaka's first call to his dad from prison, his father breaks down and cries. This is really the first moment when Shaka actually knows how deeply he's hurt his dad.
  • His dad does say he'll come and visit Shaka, though, and Brenda and a friend named Georgia are planning to visit as well.
  • When Brenda does visit, Shaka is incredibly excited to see her. Georgia has come along, and they update Shaka on life in his neighborhood.
  • Brenda says she wants to marry Shaka when he gets out. She promises to be there for him always, but Shaka finds himself shutting down his hopes for a long-term relationship with her. He knows deep down that Brenda may not be able to handle the long haul challenges of dating a prisoner.
  • That gut hunch turns out to be true—in fact, this visit is the last time Shaka sees her in his entire time in prison.
  • The next week Shaka's family visits for the second time. His dad, stepmother, stepbrother, two younger sisters, and Brenda all come.
  • But unfortunately there's some sort of problem with Brenda's ID, and she's not allowed to see Shaka.
  • Shaka's family talks with him about how he's doing in prison, and he realizes how much he's failed as a big brother. But Shaka appreciates their visit. In fact, he says it's the only reminder he had at the time of his own humanity.

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