Shaka Senghor (@ShakaSenghor) is a leading voice in criminal justice reform, the director of innovation and strategy at #Cut50, and the consulting producer for the OWN docuseries Released. He is also the author of Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison.
What We Discuss with Shaka Senghor:
- How Shaka’s childhood neighborhood in Detroit quickly went from idyllic to nightmarish when the crack epidemic struck in the ’80s (and what he spent his money on when he became a dealer).
- The assorted sources of trauma faced by kids who wind up in the drug-dealing lifestyle and why such a lifestyle is initially appealing to them — in spite of exposing them to very adult consequences.
- Why the current opioid crisis may actually be instrumental in helping heal societal class and racial divides widened during the crack epidemic.
- Why removing the stigma of mental health treatment is crucial to breaking the cycles of recidivism in which young people often get trapped.
- The series of events that landed Shaka in prison for 19 years, how he made use of his time there, and what he’s doing to help fix a very broken system.
- And much more…
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Convicted of second-degree murder at age 19, Shaka Senghor served another 19 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections — including more than five years in solitary confinement. While treating his time there as if he were attending university — getting up early and making sure that every day was filled with reading, writing, and learning — he discovered two important things that served to shape his passion for prison reform: prison is a business, and prisons are not designed to rehabilitate their inmates.
When Shaka got out, the odds were good that he would be back in six months. Instead, he wrote Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison (a New York Times and Washington Post bestseller), was interviewed by Oprah, gave a TED Talk, and hung out with President Obama. In this episode, we discuss what happened during those 19 years behind bars, what led to his incarceration, and how he’s strived to redeem himself — and the system — since. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
THANKS, SHAKA SENGHOR!
If you enjoyed this session with Shaka Senghor, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor
- Why Your Worst Deeds Don’t Define You by Shaka Senghor, TED 2014
- Oprah and Criminal Justice Activist Shaka Senghor, Supersoul Sunday, Season 7, Episode 707
- Shaka Senghor’s Website
- Shaka Senghor at Instagram
- Shaka Senghor at Twitter
- Shaka Senghor at Facebook
- Charlamagne Tha God | Turning the Tables on Fear and Anxiety, TJHS 171
Transcript for Shaka Senghor | Writing My Wrongs (Episode 305)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan harbinger. As always, I'm here with producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most brilliant and interesting people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave, and we want you to become a better thinker. If you're new to the show, we've got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, public speaking, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you're smart and you like to learn and improve, then you'll be right at home here with us.
[00:00:41] Today, on the show, Shaka Senghor, he was in the hole in prison for seven years, 4.5 of those consecutive. While there, he started to take action to improve his life. He did tons of reading to keep himself informed, keep his mind right. Treated every day like it was a university, get up on time, spend an hour on each different subject. And when he got out, they said he'd be back in prison in six months but instead, he wrote a bestselling book, got interviewed by Oprah, gave a TED Talk, and hung out with the president. Really amazing guy, prison activist here for prison reform. I just thought he's a fascinating character and I'm glad to have a good sit down conversation here with Shaka Senghor.
[00:01:17] If you want to know how I managed to book all these amazing folks, well, it's all about my network. I'm teaching you how to network for free over at my course, Six-Minute Networking. That's at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us and you'll be in great company. Now, Shaka Senghor.
[00:01:39] What was it like growing up? I mean, I assume we had vastly different childhoods given the neighborhoods we grew up in.
Shaka Senghor: [00:01:45] Well, growing in Detroit was really interesting, so I originally grew up on the eastside of Detroit, like Harper and Chalmers area. There's a famous rock venue over there, Harpo's, which I remember when I was a kid, I used to go over there and just like watched all the punk rockers. I was fascinated by their hair and all the different stuff that they would wear. Back in the day when I grew up, this was pre-crack. This is still a wholesome community in terms of just like what it looked like. There are still diners on the corner and your local kind of like store where you can go -- your mom can send you up there, and they already kind of know what her routine is, what she wants.
[00:02:21] So early on, it was interesting in a sense, we would like the first black family on the block, and we had the most incredible neighbors that we had a very diverse group of neighbors. Like on one side, it's just an Irish woman who was really super dope. I used to pick pears from a tree and she would make like pear preserves. And then on the other side, we had like an Italian family and they were just really gracious because we share great food, like a lot of fruit trees over there back in the day. Just being able to share food and like cultural exchanges, like that was always something that, when I think back to my childhood, that's what I reflect on first. Before things kind of started changing with the introduction of crack cocaine, when I was around 14.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:03] What year was that?
Shaka Senghor: [00:03:04] Somewhere around '86. We started seeing a dramatic shift in what the community was like. I grew up on a type of block where every parent was your parent. It didn't really matter whether they were biologically your parents. It was just like if you're out there and some mischief, they're going to be like, "Hey, get it together. Here's what you got to do. You got to come cut my grass because I caught you doing this and I'm going to still tell your mom." So those are like the more fonder memories of growing up, but once crack cocaine in the equation, it was just a dramatic shift. You saw those same parents now are kind of walking around under the influence of crack cocaine and we didn't really know or understand like the deep impact that that drug was having at the time. So that was kind of like the early '80s in culture. And I mean like Detroit's street culture back then just got so bad, so fast.
[00:03:57] Like I think a lot of people now, I mean we're talking about decades later. And you hear about crack, it's not the drug thing. That's more about opioids now, but crack was devastating. It was literally like a plague that just came and wiped out a whole neighborhood. And it really shifted things. You had a bunch of young guys making more money than they've ever seen in their life, than their parents ever seen in their life, in a relatively short amount of time. You know one of the things I always reflect on is -- the household I grew up in, my mother was abusive and my father was complicit in that. I eventually ran away -- but one of the things I always reflect on when it comes to thinking about that time of my life, it's how much of a kid I was in this very adult world.
[00:04:41] And I remember the first time I even made any significant amount of money, the first thing I wanted to do, I went in the grocery store and I literally bought every type of cereal that I wanted, like growing up that I couldn't have. My mother had six kids, so it was like we may get one good box of cereal. Then the rest was like Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies, but I literally went in the store and I bought every type of cereal I can think of, Captain Crunch, all these different cereals, and then I bought like strawberry milk, and it's like the biggest kid's shit you can do, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:12] Was Captain Crunch your favorite?
Shaka Senghor: [00:05:13] Yeah, I mean, I was sorting through all of them back then. Like the Honeycomb then you just try all of the things that I saw on TV, but it was one of those things that I think to me really signals like the innocence of childhood being distorted by the realities of this drug being introduced to the community.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:32] This is good juxtaposition, right? Because that can imagine you making, I don't know, how much money are we talking about? Like a few hundred bucks a day or something like that.
Shaka Senghor: [00:05:38] Literally so, I mean, it can go from anywhere from a few hundred bucks a day to thousands of dollars a day. It was like crazy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:46] How old are you?
Shaka Senghor: [00:05:47] Like 14.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:48] Oh my God. Yeah. So I'd never even seen probably more than a hundred dollars at a time by that age.
Shaka Senghor: [00:05:54] Yeah. I remember the first time I got paid from some drugs, I probably had like $350 to $400 over the course of just a few days, but it was mostly in the singles, so it looked like a most ridiculous stack of money. And at 14, it was just like, "Yo, this is like all the money in the world." You just don't realize it's really not that much money. Back then it was probably considered a lot for a kid, but when you think about the costs of potentially losing your life, losing your freedom is not even close to comparison.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:27] But you're not thinking about that about Captain Crunch and Nintendo or something.
Shaka Senghor: [00:06:30] Yeah, absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:31] Yeah, or Atari I guess.
