I am a storyteller, a lover of words, painting an unforgettable picture with each story—with my story. My story of redemption has inspired thousands, including Oprah Winfrey, who said my story touched her soul.
Just one month past my nineteenth birthday, I was sent to prison for second-degree murder. When I entered prison, I was angry, bitter and hurting inside, but I was too tough and too broken to admit it. The first few years of my incarceration, I ran amuck on the prison, earning my standing as the worst of the worst. I took pride in my dysfunction—the respect, or more accurately, the fear, made me feel like the King of the Jungle. I felt in control in an environment where I had no real control of my daily life.
When things seemed hopeless, I turned to reading and writing, using books to free my mind and expand my thinking. I clung to words—my own and others—as I pulled myself out of the anger that led me to prison and kept me from reaching my full potential. My story has become an inspiration to many because I dared to dream beyond those prison bars; because I did not allow my past or what others thought of me to define me or deter me.
On March 8, my memoir Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison was released. In it, I take readers from the poverty, violence, fear, and hopelessness of Detroit’s east side to my life in prison where I eventually transformed my life. It is an unforgettable story of redemption, reminding us that our worst deeds don’t define us, and challenging us to rethink how this country approaches crime, prison, alcoholism, alcohol recovery programs, and the men and women who are sent there.
What I know now is that my life could have had many outcomes; that things didn’t have to happen the way they did. I was once an angry, lost teenager holding a community hostage. Unfortunately, thousands of youth are making the same mistakes every day. But we weren’t born that way. None of our children are born that way. And when they get that way, they aren’t lost for good.
My vision is to get this message of hope and second chances into every prison, school, and place of political and social power. I hope you will join me in making that vision a reality by sharing my story.
Here is how you can help:
- Get One/Give One: Order a book for yourself and one (or more) for a friend, family member or neighbor, especially if they work with youth.
- Share, share, share: Share news about the book and the power of my story on your social media pages using the hashtag #writingmywrongs.
The momentum for criminal justice reforms is building and stories like mine highlight the need for a system that heals hurting communities instead of punishing them.
Raised in a middle class neighborhood on Detroit’s east side during the height of the 1980s crack epidemic, Shaka Senghor dreamed of becoming a doctor—but at age 11, his parents’ marriage began unraveling and the beatings from his mother worsened. He eventually ran away from home, turned to drug dealing to survive, and ended up in prison for murder at the age of 19, fuming with anger and despair.
During his 19 years of incarceration, seven of which were spent in solitary confinement, Senghor discovered literature, meditation, self-examination, and the kindness of others—tools he used to confront the demons of his past, forgive the people who hurt him, and begin atoning for the wrongs he had committed.
Shaka Senghor is now a co-founder of #BeyondPrisons and Director of Strategy and Innovation at #cut50. He is also a mentor, and motivational speaker, and the author of five other books. Shaka is a former Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab, a Community Leadership Fellow with the Kellogg Foundation, and the founder of The Atonement Project, which helps victims and violent offenders heal through the power of the arts.