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“That’s the thing about hope. In the moment it can feel foolish or sentimental or disconnected from reality. But hope knows that people change on a timeline that we can’t predict. We can never know the power that a word of kindness and or an act of forgiveness will have on the person who needs it most.”
Imagine yourself growing up around the wrong people. Because it’s easy, you fall into the wrong crowd. Blink, and you’re in. Deep. A victim of impossible circumstances, it’s not long before you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the reflexive moment — impulsively and without thought – you do the wrong thing. A thing so terrible, it forever alters the trajectory of your life. A thing so unimaginably horrible, you dedicate the rest of your life in service to atonement.
This is the story of Shaka Senghor. At the age of 19, Shaka shot and killed a man. Convicted of second-degree murder, Shaka would spend the next 19 years in different prisons, seven of which were spent in solitary confinement.
While inside, Shaka made a decision. A decision to fully own his circumstances. A decision to transcend victimhood, understand his past, free his mind and expand his thinking. When he wasn’t voraciously reading, he wrote. And it was through this relentless commitment to knowledge, self-understanding and compassion that he ultimately pulled himself out of the anger that led to his incarceration and prevented him from reaching his full potential.
Released in 2010, Shaka did not return to a life of violence. Instead, he committed himself to one singular idea: that our worst deeds don’t define who we are, nor do they prohibit our contribution to a better world.
Fidelity to this ideal transformed Shaka’s utterly broken life into one of meaning, purpose and advocacy. Now a leading voice in prison reform, he is a powerful public speaker, a Senior Fellow with the Dream Corps, a 2014 TED Prize finalist, a former MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, a former University of Michigan lecturer, a current Fellow in the inaugural class of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network and the founder of The Atonement Project. In addition, he recently launched Mind Blown Media, a new media company that aims to create high-impact content focused on the criminal justice system and mass incarceration.
Shaka’s memoir, Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison* debuted on The New York Times Best Seller List as well as The Washington Post Best Seller List. He has been interviewed by Oprah and his TED Talk, which received a standing ovation, has been viewed more than 1.4 million times and was featured by TED as one of the most powerful TED Talks of 2014. Shaka has appeared on CNN, CBS This Morning, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Good Day New York, and he has been a guest on numerous radio programs, including NPR’s All Things Considered. And if all that isn’t impressive enough, Shaka is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2016 EBONY Power100, the 2016 Ford Man of Courage, the 2016 NAACP Great Expectations Award, the 2015 Manchester University Innovator of the Year, and the 2012 Black Male Engagement Leadership Award.
I’m honored to share Shaka’s powerful story with you today. It’s a story about what it takes to truly turn your life around. It’s a story of what’s required to overcome impossible circumstances, childhood trauma, drugs, gun violence and crime. And it’s a story about atonement — the hard-fought journey to redemption, forgiveness, gratitude and service.
At times intense and haunting, my hope is that our conversation will stick with you. Catalyze you to think more broadly about your past harms. Inform how you can better conduct yourself moving forward. And inspire you to invite more gratitude, advocacy and forgiveness into your own life.
I sincerely hope you enjoy the exchange.
Peace + Plants,
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Thanks to this week’s sponsor:
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Get Shaka’s latest New York Times Bestseller: Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison*
ALSO Check out: Live in Peace: A Youth Guide to Turning Hurt into Hope* by Shaka Senghor
Background, Context & Reference
- Connect With Shaka: Website | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube
- Mind Blown Media: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube
- TechCrunch: Shaka Senghor, a formerly incarcerated individual, launches media startup
- Organization: #BeyondPrisons.org: Co-founded by Shaka Seignior
- Program: The Atonement Project: partnership between Shaka and The University of Michigan, Theater Department and MIT Media Lab
- TEDTalk: Why your worst deeds don’t define you
- TEDx: Writing my wrongs: Shaka Senghor at TEDxMidwest
- TIME: What We Don’t Understand About Violent Offenders by Erica Williams Simon
- Super Soul Sunday: Full Episode: Oprah and Criminal Justice Activist Shaka Senghor
- Oprah Magazine: What Oprah Knows For Sure About the Power of Storytelling
- Medium: The Night Shaka Senghor, a Man Convicted of Second Degree Murder, Changed My Life by Russel Simmons
- MIT Media Lab: MLTalks: Shaka Senghor and Martha Minow
- MIT Media Lab: MLTalks: Damien Echols and Shaka Senghor
- HuffPost: If I Could Talk to Kalief Browder by Shaka Senghor
- HuffPost: Out of Prison, But Reaching Back in — to Help by Shaka Senghor
- HuffPost: Convicted Of Murder, This Man’s Tale Of Redemption Is A Call For Prison Reform by Zahara Hill
- HuffPost: The Letter That ‘Shattered Everything’ For A Convicted Killer by Lisa Capretto
- Documentary: O.J.: Made In America by Ezra Edelman
- Documentary: 13th by Ava DuVernay
- Personal Democracy Forum: Shaka Senghor | Breaking Out of the Tech Desert | PDF13 HD
- Fast Company: It’s Time for Tech to Embrace Prison Reform by Baratunde Thurston
- Fusion TV: What’s It Like To Spend Four And A Half Years In Solitary Confinement by Casey Tolan
- National Public Radio: How Can Someone Move Beyond Murder? | TED Radio Hour
- Aspen Public Radio: Prison reform effort unites unlikely players by Marci Krivonen
- FOX2 Detroit: Rapper Big Sean leads storytelling project of struggles and triumph by Erika Erickson
- Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility: Keynote Shaka Senghor at Courageous Schools conference
- The Atlantic: Solitary Confinement: ‘One of the Most Barbaric, Inhumane Aspects of Our Society’ by Conor Friedersdorf
- Democracy Now: Strange Bedfellows: Why Are the Koch Brothers & Van Jones Teaming Up to End Mass Incarceration?
Notable People Discussed
- Malcom X: African-American Muslim minister, civil rights and human rights activist
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: NBA All-Time Leading Scorer, NY Times best-selling author, Coach
- Donald Goines: career criminal and addict who took up writing during one of his 7 prison sentences. From 1969 through 1974 he published 16 novels
- The Milken Institute: independent economic think tank based in Santa Monica, California
- Doug Evans: Founder and Chairman of juicero and podcast guest
- Arianna Huffington: HuffPost founder, CEO and founder of Thrive Global and podcast guest
- Deepak Chopra: author, public speaker, prominent figure in the New Age movement
- Rip Esselstyn: former firefighter and triathlete, author of The Engine 2 Diet* and My Beef With Meat*
Related Podcasts You Might Enjoy
- RRP #146: The Plight Of “Tipper X”: How Tom Hardin Became The Most Notorious FBI Informant In The Biggest Insider Trading Case In Decades — And The Long Run To Redemption
- RRP #041: Cro-Mags’ John Joseph: Punk Icon, Spiritual Warrior, Ironman Triathlete & Plantpower Iconoclast
- RRP #066: John Joseph: The Punk Iconoclast On GMO’s, The “V” Word & Expanding Consciousness
- RRP #223: John Joseph Wants You To Wake The Fuck Up
- RRP #067: Charlie Engle On Sobriety, Prison & His Quest To Become The Fastest Human To Run Across The United States
- RRP #248: From Crack Addict To Running The Sahara To Prison Hero — Charlie Engle’s Third Act
Thanks to Jason Camiolo for production, audio engineering, show notes and interstitial music; Shawn Patterson for graphics. Theme music by Ana Leimma.
*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
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