Shaka Senghor: [00:06:32] Yeah Atari by then, ColecoVision and television.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:35] Like you get a colored TV, ColecoVision, or Atari and your friends are just like, "Whoa!"
Shaka Senghor: [00:06:43] And the thing back then was like a motor scooter moped. It was just like, you might as well have the biggest bands ever running through the neighborhood.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:52] Wow, so of course it's the draw is there, because no one thinks about dying when they're 14.
Shaka Senghor: [00:06:56] No, not at all. You know, I had a moment early on when I thought that my life was going to end at 14. So within a few weeks of selling drugs, like everything bad that can happen began to happen. I was robbed at gunpoint and I was in the building on the eastside of Detroit, on East Chalmers and Jefferson -- and again the innocence, the naivete -- I got lured out of the house while I was seven drugs at, into another house, and once they were unable to pay, I was like, "Okay, it's time for me to leave." They were like, "Yeah, of course, you will." They escort you out and they had watched where I took the gun they watched where I took the drug. And basically like two grown men, one of them choked me up, grabbed me from the back, and the other one grabbed the gun and put it to my head and was like, "Give us the money and the drugs." I just remember like being on the stairwell and looking down into this like cavernous basement and thinking like, "Damn, he's going to shoot me and kicked me down the stairs, and this is where the end at." And when they didn't do that, they kind of just pushed me out the house and was like, "Get your ass out."
[00:08:00] And I went to Coney Island, a little restaurant on the corner. I remember just walking in there and people were looking at me. In my mind, I'm like, "I just got robbed." So maybe they can understand that. But in reality, I'm like, "I'm a kid that should be in school right now." And here I am dressed in all of the drug dealers attire. I'm probably not even five feet tall. But in my mind, I feel like this big guy, but reality, I'm a kid and they're just looking like, "What the fuck are you doing out of school?" And I just remember like that moment when somebody says, "Hey, you know, this knife is not for you, and you need to like go home and figure things out." And so I went on my way, and just got right back into the culture.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:41] Yeah. I can imagine getting robbed at that age. It doesn't really seem real, but then you're just like shaking. Right? You have that like shaking adrenaline response.
Shaka Senghor: [00:08:49] Yeah. I mean, it's the thing that I think about the interpretation of drug culture in America or gangster culture. We see all the glorified parts everywhere. It's like, "Oh, this guy has a horrible type of background. He made it, made some shit happen." And those things are true and I think is one of the reasons that it emerges in hip hop culture so much because it is kind of like the aspirational aspect of figuring out how to live the American dream. And it's the dream that was kind of born in the hood. It was a way out. It was way out for a lot of people. We often hit a criticism a lot of why are they glorifying this. When you think about it, you're 14, 15 years old and you're able to help your mother pay rent, you're able to help your mother get out of the ghetto. You're able to get transportation, feed, and provide. There is a hero like element to that.
[00:09:34] But what often isn't talked about is like the trauma that you experience and the nightmare that that culture is for kids, for anybody in general but for kids specifically. I've reflected a lot, especially now as a mentor where I'm talking to a 16, 17-year-old and I always had these moments of just thinking to myself like at their age, there was an adult giving me drugs. There were adults selling guns, and there were adult women who were performing oral sex and having sex with me at that age. I'm just like, "Yo like you have to be really fucked up in your own head to even think that that's okay to expose a child to that." The things that people don't talk about are the fear and the paranoia and the trauma that we ended up experience as a result of that lifestyle.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:23] Yeah. You don't think about it because you think, "Okay, these kids are in this lifestyle. They think it's cool. That will wear off at some point," but you don't think there's grown pedophiles taking advantage of you guys that are corrupting -- I'm trying to think what was I doing when at age 14 and I don't even remember, but I certainly wasn't having sex with a 30-year-old or 28-year-old woman who was trying to get crack from me. Like that, I know I was not doing that.
Shaka Senghor: [00:10:48] You know, it's interesting, like even that subject, because I've written about it extensively, navigating life as a man, and having gone through those experiences, and thinking about like we don't talk about what happens to young boys. And I think one of the things that I'm seeing with the opioid epidemic now is that people are really saying, "Yo, this is really happening in the kids." Whereas when it was crack and it was affecting primarily black and brown kids, and nobody was really thinking of it through that lens, but it's one of the things that inspire me to write Writing My Wrongs because I really wanted people to understand how you go from the innocence of childhood to being caught up in is very addictive culture. That's a very destructive culture and how that changes and transforms who you are as a human being.
[00:11:31] Like when I got into the culture, I was a smart, nerdy kid who just happened to grow up in the hood, which wasn't even really the hood then. It wasn't the hood until crack came. But having gone through that and being able to go back and look at how I'd changed from the sweet, innocent kid, the dreams of being a doctor into now a hardened guy on the streets, but I was hardened because of the shit that happens to me when I was in their culture.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:55] Yeah. It's going to be interesting to see how the opioid crisis, which is happening all over, not just to black and brown people.
Shaka Senghor: [00:12:03] Absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:03] There's a lot of older -- I would assume older white guys who are like, "Oh well, it's because it's an effective culture. They live in this like dumpy neighborhood. Of course, it's going to happen there." Now though, it's happening in—
Shaka Senghor: [00:12:13] Everywhere.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:14] So you can't really say like, "Oh well they had bad parents and that is a defective culture and if so of course it happened. It's a failure of society." It's like, "No, this is happening to your cousin who got a back injury at a wrestling match and got addicted to Oxycontin."
Shaka Senghor: [00:12:27] And your grandma and your wife, and your sons and all these things. I mean, I think those things were true for crack as well, but in a different way where it was kind of like people would come from the suburbs into the inner city. They just kind of swing back into the burbs. Whereas now with opioids and it's such a different drug. It's almost paralyzing when you think about the effect that it has on people physically and whether it's just like falling asleep in random places and nodding off. I always think of these things through like what is the moment mean for us as a country and how can we like not -- because we can't go back and rewrite what happened in the crack-cocaine era. We can go back and change the laws and policies, which opioids are actually helping us do. So to me, it's like, what is the best possible story that comes out of this for us as a whole? And if you can get people to recognize that this has been happening in other communities and we can have that conversation, I think there's an opportunity to heal some of the racial divide, some of the class divide and things like that. But it takes an honest conversation.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:32] That is interesting. I hadn't really thought about that, but you're right. I think it's harder to look at one culture or one ethnic group as less than or more defective than when you can see the same shit happening to your own shade of people in your own neighborhood. Because when I worked in Detroit, I worked right down by -- we were talking before the show -- I worked right down on Jefferson and Van Dyke, which you said is a bad area. It was bad then. It's bad now, I think, I don't even know. And It was really eye-opening for me in all the cliche ways you could imagine, going down there and being like there are people my age that live in their own apartment, that are afraid to go out at night, that have to carry a gun to like make sure they're not going to get robbed or killed. And even then, obviously no guarantee they got a minimum wage job and they're 16 and this is their life now. Whereas I'm like, this is some stuff I do on the weekends. I'm going to go to the University of Michigan, I want to go to college, and I'm probably never going to like come back here again. But then talking with them and realizing they were really like pretty much the same as me. They just had a lot more responsibility and a lot less opportunity. It scared me a little because it's easier to think of people as not doing something right or like having screwed up their lives rather than just like not having won the lottery, which you eventually realize that you've done as a white kid growing up in Troy, Michigan.
