JOHNSON: Sixteen months later, Senghor was the one pulling the trigger – four times – shooting a man in a confrontation on a Detroit street and becoming inmate number 219184. Walking into a prison known for its brutality, Senghor says he decided to be a lion rather than a lamb.
SENGHOR: You come in and you have to decide very early on, do you want to be a victim of, you know, rape or stabbings or bludgeonings, or do you want to stand up for yourself?
JOHNSON: During those first long years behind bars, he says he stood up for himself and more. Senghor embarked on a failed plot to escape, he ran a black-market prison shop, once threw hot mashed potatoes in the face of an inmate who insulted him and he fought with a corrections officer.
What do you say to people who read this book and say, listen, this is a guy who committed second-degree murder, why should I believe he’s going to change now?
SENGHOR: Well, I think my work speaks for itself. In the five years since I’ve been home, I’ve accomplished a lot. I had one – a TED Talk that was one of the top-ranked TED Talks of 2014. I’ve won awards for my mentoring work. You know, I’m actually out here living in a way that honors my second chance.
JOHNSON: Senghor says years of reflection in prison helped him change. So did books by Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and Plato.
SENGHOR: Yeah, reading changed my life. And it’s one of the things that, you know, I’m a firm believer in the power of the written word.
JOHNSON: He says he eventually made peace with the godmother of his victim, but he hasn’t been in touch with the man’s three children. Senghor left prison in June 2010, a day after his 38th birthday. He says he had a hard time finding a job. No one would rent him an apartment because of his criminal record. These days, he’s working for a group that’s trying to reduce incarceration and humanize people behind bars. In his free time, he’s mentoring kids in youth homes and visiting prisons near where he lives….
By Carrie Johnson; more at NPR.