In 1991, Shaka Senghor was 18-years-old when he killed a man in a drug-related dispute.
“Back then I was angry, emotionally confused, emotionally vulnerable and really just in the space of trying to survive in the inner city of Detroit,” he told SBS Insight.
“I got into a conflict over drug transaction that I refused to make and when the conflict escalated, I decided to shoot multiple times and tragically caused a man’s death.”
He spent 19 years in jail for second degree murder, with seven of those in solitary confinement.
“In the early stages of my incarceration I was very angry, I was very confused. I had a lot of unanswered questions.”
Senghor’s experience transformed his worldview, giving him a new focus and purpose in life. His epiphany came almost halfway through his incarceration in the form of a letter from his son.
“I got a letter from my oldest son who was at the time, around eight or nine and he just talked about what he interpreted as me being in prison was like for him,” Senghor explains.
“It was just a real big wake up call for me to really kind of assess where I had gone wrong in my life and figure out a way to turn things around.”
This was the moment he decided to take responsibility for the man’s death and it was a “no brainer” to dedicate his life to atoning.
“I knew that when I got back to my community that I had a responsibility as a man to work with inner city youth.”
“If I can utilise my voice and my experience, that I could possibly … help some young men and women avoid making the type of decision I made in my youth.”
Now the convicted murderer uses his gift of writing to share the lessons he has learned.
Through the Atonement Project and his work with anti-gun violence organisations, Senghor hopes to inspire hope in at-risk youths.
He now uses his redemption story to help young men and women coming from very tough circumstances navigate through life.
“It was really what drives my work today, because nobody wants to see young children and young people destroy their lives when they have options available to them.”
“I forgave myself some years ago and realised that I didn’t have to walk through the rest of my life carrying a sense of guilt and shame. I’m very mindful of the hurt and the damage that I’ve caused.”
Shaka Senghor appears on Insight’s Making Amends program to be broadcast on Tuesday 3 November at 8.30pm on SBS.