Shaka Senghor: [00:14:47] And I think that's one of the things that we just -- you know, in our country, I feel like sometimes we're comfortable being dishonest and we are just to say, "Hey, yo, I really get this now." Like it's not a threat to privilege. It's just a reality of the world we live in. Even now, I think about this on raising my son. He's being raised very differently than I was raised. But there's a certain level of privilege that he has that other kids who don't have a father who's doing what I do have. And those are just the facts, so their outcomes are possibly going to be different unless there's some type of intervention to set them up in a way where they can actually succeed and thrive. I think the more we can be honest about that conversation and whether it's about class, whether it's about economics, whether it's about race or gender, I think we'll always just have those kinds of political tropes where people are like, "Hey, let us come rescue you." Or, "You need to fix it and you need to figure it out." And it's way more complex than that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:41] So your family was pretty stable until it wasn't, right? That's what it sounds like in the book.
Shaka Senghor: [00:15:45] Yeah, I mean, you know, my parents -- and I think about this often now, like even with things that I remember from my childhood, when my parents were in a healthy space, in their relationship, and just what I think kids rely on is normalcy. There's a sense of safety and routine. And I always think about there was a point when my room was in the front and I can hear my father's car coming around the corner at exactly the same time every night. And when they first separated, I was around 11 years old and I remember like nights of that not being the norm and hearing different sounds that just didn't mirror that normalcy of my father's routine of parking in front of the house, getting the keys out and opening the front door, coming in, and stopping in the dining room, maybe looking at homework. We used to leave our homework on the table, going in the kitchen, grabbing a bite to eat or whatever the case may be. And so when they first separated, it disrupted that sense of like normalcy and safety that, I think now as a father, I can see that my son is used to.
[00:16:46] And things changed dramatically. We went from being in a household together to them being separated. So it was like two dual households, and I think they did the best that they could in terms of like trying to be supportive co-parents, but I think there was a lot of animus between them. And so it wasn't always like that fluidity of being able to go from household to household and know that it's still kind of some sense of perspective. And they parented very differently. My father, when he and my mother decided to separate my father is a lot more easygoing, pretty chill, whereas my mother was more structured, more strict. And like that was confusing at times and it kind of was like, "Oh, I really want to just be over here with dad because it's easy breezy." But then there are some things about the structure that my mother had that I now think back on that was really helpful. It made me very independent, very skilled at taking care of myself, and learn how to manage a household because those were like the requirements.
[00:17:44] But the thing that I think probably impacted me the most was when they separated the second time. And my mother, she was like, "You got to go live with your father." And even though I love living with my father more, it was something about feeling rejected that really impacted because I'm like, "Well, why do I have to go live with him? And my sisters are still staying here and like, this is my childhood home forever at this point." But that created a war between her and me and our relationship was never the same. This is like a mother-son dynamic. Even when they got back together, I was mostly disconnected from her in that way. But I still yearned that validation that comes with having the love of a mother and unfortunate it just never happened. And I mean, we're good. We're in a good space now, but it's different. My needs are different now.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:32] Well, yeah, yeah. I mean now you're 47 not 11 years old, 12 years old. I mean, you were on the honor roll. I think it's important to remember that this is like. You were a good student. You weren't like getting in trouble all the time or anything like that. It was just like you went from model kid to selling drugs on the street within a span of just like -- was it like three or four years?
Shaka Senghor: [00:18:54] Relatively short amount of time. One of the things I always think back to like whether it was with the abuse in the house or just -- I think it was three things, like the physical abuse, the verbal abuse. That changes children like the way that they interact with the world. And one of the things I always reflect back is that the teachers not recognizing the shift, and not recognizing me coming to school and no longer be interested in work. Whereas, you know, I started off as the kid who was excited and I couldn't wait to turn in a paper and get that A because I was a high performer. I'm an early reader. I started reading when I was probably four years old. It just strikes me now, you know, looking back, it's like the teacher is not noticing that lack of interest, where I was at one point, I'm a high performer, super diligent in class. I'm the guy who's like running all the errands and I'm getting done with my work so fast. But I think that that's a real indicator where children's lives began to derail is when the adults stopped paying attention to the changes. There was a major shift. It wasn't like I was at a different school system, so to go from like honor roll student to barely even showing up in class like that was a very key indicator that something was wrong. And unfortunately, our schools just aren't equipped to always deal with that whether it's a class size or whether there's this lack of resources when it comes to therapists or social workers or whatever the case may be. But there was a dramatic shift during all this time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:23] Yeah. It's sad to think, and it sounds like you're going through this in your head, looking back like. They had a baseline. They knew you were a smart kid, they knew you were really nice. And then over a short period of time, all that went down the drain. And somebody must have noticed and just been like, "I don't have the time to deal with this," which sucks.
Shaka Senghor: [00:20:40] Yeah. Or the time or the resources. Even if you think about like athletics whereas you got a player who's performing at this level all this time, and then all of a sudden there's this marked drop-off. Some coaches are going to say, "Okay, what's going on? Are you drugs? Is it your dating life in shambles? Like what's really going on?" Because it's an easy way to measure like where a person is in life.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:02] Yeah. Yeah. That is super unfortunate. I mean, you are still a kid even when you ended up going to prison. We'll get to that in a second, but it sounds like moving from your mom's house and then moving in with your dad. That's when you started to maybe build a little bit of a wall, like, "All right, if my own parents are going to hurt me, then I'm just going to shut down a little bit."
Shaka Senghor: [00:21:21] Yeah. I mean, I think the war began to build a little bit earlier than that. Actually in childhood, just with some of the things that were happening, but I think it was kind of solidified as I got into that space with like, they're just back and forth, back and forth, and I'm kind of navigating life on my own at this point and trying to figure it out. And even when I was living with my dad, I was basically on my own because he worked. Our schedule was I get up and go to school. Sometimes he would get up to eat breakfast with me. Then he'll go back to bed and then by the time I'm coming from school, he's going to work. By the time, he's coming from work, I'm going to bed.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:53] And he worked at night?
Shaka Senghor: [00:21:54] Yeah. Well, he worked in an afternoon shift, so it's like three to like 11:30 so once I'm out of school and I'm just like me, you know, running the streets and figuring it out. And even then, I still was like an innocent kid. I just feel like a kid who just had a lot of freedom and a lot of responsibility. I'll learn how to cook through that processing, just saying, "Hey, you got to take care of this." It's a tough circumstance. Like when I think back on it now, and he was in essence, a single dad, raising a child with a full-time job and just trying to figure that out. And I'm a single dad now, so I understand like the level of responsibility of trying to navigate all the things right. It's like I still have to work. I've got to get my son to school, got to get him and pick him up from school, make sure he's attended to and still try to run a business. And there's no easy undertaking. The difference between him and me is that I'm actually an entrepreneur and I have my own thing going whereas he had to go punch a clock, day in and day out. I just don't even think in general, there's a lot of support for single fathers because it's just not a conversation that we have regularly like what are the support structures needed to support fathers who are parenting or co-parenting.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:23:10] You're listening to the Jordan harbinger show with our guest, Shaka Senghor. We'll be right back.
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[00:25:56] Thanks for listening and supporting the show. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Shaka Senghor. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don't miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Shaka Senghor.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:33] We think a lot about single moms, not enough in my opinion. But nobody's really thinking about single dads, almost. It's almost like, "What are you complaining about?"
