Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison by: Shaka Senghor
Reviewed with pleasure by: PnJbookreviews (www.emergencyrn.org) Written by: Janet (J)
I have never heard any truer phrase than when people say, “It’s not how you start the race, but how you finish it that counts,” then when I read this amazing novel written by an amazing man.
I was in between reviews for the publishing houses I usually write for, and this book and its picture pulled me to it like a magnet. What did I know about prison? I had never been there. What did I know of death? Well, as an Emergency Nurse I was surrounded by it every day. What did I know about redemption? That is a question I still have yet to find, however after reading this powerful book, I realize that he is right in so many ways that we as HUMANS need to stand together and stop this madness of gun violence and sending the young to prison only to come out worse than before. I have never been racist, nor seen color of the people around me. I had this image that everyone just saw each other like I did, people trying to navigate this thing called life.
In the beginning, we are introduced to James White, a young boy who is suffering from the tragedies of living in a broken home. While his father was very supportive, his mother turned to alcohol and verbal abuse of her children leaving James to either stay and suffer the wrath of his mother all day, or go out to the streets to hang out with friends and escape his chaotic home.
Longing for love and acceptance, James was led by an adult down the path of dealing drugs to support himself since his mother was not. He was seduced by money, but in reality he was crying out for love and attention, for hope and faith. While he found none of that in the drug life he had entered, he did find a love of things. His void then being filled with shoes and clothing, women and drugs.
How could a child resist the temptation set before him by an adult that he trusted, and another adult to disappoint and push him down the road that would eventually lead to prison? Maybe a more poignant question would be how did we as a society fail this young boy, and all the boys before and after him?
Common in the drug world comes guns and violence and James unfortunately was led down that path after being shot himself during a dispute. Two years later, James does the ultimate crime himself and altered the paths of two young men; himself and his victim. James himself was a child that ended up murdering another boy in a drug related interaction. Sentenced to a 20 – 40 year prison term, James could only watch as the cards fell down around him. He became angry and bitter. Having one child already and another on the way, James became as hard and locked down inside as the prison that held him. Five years into his prison sentence he was placed in solitary confinement and left where there is minimal to no interaction.
With nothing to occupy his mind of all he had done and where he had come from to get to where he was, James started to read. He read African Heritage books, the Bible, the Koran, Plato as well as any other book he could get his hands on to broaden his mind and strengthen his soul. Through reading the words and ideas of many, James found what he had always been looking for, hope.
This book was so raw, so powerful, that even days after finishing this book and having time to reflect, it still provides me with hope. Hope for all children forced into this kind of situation, hope that even in the worst of times, forgiveness can be obtained, and hope that maybe one day we will be a world that doesn’t see color and promote violence. Maybe one small act of kindness could prevent a future institutionalized child who knows nothing but life in prison.
When James was 5 years into his prison sentence, he received a letter from the grandmother of his victim providing him with what he could not provide himself, forgiveness.
When the boy James finds where his true self lies, Shaka is who emerges. Reading this book is tough. This book points out so many wrongs that no one wants to talk about. How long should we be leaving a young boy in solitary to only have his worst demons be his only company? While punishment is needed and America has lock up locked down, what about true rehabilitation? This book is a must read for everybody. His story could be substituted for any number of names.
Be warned that Shaka does not spare the events or actions of himself or his fellow inmates. He tells prison from the point of view only the strongest of survivors can tell.
For me, I was overwhelmed by the power of his words. For his raw truth, that while ugly, brought about something beautiful. His words are bringing about a connection and a reason to reach a hand out to our fellow man. For me, this “criminal” is an inspiration.
For me, I rated this book 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to all. If only all of our voices could be so powerful and raw, what a beautiful world it would be. It was truly an honor to read and review this book. NOW RUN!!!!!!!! GO GET YOUR COPY BEFORE THEY TOO ARE LOCKED UP!!
~ J 🙂