“Our worst deeds don’t define who we are”: Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor
One hour, while sitting in the car waiting for my daughter to finish her swim laps. Two hours, later that night after the house was quiet and everyone had gone to bed. And the following night after rushing through the evening ritual of dinner, dishes, bedtime story, etc., my eyes ached and moaned as I pushed them to focus for four more hours as I made my way through the final chapters of this piercingly insightful memoir.
Before reading the book, I wasn’t familiar with Senghor. I stumbled across his story when I saw his name listed on the DVR recordings of Super Soul Sunday. Having watched numerous thought provoking interviews by Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday, I was curious about what he had to say, so I sat down, grabbed the remote and hit “play”.
Discussing various aspects such as, how a life of crime allowed he and other discarded individuals to “band together around brokenness,” what it felt like knowing he had taken another man’s life, how prison culture causes profound damage to an inmate’s psyche, and why he is now dedicated to righting the wrongs he created while under the influence of mind altering fear and anger, Shaka Senghor gave one of the most sincerely authentic and emotionally penetrating interviews I’ve ever seen.
Following the viewing of this interview, I had to know more about how a convicted murderer could become a quintessential example of forgiveness and redemption personified. I immediately went online and ordered his book, Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison.
“Shaka Senghor was raised in a middle class neighborhood on Detroit’s east side during the height of the 1980’s crack epidemic. An honor roll student and a natural leader, he dreamed of becoming a doctor — but at age 11, his parents’ marriage began to unravel and the beatings from his mother worsened, sending him on a downward spiral that saw him run away from home, turn to drug dealing to survive, and end up in prison for murder at the age of 19.”
Covering the personal circumstances and environment that created an emotional response of Senghor feeling unwanted and unloved, the brutal acts of violence he participated in and witnessed, and the devastating loss of personal freedoms within the barbaric environment in which he re-payed his debt to society, Writing My Wrongs, is a deeply authentic and raw portrayal that highlights the devastating effects that anger and resentment can have on someone.
Although not the typical spiritual self-help book that I would normally read, I noticed parallels between how Senghor longed to be helped out of the emotional misery that consumed him, yet found himself repeating the same self-sabotaging acts. The manner of which emotional torment is experienced from the inner push and pull of wanting to choose something better, but failing to do so, is a scenario that commonly affects even the most well intentioned people.
“The expression “you are your own worst enemy” rings true for most of us. How many times have we acted against our self-interest, then asked ourselves why did we self-destruct? Why did we say that to a loved one? Why did we procrastinate on that project? Why have we stopped doing that one thing that makes us feel great?”
Changing self-sabotaging behaviors is rarely easy, because it means challenging deeply engrained, old and familiar attitudes that we’ve long held about ourselves. This is precisely what we are able to witness as Senghor little-by-little begins to recognize the need for self-examination. Choosing one of my favorite quotes to open the reading, Senghor reminds us of Plato’s Apology in that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Whether it’s something on a small scale or tremendously significant, we can all relate to wanting to right a wrong we have inflicted upon our self, someone we love, or in Senghor’s case the many individuals that were profoundly impacted by his choice to take a another man’s life.
“That was the routine. As long as there was a threat to my freedom, I acted like I was ready to change, but the moment I got free, I didn’t care anymore. It would take ten years and a lot of misfortune for me to understand that real change comes only when you are completely and thoroughly disgusted with your actions and the consequences that they produce. As the Honorable Elijah Muhammad once said, “One hundred percent dissatisfaction brings about one hundred percent change.””
Over the course of Senghor’s incarceration, we are shown how he gradually begins to examine his personal responsibility for the skewed perspective that led him to incarceration. We are shown how the gradual awareness and change of his mindset allowed him to release “the gravitational pull of poverty, violence, fear, and hopelessness.”
As the spiritual re-connection to himself, to the emotionally bruised inmates and guards around him and to his yearning to become a man of integrity begin to unfold, Senghor began to “separate himself from the negative overlays of his past.” This would ultimately allow him to become the man he was meant to be.
“Our worst deeds don’t define who we are,” because we can stop self-sabotaging behaviors and choose the person we want to be.
Despite some disturbing graphic details, and not necessarily categorized as a self-help book, Writing My Wrongs is a self-help book that should be required reading. Taking us through the importance of believing personal and societal transformation is possible, we are shown how we each can be our own biggest advocate.
Knowing the way we feel about ourselves is ultimately how we feel about the world around us, Senghor asks each of us to “envision a world where men and women aren’t held hostage to their pasts, where misdeeds and mistakes don’t define you for the rest of your life.”
“In an era of record incarcerations and a culture of violence, we can learn to love those who no longer love themselves, because together we can begin to make things right.”
For more information on Shaka Senghor, log onto shakasenghor.com.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on April 23, 2016.