[Shaka Senghor: [00:26:41] Yeah. Yes. It's the wildest thing. Even in like dating, it's been like really difficult to date women that understand that I'm a father first. There are nights I've just can't go out to dinner because I'm home with my son. And even understanding the relationship dynamic with his mother and me, which we have a great co-parenting relationship and we have to talk often. This is a child we're raising. It's not just somebody that we're dropping off and picking up like is she wants to be informed about his day. I want to be informed of what other things have happened in his world when he's not with me and when he's with her. Those things are important for parents to share. It's one of the things that we chose to do because our parents didn't co-parent like that. It was just like, "Okay when you're with them, you're with them." But we try to keep some type of inner grated parenting relationship so that there's consistency, that he understands consistency of love, of routine, of shared responsibility, and it's a little complex and a little difficult at times.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:41] It must be hard to learn that without having had the example. I know when you ended up on the street, you wrote in the book, "Even the cops who arrested me ask me why I was wasting my life. They believed in me more than I believed in myself." Which is crazy to think that somebody who's arresting you is like, "Hey, what are you doing? What are you doing? This is not who you are." And you're thinking like, "What do you know about me?" And the answer is more than you seem to know about yourself at that time and more than your parents seem to know because they are at work all the time, which is just crazy to me.
Shaka Senghor: [00:28:09] Yeah. I mean, I've always reflected one of those moments of having those types of interactions where people can see what's seems to be so obvious. One of the areas I think that a lot of people miss the mark on is like internal belief. And how much more dominant that is than external validation. And it's something that we don't really even talk about, especially like with young boys. Like what are our internal beliefs? What do we believe about ourselves? And I think it is specifically, as you know, a mentor to a lot of young black boys. And like a lot of my work, it's convincing them to shift their beliefs about themselves, self-esteem issues, self-worthiness, and this runs across the spectrum. It doesn't matter -- black, brown, white. There's a struggle in our country with young boys to figure out what their identity is. And to figure out how to say, "You know, I don't feel my best self or I'm struggling with these things." It's one of the reasons suicide rates amongst young boys are growing. In a day and age we live in where everything is on social media, and we hear about the young ladies who grapple with body identity and what they should look like. But there's also the success factor or the tough factor, or the athletic factor that a lot of young boys are struggling with finding their place.
[00:29:20] You know, I talk to a lot of young boys who are nerds. They're just smart kids and they want to do nerdy stuff and nobody celebrates or honors that in society. And so they have this inner turmoil where they're like, "Oh, well, let me try and get validated through this aspect of like what it means to be a boy." So I think it's a conversation that actually would be helpful to me. If you think about some of these young men who are doing mass shootings at schools. And you really started digging to their background and you'll see that these issues are there, and it's more than just they're watching the video game because that's the easy stuff, right? It's easy to be like, "Oh, well this person was this racist, or this person was this watching video games or whatever." But there's really something happening with young men in the country that we're just not talking about. And largely because there isn't a lot of space for men to just talk in general about what it even means to be male in this world. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a boy and what are our emotional needs? Because we're only taught to express our emotions through anger or frustration.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:23] Yeah. I mean, that's very familiar. My dad is a great guy, but he is a terrible communicator. It's like it comes out pretty binary. If he's not happy, it's either, there's not even a couple -- there's just mad and not mad, mad and happy. And mad can be impatient, tired, hungry, frustrated feeling bad about something. I remember even when I would have something that happened to me, he would just get mad because he couldn't be like, "Oh, I feel bad for you. Here's some sympathy." He would just be like, "I'm angry now." And my mom would be like, "Don't tell your father. He's just going to blow up." And I see that even in myself. It's almost like I have to work hard to this, not get mad about random things because it's the wrong response. It's like not constructive, but it's the example that I have is, "Oh, is this happening in your life? Just get angry about it." And then my wife was like, "What are you doing? You're just being your dad." And I'm like, "Yeah, I know." And I can't. It's so hard to break the pattern.
Shaka Senghor: [00:31:18] Yeah, and it really is. You know what I mean? The reality is there hasn't been any space to break the pattern. And if we don't have examples of what healthy emotional expressions look like outside of anger. How can you expect to react any other way? And so you know, those things are, what I try to pay attention to as a father is like, what am I communicating to my son when it comes to emotional wellness and emotional wholeness.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:44] So, you're 14 years old, you get recruited by this older drug dealer. How did that even happen? Was he just like, "Hey, you want to make a lot of money? You want to get some Captain Crunch?" Like what's the sales pitch from this guy?
Shaka Senghor: [00:31:56] I mean, the sales pitch is like, and even in a book, when I say older, I mean he was like 19, 20. At 14 that appears to be like miles apart. And the sales pitch was he had the car with the loud music, he had the pretty girls. He had a way of taking care of itself and providing, and it's that recognition that -- and a lot of these instances is the same way that young girls are recruited into human trafficking. It's the validation. It's the, "Hey, I got your back. I'm going to support you. I'm going to help you live this magical life. I'm not going to tell you that you probably can get killed in the process, or you might get robbed, but I'll give you the tools to set you up to hopefully prevent those things, but there's no guarantee." And so young men are recruited in that same way.
[00:32:39] And again, it's that emotional need to be validated. These guys are not going into a school where kids with healthy, loving, nurturing family saying, "Hey, I think you should come sign up for this lifestyle. They're looking for the transient homeless. They're looking for the runaways, they're looking for the kids who have been abused and who've been hurt and been broken," because oftentimes they are those kids and they know that just a hug from big homie and you know the cute girl in the car saying, "Hey, little man, so you're out here making his money." Like all that validation, right? Like those are the things that set it up to where a young person will compromise their freedom or their life just to have those things and then have that level of acceptance.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:21] I can definitely see that being really tempting even looking back in my teenage years. If somebody offered me a great opportunity or a seemingly great opportunity like that, it would be so hard to turn it down because you don't think, "Oh, I'm going to get shot tomorrow." You just think like, "I'm not, this is not going to happen to me." And if you have no checks and balances, like you're not going home and your mom's like, "This is why this is the dumbest thing you've ever done," then you just get sucked into it. And the only competition is what? Like math homework. No, thanks. So I totally understand that. So you're doing this for a few years, but then eventually reality sets in. You got robbed. And then how did you end up getting shot?
Shaka Senghor: [00:33:58] So I got shot when I was 17 and it was over a minor conflict. You know, me and this guy, we got into an argument over something meaningless and I thought it would just be one of them, kind of old school fistfights. I come from that culture where you got a problem and you just fight it out and keep it moving. But during this time period, when crack cocaine came, high levels of gun violence amongst young people, I think Detroit has always had issues with gun violence just in general. But there is something very different during the crack-cocaine era where you had young guys who had easy access to firearms. I bought my first gun probably within a couple of weeks of selling crack because you have people who are addicts coming in and bringing guns. It goes through this whole thing. First, they're selling the TVs and microwaves and VCRs. I mean, clearly, we don't have VCRs anymore. Back then, that was the thing. And then it's like, "Oh, selling firearms and uses sort of car and things like that." So with the influx of crack cocaine, also came the influx of firearms and the way that young guys will just start to settle conflicts.
[00:35:06] So this guy in March 1990, we get into this argument. He rose up, we exchanged some words. And I'm thinking he's going to get out of the car and fight and instead, he pulls out a pistol and shoots me three times.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:19] Oh my God. Wow.
Shaka Senghor: [00:35:21] Yeah. And what happened after that is one of the things that really shifted, I think the last semblance of childhood was definitely gone at that point. The last sense of innocence. When I went to the hospital, they were very robotic, very mechanical. It was just kind of like pull the bullets out. We'll leave his bullets in and you'll probably be better off, patch me up and within days I was back in the neighborhood like there was no, "Hey, how do you feel? What are you thinking? You know, what's going on inside of you?" It's just kind of like, "Oh, you lucky he didn't shoot you in the back or shoot you in the head." Or, "You'll survive and basically get back out there." It's kind of like, you know, you just had gotten injured on the football field and it's like, "All right, walk it off. Get back out there." And when I got back to the neighborhood, I remember the first day of standing outside -- the first few days I had to kind of heal up and I was on crutches and kind of hobble, so I didn't want to be out and about. But once I was able to kind of limp around the neighborhood, I remember the first time to stand on the corner again and a car coming down the street and the level of anxiety I felt, and the level of vulnerability. And at that point, I was like, "I'm carrying a gun every day, no matter what. No matter what the circumstances, and if I get into a conflict, I'm shooting first. Like I'm not even taking the chance of being shot again." And that became like my dominant thinking like every morning.
