Shaka, an honors high school student from Detroit, was shot at age 17. Two years later he, himself, shot and killed another person. In prison, he went from being “the worst of the worst” to a changed, one might even say transformed man. Watch for the steps that led from from honors student to drug dealer, to murderer and back again.

Why you should listen:

Upon his release at the age of 38, Senghor reached out to young men following his same troubled path, and published Live in Peace as part of an outreach program bringing hope to kids in Detroit and across the Midwest. His activism attracted the attention of the MIT Media Lab, and as a Director’s Fellow, Senghor has collaborated on imagining creative solutions for the problems plaguing distressed communities. His memoir, Writing My Wrongs, was published in 2013.

Who is he:

At the age of 19, Shaka Senghor went to prison fuming with anger and despair. Senghor was a drug dealer in Detroit, and one night, he shot and killed a man who showed up on his doorstep. While serving his sentence for second-degree murder, Senghor discovered redemption and responsibility through literature — starting with The Autobiography of Malcolm X — and through his own writing.


  1. After being shot, what symptoms did Shaka manifest? Are they consistent with a diagnosis of PTSD? In what way. Do you know anyone who when through trama? Do they have any symptoms?
  1. What was the effect of solitary confinement on his mental health and behavior? Should solitary confinement be used as a punishment today, or should it be seen as “cruel and unusual”?
  1. Describe the four key things that were part of his transformation.
  1. What role did his mentors reform?
  1. Do some research on incarceration. Is the purpose of imprisonment the “warehousing” of convicted criminals, or does it play a rehabilitative function? How well does the system fulfill the goals?
  1. What were some of the challenges that he faced as he was reentering society? Imagine that you are a psychologist who is tasked with designing an effective inmate reentry system – what would it be like?

Why your worst deeds don’t define you with Shaka Senghor


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