SHAKA SENGHOR WAS SENT TO PRISON FOR SECOND-DEGREE MURDER IN 1991. NOW MERELY TWENTY FIVE YEARS LATER, HIS MISSION IS FIGHTING FOR REFORM WITHIN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.
A CHANCE LETTER FROM A FAMILY MEMBER OF HIS VICTIM NOT ONLY OPENED HIS HEART AND MIND, BUT SET HIM ON THE COURSE TO BEING WHO HE ULTIMATELY SUPPOSED TO BE. THROUGH HIS HEARTFELT MEMOIR “WRITING MY WRONGS: LIFE, DEATH, AND REDEMPTION IN AN AMERICAN PRISON”, THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER TALKS CANDIDLY ABOUT TAKING OWNERSHIP OF YOUR LIFE AND ACTIONS, AND HOW LIVING WHOLE IS HIS SOURCE OF FREEDOM.
YRB: Why did you feel the need to write “Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison”?
Shaka Senghor: I felt it was important to give policy makers, educators, and society as a whole, a glimpse at what our judicial system looks like from the inside. This is the closest view you can get without actually getting arrested.
YRB: What has the process of penning this memoir taught you about yourself?
SS: Writing this book has shown me not only how extremely resilient I am, but also how important it is to share my path with others.
YRB: Many people in today’s society are dealing with such painful issues they don’t know how to deal with. Through your lectures and seminars, what have you been able to walk away with in regards to society today?
SS: One of the greatest things I’ve learned throughout this journey of writing has been “Hurt people,hurt people”. The majority of the young men I was incarcerated with come from homes of abuse (childhood, physical, sexual), absentee fathers, all sorts of chaos, and other sorts of total dysfunction in the home and school system, and they never deal with it or even have an idea or notion of where to begin to get help. Most of us came from areas of high gun violence and so often we are victims before we even victimize anyone else. I was shot multiple times when I was seventeen years old, and I never was able to release or even understand the emotions I suffered with because of it. People are truly in pain and they don’t even know it.
YRB: Has the success of the book come as a surprise to you at all?
SS: It has been surprising in a very humbling way. People are struggling with forgiveness and redemption in their own lives, and living within their own personal prisons, so hopefully this book helps them.
YRB: How were you able to forgive yourself for the wrong’s you’ve done?
SS: The starting point for me was being forgiven by the family members of the victim I assaulted. About six years into my incarceration I received a letter from the victim’s Godmother,and in the letter she not only forgave me, she told me that she loved me. That opened up the heart space for me to be able to forgive myself. It allowed me to fully see myself at the core of my being. This did not happen overnight, it was a day by day, moment by moment process for me.
YRB: What advice would you give someone struggling with finding their peace?
SS: Be really patient and take it step by step. Write about things you haven’t forgiven yourself for. Also write about the good things you have done. Take ownership for your actions. We often take on the burden of things that were done to us.
YRB: What has been your main source of motivation?
SS: The men I left behind when I was incarcerated have been my main source of motivation, but the young men and women I’ve been able to mentor and speak with since my release motivate me just the same.
YRB: What has been the best advice you’ve been given?
SS: It actually came from Oprah Winfrey and what she said to me was “Anytime you feel yourself being overwhelmed, it means you are moving away from the center of your authentic self”. That wisdom in invaluable.
YRB: What is your center?
SS: Being spiritually grounded in my humanity.
YRB: From your perspective, what changes need to be made within the criminal justice system in the U.S?
SS: I think a focus needs to placed on healing the people that are incarcerated. Just locking people away doesn’t heal or fix the problem, we need to ask ourselves if we want to have broken and damaged individuals back into society or do we want healed souls back into the world. That is where we can start.
For more information on Shaka and his crusade, visit www.ShakaSenghor.com