[00:36:44] And I mean, I had been around, like my friend who took me to the hospital, he had got shot the year before and the incident where his friend got killed. Several guys throughout our crew had been shot. And like, even now when I reflect on my family, it's like eight of us have been shot. This is real. My oldest brother was the first one in the family to get shot and this was like around 1985. He got shot in the neck by my other brother. So my other brother shot him in the neck. He was paralyzes like right arm and shoulder. And I always thought to myself like, what he thought about that experience, like has he ever grappled with like the PTSD. Then the brother who shot him, actually, been shot twice. The first time was in the superficial conflict and then a second time he got shot, he was shot on his back and he's permanently paralyzed. I have like cousins and nephews who were shot multiple times and various degrees of severity.
[00:37:46] I got out of prison in June 2010, in September, two of my nephews were shot. One of them was shot in an incident where his friend was killed. I remember going to see him at the hospital and I was like, "You know, used to get therapy." And he was like, "I don't need therapy. I'm good. This happens in the hood all the time." And the same thing with my other nephew, I was like, "Yo, you should get therapy." Both of them are in prison right now. It's a cycle of life and it's a cycle that just hasn't been disrupted in a lot of communities, so this is why you see the repetitive gun violence because there's no interruption happening.
[00:38:20] Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:20] You know who Charlamagne Tha God is?
Shaka Senghor: [00:38:20] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:22] So I was talking with him and he was explaining, "Black people just don't really do therapy because it's looked on like, ‘Nah.'" I mean everybody, first of all, rejects therapy. It takes a while, but especially for some reason -- and he's got theories on this -- but in black culture, it's like, "Oh, I don't need that." Either, "I'm too tough for that," or, "I don't want to deal with that." Plus it's expensive. Plus it's not necessarily easy to find. I think there are enough obstacles already.
Shaka Senghor: [00:38:46] I think that's part of it. I think the other thing is trust. I'm thinking culturally, there's just a distrust of like the idea of what a therapist is. If you really went into the hood and was like, "Yo, you should see a therapist." Most reactions will be like, "Man, I'm not going to talk to no white people about my problems." So there's that perception that only therapists are all white. And then there's also this reality that we don't deal with mental health in our community in a healthy way. Some may not have actually talked about this. In a couple of times, one of the things that I was expressing to them, especially dealing with guys in prison -- so I was in prison with a bunch of young guys, and there was a consistent pattern of adverse childhood experiences, high levels of gun violence, high levels of abuse, high levels of trauma, and no therapeutic treatment.
[00:39:32] And what I was explaining to him, it's like, you know, there's just this distrust in our community, and rightfully so like the history of what happens to black bodies and black minds in America hasn't been one that leads you to believe that you just need to be trustful with people who come from outside of your community. But what happens with that lack of trust is a high level of ignorance and the need for mental health care. And the other thing is like a lot of the mental health facilities have been taken out of communities. My father actually worked in mental health for a long time, and I remember when they shut their clinic down, and so you have families who have adjusted to just saying, "Oh, this person's having a bad day," or, "They're just being disruptive," or "They're just tripping." And even that's the extreme end. Like just in general, people need to take care of themselves mentally. And whatever that looks like, whether it's meditation, therapy, reading, whatever you need to do for yourself. But I think what I loved that Charlemagne is doing it, he's actually creating a space for the conversation to happen in real life. And Big Sean as well. I'm sure you know about the rapper. You know, Big Sean? So he and I did a mental health panel, like in Detroit not too long ago. It was powerful to see people be able to connect to language that was familiar to them. So we were able to put it in the language that they can relate to
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:53] Yeah, not some 60-year-old Jewish guy from Troy, Michigan. You can come and tell me about all your problems. I listen to your Notorious B.I.G.
Shaka Senghor: [00:41:02] And then the other part of it too is like a lot of times with the interpretation of therapy is somebody is about to tell you everything that's wrong with you. And you probably already heard that. So I think breaking down those stigmas. I'm excited that Charlemagne is doing and Big Sean is creating platforms, and I'll do it in my own way, but clearly, they have these massive platforms, which is really important to remove the stigma on mental health treatment.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:26] You mentioned a lot of grownups, adults at the time, women selling their bodies, guys coming and selling their possessions to you in exchange for drugs. What does that do to your psyche as a kid or just as a human? Because you start losing faith in humanity. I would imagine at some point when it looks like everyone around you is like, "Yeah, I'm going to sleep with you for this," or "I'm going to give you my grandmother's ring because I need a hit of crack." There's got to just be chipping away at, not really like your moral code, but just like your faith in what people are good for.
Shaka Senghor: [00:41:58] You know, I think a lot about this, especially in terms of hip hop. So early hip hop and I'm a big, big hip hop fan and having the privilege of growing up alongside hip hop, so like there are kids growing up now into a world of hip hop. When I grew up in the world where hip hop didn't exist until it was created and watching the music changed from just like upbeat, uplifting, positive to like, "Yo, it's hoes and bitches in the hood and things like that." I began to kind of track it through what happened with the crack epidemic and what happened with a lot of young boys growing up in that culture, and even if you weren't selling drugs, you are around that. You had access to early childhood sexual experiences with adult women that oftentimes were degrading, demeaning, and not loving, caring, nurturing. And so a lot of the objectification comes through that lens, like at 14, it wasn't just the women who were addicted to drugs, it was also the women who were chasing the money. And so at that age, to have that type of the dominion over adult women was very unhealthy. I see it play out with a lot of men growing up, where they just had these very dysfunctional relationships with women, myself included as a young drug dealer. I had no interest in love and marriage and whatever. It was just like, "Yo, you're the cutie for the day, or for the week or whatever." And I had a couple of girlfriends that I eventually developed some feelings, whatever capacity at that time, but a lot of it was through that lens of easy access.
[00:43:29] And so when you have that type of access, it diminishes the experience, but it also diminishes the experience for you as a young man in terms of like being able to mostly develop and evolve and as one of the things that I'm, I'm actually writing about now because I was able to talk to a woman who I had sex with when I was about 15 she was like in her 30s. We had a very interesting exchange that I'm writing about in my new book because I think it's super important to really understand misogyny, to understand why there's a lot of emotional dysfunction in young males. I felt it was important to share that part of my journey. One of those exchanges that started in my head was about that experience where he had some experience when he was eight years old. We didn't even make the connection until he and I were talking, that it impacts how he evolves in terms of how he dealt with women. And for me, it was just like talking to her and initially, she was very defensive.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:31] Sure because she is a pedophile, but you don't see it. You don't see it from a grown female to a young boy, as much as you -- like I'm 39 if I was walking around with a 15-year-old girl, people wouldn't call the police immediately.
Shaka Senghor: [00:44:44] Absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:45] Hopefully they would.
Shaka Senghor: [00:44:46] And whereas with me, it was like, "Oh, she's attractive. So this is a medal."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:51] Right, you're the man now.
