Shaka Senghor served 19 years in prison for second-degree murder, and much of that time was spent in solitary confinement. After spending four and a half years in what he describes as “the most deplorable, dehumanizing, degrading conditions known to mankind in our world,” Shaka made the commitment to walk out of solitary confinement a changed man.
However, once back in the violent environment of the prison, Shaka knew his character would be tested. He feared he would go back to his old ways. “The expectation was that I would be the old me,” he says. “That whenever conflict arose, I would respond in a way that wasn’t healthy. … I knew that there were going to be challenges.”
Shaka’s challenge came one day when he had to escort an imprisoned community activist around the prison. As Shaka and his charge waited in line at the cafeteria, another inmate cut in line ahead of them. In that moment, Shaka knew he had a choice of how he was going to respond.
“Now, in prison, that’s enough to get you stabbed,” Shaka says. “Or at minimum hit upside the head, whatever the case may be. And there was that moment when I felt disrespect, not to my authentic self, but to the prison mask that I had worn for so many years. And I was like, ‘How do I respond?’ Because everybody’s looking in the kitchen. … And what I did is I paused, and I looked at him, and I saw the little boy in him. And I told myself that transformation comes when we can see the broken child in any person we encounter. So moving forward, every time I found myself in conflict, I always made sure that I looked at the broken child inside the person because that was their authentic self. And I reminded myself that if I only responded to their authentic self, I can only respond out of kindness, empathy and compassion.”
Here, Shaka describes how he received a spiritual epiphany behind bars.