Recommended reading: Fall and redemption from the 1980s Detroit crack epidemic

James White was born in the Detroit of the 1980s to a middle class African American family, but as his family broke apart in a divorce, the rebellious youth found himself a willing recruit into the front line of the burgeoning crack epidemic. 

There his early dreams of being a doctor fell by the wayside; he learned quickly how to deal drugs and live the seductive yet increasingly brutal life of the streets. After being shot and injured in a fight over a girl, he becomes even more defensive, desensitized and angry and begins carrying a gun with him 24/7. Only too soon, he feels occasion to use it and fourteen months later shoots and kills another young man. He is apprehended and in 1991 sentenced to 19 to 40 years in prison. 

This is where the story of his transformation into the Writer Shaka Senghor begins. In a heartfelt style with soul searing honesty, Senghor writes in Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison of the events that led to the fateful day of the shooting and narrates his years in the Michigan prison system, his years in solitary confinement, and his struggles to educate himself and overcome his personal demons in the brutal, racially charged environment. 

Eventually his work and writing allow him to obtain parole after serving 19 years, and his perseverance and drive to help others after re-entering society, bring him to his work with the MIT Media Lab urban renewal efforts in Detroit. 

Both a story of personal honesty and redemption, and an inside critique of the criminal justice system and its impact on communities and families, this book is a gritty and gripping read from start to finishVisit Shaka Sengho’s website and see Shaka Sengho’s TED Talk. Read more on the impacts of Incarceration on Families and Communities in this study produced by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

To learn more about the barriers for successful re-entry, join us for a free documentary screening of the film Beyond the Wall on Wednesday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library. Following the film, a panel will discuss local issues, obstacles, and advocacy for people with criminal histories in our community.

Take a sneak peek at Beyond The Wall trailer from Northern Light Productions:

          — Posted by Kay K.


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