Shaka Senghor: [00:44:53] And so I asked her about it, because I'm mentored so many young boys and I see what's happening with them, so I asked her about it. And initially, she was like, "Yeah, I'm going to talk to you about it." And then she went kind of like radio silence, and then she came back and you know, she said a couple of things that weren't true. And so I was like, "You know we're here. Here's what I understood about it." And then she got super defensive and categorically denied, like doing this with other young guys. And then eventually she came around and she was like, "You know, I was wrong. And I was ashamed and it was hard for me to talk about it. And yes, I did do this with other guys in the neighborhood, and you were just one of the many young guys." She never quite got to what happened in her own life, which, you know, that's her personal journey, but just having her come full circle from like -- I mean, she said like, wow, fucked up shit. She was like, "Well, maybe you're just, something happened to you in prison, and so there was this like, blame, defensive—"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:48] Like. you're hallucinating this, you mean.
Shaka Senghor: [00:45:49] No, she was like, it was true, but she was like, maybe I'm asking her these questions because something happened to me in prison, or you know, it was just like all meanest shit you could say when you were defensive. I remember even sharing this with like women in my life and getting their reaction and their reaction was like -- initially, they laugh and I was like, "Wow, this is deep." They laugh. Then, it was crazy what she said. And what I ended up doing, I said, "Imagine this, imagine that this is a 30 something-year-old man who's had sex with a 14, 15-year-old girl." And she comes around later on in life and say, "Hey, you know, I realized that wasn't okay. Why did you do it?" And this was the reaction he had and they were like, "Oh shit."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:32] It's weird when it's flipped, right?
[00:46:33] Shaka Senghor: [00:46:33] Yeah. They were like, "Oh shit. We get it now." And I was like, if you're raising boys and you're a mentor or you have a son, you should be thinking, or if you're in a relationship. When a man asked him what his real experience was, not the glorified. "Yeah, I had my virginity broke at 13 with a grown woman." Like, "Yeah, that wasn't healthy."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:51] Yeah, no kidding.
Shaka Senghor: [00:46:54] And this shows up in different ways.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:46:57] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Shaka Senghor. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:03] This episode is sponsored in part by Better Help. I love Better Help online counseling. Better Help offers licensed professional counselors who are specialized in issues like stress or anxiety, relationships, sleep and stuff, trauma, anger, family stuff, grief, self-esteem, and more. So it's really up to you to find somebody here that knows what you're dealing with and you will with Better Help, and you can connect with your professional counselor. It's safe, it's private, it's all online. It's on your phone. Anything you share is confidential, so of course, that's more convenient than the usual drive across town and find parking type of therapist. You can get help at your own time and at your own pace. Secure video or phone sessions plus chat or text with your therapist. And if you don't like your therapist, you don't click get a new one at any time. No additional charge. Jason.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:41] This episode is sponsored in part by Wondery. What does it take to be the next unicorn of the business world? What does a quick fall from the top look like? I'm looking forward to this podcast. It's called WeCrashed. It's about WeWork, it's the story of Adam Neumann's 2019 fall from the top of the startup. So he was a CEO. This guy is just -- talk about a CEO with his head firmly planted --
Jason DeFillippo: -- between both cheeks!
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I mean, just an absolutely arrogant mess. This guy seems to be according to the media. Now, I don't know him personally, but it's not a good look. There's a $47 billion promise of greatness that was supposed to change the world, and then dot, dot, dot most of the shared value took a massive nosedive in like 40 days. Of course, he has to resign. It gets pushed out. And a Scott Galloway, former show guests, was a key advisor to the company. I mean, they had 15,000 employees. The guy had a jet. He's like, he had out just this total schmaltzy ridiculous guy who stood poised to become the world's first trillionaire with WeWork, so he thought, and then, boom, conflict of interest, mismanagement, mounting losses. I'm excited to hear the story, sort of the behind and the end run of coworking spaces with Wondery. There's a premiere coming out. When's that come out, Jason,
Jason DeFillippo: [00:50:58] it's coming out January 29th Wondery's WeCrashed on Apple Podcasts. I am so looking forward to this one.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:05] Yeah, WeCrashed. It is a great name too. I mean, they were just asking for it on that one.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:541:09] They totally were.
[00:51:10] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals and don't forget the worksheet for today's episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you're listening to us on the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really appreciate it. And now for the conclusion of our episode with Shaka Senghor.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:38] We don't think about it when it's flipped around and you don't think about it when it's different cultures too. Like, well, actually I should speak for myself. When you think pedophile, you think white dude, young girl, like, that's like the stereotype that I have in my head. But you don't think older African-American woman, younger African-American guy in the city because then you're just like, "Ah, there's some other things in there going on. I don't know." But it's the same thing. It's abusive and it's being on a dress. And like you said, even talked with other people and they're like, "Oh LOL." And you're like, "No! No! Not that I was being abused by this woman. And you're laughing about it," because you don't know how to handle it. Like, extrapolate that through the whole culture. It's toxic.
Shaka Senghor: [00:52:17] Yeah, absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:18] All right, so you're selling drugs for a while. You end up getting shot. You start developing a habit of your own, right?
Shaka Senghor: [00:52:23] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:23] How did you end up going to prison?
Shaka Senghor: [00:52:25] So 16 months after I got shot, we're actually within that 16 months, I began to develop this very toxic narrative that if I find myself in conflict, I will shoot first," and then 16 months later I found myself in that conflict. Even this part, and I'm not even sure if I wrote about this in the book, but prior to the conflict, I was at a party. I was actually DJ-ing a party and a guy got shot in front of the party. And so when he got shot, the party shuts down. We're all on high alert because initially, we don't even know who it was. We just know it was somebody at the party and two people. So we don't know who was, what's happening. So we were all on edge and then we walked back around to my place and once a car pulled up, a car full of the guys. We're all like guys ready to pull out our pistols and figure it out, but they ended up being some guys we knew. So I get home, another guy who I knew who I was selling drugs to, he pulls up with a car and it's like him and two other guys. And the two other guys, I don't know, I have no clue who these guys are. And he was like trying to make this transaction and it was a little different transaction. It was a different transaction to me. I mean, he was considered like a pretty good spender, a guy who would come and spend $40, $50 regularly, like hourly, every couple of hours, whatever. But he came, you know, they had a significant amount of money and I just felt like something wasn't right with the situation. I didn't know these guys and it's like two in the morning.] And so he and I got into an argument because I wouldn't sell the drugs. And so the guy who was in the passenger seat, David, he joined into the argument. And so it became kind of like a back and forth between us. And there was a moment where I turned and I was like, "You know, I'm done with the conversation. You all should get off the block." And I turned, literally turned to walk in, and I heard what I thought was the car door opening. I turned and fired several shots tragically caused his death, David's death. I was arrested and charged with open murder and eventually convicted of second-degree murder, sentenced to 17 to 40 years in prison. And I was like one month to my 19th birthday when I got arrested.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:34] Wow, so you're still a kid pretty much when you went to prison?
Shaka Senghor: [00:54:39] Yeah, so when I got to prison, I went to Michigan Reformatory, which is at Ionia Michigan, probably about two and a half, three hours from Detroit, and it's called the Gladiator School. And this is a prison of pretty much young -- it's about 1500 guys there, maybe somewhere between 1000 to 1500 guys. Basically, the prison was designed for guys from age 15 to 21 and there were older guys sprinkled and, but it was mostly like young guys serving long prison sentences. I think the minimum prison sentence was like 15 years with the exception of guys who had screwed up at other joints and they come up with lesser sentences. But basically, I was there with a bunch of young guys who were all serving anywhere from 15 to life sentences in a very volatile environment. Well, yeah, that's where I was at in 19.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:24] How did you feel when you shot that guy? What was it like in the moment? Were you scared at all? Were you surprised at what you were able to do or was it kind of exactly what you figured it would be?
