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Book cover image by Convergent Books

I read this book after another prisoner received it as a gift from his mother. The first thing that stood out to me was Shaka Senghor’s claim that he changed the name of the man he murdered out of respect for the victim’s family and their privacy. If Shaka truly wanted to show respect for the man murdered, wouldn’t he have honored it instead of concealing it? 

The next thing I noticed was that his story rang untrue. In the beginning of the book, Shaka wrote that he was in the Wayne County Jail for only six weeks following his arrest and conviction for second-degree murder. Anyone who has ever faced a murder charge knows that these cases go through the judicial system at a snail’s pace. 

When he arrived at prison, Shaka wrote that another “White boy” fell pretty to a booty bandit and thereafter committed suicide. Even though Shaka wanted to give the reader the impression that he liked the “White boy” and would have saved him if he could have done so, I was left with the impression that Shaka enjoyed degrading them, assaulting them, manipulating them and exploiting them at every opportunity. This was the theme throughout his book. 

Shaka further wrote that four-and-a-half years in administrative segregation for assaulting a corrections officer brought real change within him. But then he contradicted himself when he wrote that after being released by solitary confinement, he paid another inmate to stab a guy in the prison yard. 

The book ended with Shaka being granted parole and released from prison four years later. Despite his claims of change and transformation, the only way Shaka seemed to have changed was the methods he used to get what he wanted through manipulation, intimidation, and subtlety.

This book is nothing but promotional hype. If Shaka is a leading voice on criminal justice reform and an inspiration to thousands, then it’s no wonder the recidivism rate is so high. Shaka hasn’t changed, he’s only gotten better at concealing his true personality. Oprah, Senator Cory Booker and Van Jones should be ashamed of themselves for ever recommending such a book to anyone, let alone prisoners. 

If you want to read something useful or send a friend or family member a self-help book, send “How to Make Peace with Anyone” by David Lieberman instead.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Zachary A. Smith is a writer and artist incarcerated in Missouri. He has studied law for over 20 years and has earned a paralegal degree with distinction from Blackstone Career Institute. Smith is the author of the “Smith’s Guide” series.