Shaka Senghor: [00:55:35] I had never figured what it would be because I don't think it was really about him. It was about what was going on inside of me. And so in a moment, it was just kind of like a fight-or-flight thing. And like literally after the shooting, the car pulls off, everybody's kind of scrambling and my brother was down the street and I remember just like running down the streets to my older brother. And talking to him, and it was just like this very childlike moment of like, I don't know what the extent of the damages, but this is what I did and I know it's really terrible and something really bad has just happened. And needing that, you know, consoling from like somebody who I felt could nurture that part of who I was. It was a very childlike response. I didn't want to face it. I wanted to run as far away from it as possible. I ended up getting arrested like two days later and I just remember sitting in the police headquarters and being in the cell and listening to their interpretation of it and just being like, "No, that wasn't what that was."
[00:56:38] Because at that point, they had gotten multiple different statements. Even a guy who initially brought him, he had initially lied about what happened because I guess he was trying to like stick to the street code and not snitching or whatever, or not getting implicated or being in any trouble because these were like guys from the suburbs who had everything to lose. And so his initial statement was false and you know, and so that kind of led to a lot of different interpretations of what happened. It went from everything from carjackings to randomness. But I just remember hearing it and like not even connecting that I'm the person responsible for this man's death.
[00:57:16] And so when I went to prison, there was really no space like going in to even unpack the trauma of that part of the experience. It was like you talk to a therapist and -- I remember this lady basically very matter-of-factly asked me what happened, and I very matter-of-factly told her -- I hadn't sort of tell her how felt about it or what I thought about -- I just told her what happened. And she characterized me as being like a sociopath. It wasn't until years later that I understood exactly what happened. She wasn't there to offer any help. She was just basically there to kind of label me and box me into some idea of who she thought I was. The reality is that when you have people in that position of authority to define somebody else that doesn't come from the culture of the community, that's what you end up with is like a young sociopath or he doesn't have any remorse. It's like, "No, I'm traumatized. It's fuck. Like I've literally taken somebody's life. I've been shot. I've been through all these horrendous experiences, and this was just the culmination of all those things that I don't know what the hell to do with." Like, I don't know how to unpack this at the time. I don't know how to navigate the emotions of this in the moment. And it's literally just like a very short amount of time while I'm still navigating it.
[00:58:32] And I just remember like for years trying to find the language too even just say, "I feel horrible about this. Like this is a terrible feeling. To know that I've devastated this family." And probably about five or six years, I remember getting a letter from this woman named Nancy who's responsible for raising David. At least, that's the letter she sent to me and explained their relationship.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:56] So basically the guy who you shot, his mom, for lack of a better word.
Shaka Senghor: [00:58:59] I think she was like his godmother or aunt or something along those lines. A lot of stuff came out after I got out and had conversations with his wife. But when I got this letter from her, she explained herself as the woman who had raised him. And I just remember reading a letter and just like initially want to ball that letter up because it was just like, "Hey, you know, here's who David was to our family," and she humanized him in such a way that I felt like a deep, deep sense of shame. And it's like in the moment that it happened is two o'clock in the morning, David might as well have been faceless and nameless because I couldn't even see in the car. So when I got that letter, it was like, "Okay. This is who this person is."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:45] Yeah, he was a human being.
Shaka Senghor: [00:59:45] Yeah, and I've devastated his family, but this woman is just such an incredible angel in my life the least. In a sense that she was like, "Despite all this, I forgive you."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:57] Oh that's got to be -- I don't even know how you -- because you expect her to be so mad at you that you resist it but instead, she says she forgives you.
Shaka Senghor: [01:00:06] Yeah, I wasn't even any, mostly mature enough to even process that in a way that was just like, "Yo, this is real." But I kept that letter and will read that letter often, and I still have the letter. I would just read it over and over because I knew that I need to get to a point where I could accept her forgiveness in order to really fully forgive myself, but also to have the type of empathy that is necessary for healing. And so I just read a letter over and over. Back then when I first read, I didn't even know the profound impact it was having on my life. It wasn't until years later that I realized the way that I show up in the world now, it's largely connected to that letter.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:48] Wow. Yeah. That is intense. That must have been so hard for her to write and so hard for you to read.
Shaka Senghor: [01:00:53] Yeah. To this day I'm just like, this lady is just an incredible example of what it means to be human in a sense that the way that a lot of us engage in life is through a spiritual-religious lens. And the cornerstone of that is redemption and forgiveness and things like that, but it's rare for it to actually manifest into our real-life practices. It's a hard place to get to. Life is tough. Things happen that are harmful and hurtful and it's not easy to arrive at a point where you're like, "You know, I want to practice what I preach in a real way when it happens to me." It's tough. It's not an easy thing to do and she had a tremendous amount of courage to be able to do that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:36] I know you wrote in the book that prisoners are amazing entrepreneurs, and this was no surprise, but very interesting. Everything's so expensive in prison, so everything has huge margins too. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Shaka Senghor: [01:01:47] Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of times when people think about who's in prison, it's kind of like this blanket idea of just a bad guy or bad girl. There's never any real sense of who these people truly are. And a lot of the men and women inside are exceptional entrepreneurs, exceptional artists, exceptional musicians, and all the things that make up the world that we live in, you can find in prison. Entrepreneurship though I think in particular is probably easier to find because we come from hustling. We come from a culture of hustling to survive and those are transferable skill sets. I remember when I first started selling drugs, so we procured this new space to sell from. It is a house on the eastside of Detroit but it was like in a nice neighborhood. It was still relatively nice. And I remember the first couple of days that we have lines with people outside the door. I was like, this looks ridiculous and it was just an instinct of how do you make this not so obvious. And so originally we had the first layer of protection, which is where I'm going to guard door on the outside doors.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:52] Are those metal bar doors?
Shaka Senghor: [01:02:53] Yeah metal bars.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:55] Okay.
Shaka Senghor: [01:02:56] So I was like, "What if we move that door in between the kitchen and basement, allow the flow of people to come inside the basement? Then it prevents the neighbors from seeing what's going on," and that's the entrepreneurial instinct to figure out how do you sell things in a way that—
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:13] Maximize customer experience,
Shaka Senghor: [01:03:14] Exactly, right, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:16] That sounds so ridiculous. Am I right?
Shaka Senghor: [01:03:18] I mean, but it was things like that it was connecting with other guys in other neighborhoods. It's networking, figuring out how to profit share. "Hey, if I can do this in your neighborhood. Here's the benefit to you." And so there's all these different things. Even, you know, a lot of what the drug trade was like you buy super low and you just sell high. When you think about all those skill sets any Fortune 500 company can use those. They're all transferable, the marketing, the promotion, the coming up with ideas. And even innovation, which I think is a very important part of any business venture. You got to be able to innovate and kind of iterate on ideas and figure out how do you simplify processes right. And in prison, we had to do that to survive. You can't survive in prison without being able to iterate. You can't get tattoos if you can't break down the tape player and guitar string and the ink pen and turn them into a tattoo gun. And even just the commerce in there. People don't have a ton of money, so they have to depend on family to send them money. They have to depend on their pay period once a month. And so that creates a black market store, where if you can house enough merchandise. So if you buy something for 50 cents, you owe me a dollar. It's like a hundred percent markup. People get into financial trouble relativity quickly in there because the markups were so crazy. I mean, I loan sharked in there and it was a cycle. It was two cell blocks from Michigan Reformatory, I Block and J Block. They received their money on offsetting weeks. So I was able to circulate cash like consistently both weeks because when I Block gets money, I loan it out to J Block, in the end, they have to pay me back. Then I would set up these stores in each unit and it was just how I took care of myself.
[01:05:06] And then we hustled everything. I worked in the recreation center. You wanted to come up and just get out of your cell. There was a cost for that it was three dollars a week. I can get you out and come be a referee, even though you may not know anything about sports. You can come clean up the weight pit or whatever the case may be. You need to come up and do your laundry. It costs you a dollar. So everything was like hustling. In all those skill sets, you just develop. They're really beneficial when you get out. And I think entrepreneurship is probably the best path for people getting out of prison because it's hard to find employment. People don't want to hire you and you have a felony. You go through everything you can think of, constant rejections. People were just afraid. There's the stereotype around people getting out of prison is really negative and people don't think that there are people who just really want to come home and live a drug-free, crime-free life and get an opportunity. Fortunately, there are organizations that are helping with that now,
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:57] I know that when you were in solitary, you decided to treat it like a university.
Shaka Senghor: [01:06:00] Absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:01] I mean, that makes sense, but must have been kind of hard to do because it requires you thinking about, "Okay, I'm in here now. I can't resist it anymore. I've got to learn what to do and move forward." And then, like you said, paroled after 19 years, going into prison as a teenager, and then coming out basically my age now actually -- What were some of the biggest changes in society that you -- ?
Shaka Senghor: [01:06:21] Everything. The world had changed. Like I came home and granted like, you know, I feel like I came home with an advantage that a lot of people coming home don't have. I'm highly literate. I'm super curious about life in the world. I'm well-read. I love to read. I devoured magazines. I was learning about all these things, but hadn't interfaced with them. It was just like the most mind-blowing thing to come home. Getting in the car and the car like talks. I mean, when I went to the prison, the only car to talk was KITT from the Knight Rider. So I remember just sitting in the car and the car that said something and I was like, "Who else is in here with us? What the hell is happening?" Navigation systems. I remember growing up it's like you want to get somewhere, you like, "Look, make three lefts right here. It's the third house from the house with a broken-down fence, and you're at the destination." So coming out with technology was just mind-blowing. I think Skype was the thing when I first got out, and I remember the first time people were like Skyping, and I'm like, "Yo, this was on The Jetsons." And now it's such a part of life, so that was crazy.
[01:07:28] Relationships -- I was in a relationship with my son's mother before I got out of prison, and when I came home, like that relationship derailed so quickly, and it was for a few reasons. Part of it was just, I'm like a bull in a tiny shop at this point. I'm free. I can kind of navigate the world. The other part is that I just had no relationship experience. That's something that we didn't really account for us. She was like in this one lane of like, "My man is home". So she was kind of riding in the highway of love, so to speak. And I'm like in six different lanes. I'm trying to reconnect with family. I'm trying to establish a relationship, reconnect with my children, find employment, run a business, learn technology, learn how to just be, and like all those things were always at work in my mind. It's a lot to get out. It's a lot to reacclimate yourself to life on the outside, being around groups of people.
[01:08:23] You know, when you get out, everybody wants to drag you everywhere. "Hey, come here and come meet this person." And, "You missed these grandbabies when they was growing when you were away." And all these are wonderful and necessary, but it has to be paced at a way that honors our experience. My experience was real. Like in crowds of people, people got stabbed or blends in. They were hit in the head or strangled or whatever the case may be. So it wasn't easy just going and sitting somewhere around a bunch of people making choices.
[01:08:51] Like my first couple of years, I ate mostly like wingdings and hamburgers because that was stuff that I was familiar with. I mean, I would look at a menu and get overwhelmed like, "Yo, there's too many things going on."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:01] What are these words mean? I still do that when I look at the menu.
Shaka Senghor: [01:09:04] Seriously, I'm like, "Yo, where are the wings at? I just have wings and fries and I'm cool." Because of how many choices it is to make and like when coming home, I got excited about being able to buy my own sneakers and like being able to have a choice and what I worked as, I went so many years without a choice. It was just a lot. I mean, I'm still unpacking. I'm coming up on 10 years in June, I'll be celebrating my 10th year of freedom.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:28] Congratulations.
Shaka Senghor: [01:09:29] Thank you. And it's just like a lot of change in my life out here. I'm still learning a lot about life and learning about what I really want in my life and still unpacking that experience. I'm in the process of finding the right therapist for me, to just really unpacking a lot of things. I've done like self-therapy for so long through writing, writing the medium of storytelling. Journaling and meditation have been super therapeutic. But I also realized I'm at a point in my life where there are so many things I experienced in prison that most people that I didn't even talk about in a book, because it was just like that horrendous and I know that I have to unpack all that to be the full version of myself.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:08] Yeah. I know in the book you'd said, "Prison reinforces everything negative that you know about yourself." Can you speak to that a little bit? You need to reboot that when you got out, right?
Shaka Senghor: [01:10:18] Yeah. I mean, I had to reboot it before I got out. It's a very volatile environment and it's so hierarchy based on violence and hustling culture and things like that. So it reinforces all the negative things that you grew up in the hood experiencing and recognizing as having value. So in the hood, the hustler, the drug dealer, the shooter, like all those guys have like real value in the hood and they're validated in the hood in ways that people don't often time like to acknowledge, but there's a credibility to being like a hood celebrity and the hood star. So that same thing translates in the prison. Like if you're the prison yard boss, all the things that come with that are celebrated in an environment. And so for me, I had to kind of rewire my thinking and it happened like when I got this letter from my son. His mother had told him why I was in prison, and reading that letter from his eyes through his lens as a little boy who's going to grow up to look up to his father as a prison yard goon, a convicted murderer that was devastating to read that and to think that's how my son was going to see me. I knew at that point that I really had to change some things in my life. And in order to do that, I had to really examine my life in an honest way. I began journaling to actually figure out how did I go from wanting to be a doctor to serving almost my promising years in prison. And that process of journaling, allow me to unpack all the things. And so really standing in my strength as a person, as a leader.
[01:11:41] And so when I got out of solitary and I had turned my life toward different productive outputs, being able to talk to men who respected me from my prior associations about where I was heading in life and they encouraged it. They were like, "Man, it takes a lot of courage to walk a different path. But if anybody can do it, you can." To this day, those guys still write me from prison and tell me how proud they are of who I am today and how true to my word I've been, which is equally credible in street culture, in prison culture, it's actually being a man of your word. Out of all the accomplishments, I think that's really important to me is knowing that I stuck to what I said I was coming out here to do.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:23] Shaka, thank you so much, man. This is fascinating.
Shaka Senghor: [01:12:25] Thank you so much for having me, man. It's been great.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:29] Big thank you to Shaka Senghor, links to him and his work will be in the show notes. Of course, there's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. Also, in the show notes, there are worksheets for each episode, so you can review what you've learned here from Shaka. We also have transcripts now for every episode, and those can be found in the show notes as well. A few folks have said they don't know how to get to the show notes. Those are on the website. You can also, if you want an abbreviated version of those, tap the album art on your phone screen should pop up a little summary, not the full notes, but a summary is better than nothing, right?
[01:13:01] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people like Shaka and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Don't do it later. Do it now. You've got to dig the well before you get thirsty. If you want to procrastinate, go ahead, but you might stagnate when it comes to your personal and business relationships. Look, the drills take a few minutes per day. This is the stuff I wish I knew decades ago. It is not fluff. It is crucial. Find it all for free at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests on the show, they actually subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you'll be in smart company. In fact, why not reach out to Shaka and tell him you enjoyed this episode of the show? Show guests love hearing from you. You never know what might shake out of that. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and/or follow me on social. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.
[01:13:53] This show is created in association with PodcastOne and this episode was produced by Jen Harbinger and Jason DeFillippo, engineered by Jase Sanderson, show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola, and I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own. And yeah, I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. I'm sure as heck not a doctor or a therapist. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. I think for this one, it would be somebody who is either been in prison or has a little bit of a preconceived notion about the type of person that comes out or goes in. So please share the show with those you love, and even those you don't. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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