The Love Prison Made and Unmade: My Story
By Ebony Roberts
Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; hardcover, $25.99; available July 9
Ebony Roberts is a writer, researcher, and activist, who has worked in the food justice and prison abolition movements for nearly twenty years. She recently served as program director for #BeyondPrisons, an organization designed to uplift the voices of those impacted by the criminal justice system. She received her BA in Social Relations and Psychology, and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Michigan State University.
Roberts, an intelligent, educated, and strong-minded woman shaped by a past filled with abuse and betrayal, was drawn to bad-boys: men who cheated; men who verbally abused her; men who disappointed her. Fed up, she cut off her hair and swore to wait for the partner God chose for her. Then she met Shaka Senghor.
In her extraordinary memoir, The Love Prison Made and Unmade: My Story, Roberts shares the intense spiritual connection she felt for a man behind bars for murder. Though she struggled with the idea that this man could be the good love God wanted for her, through letters and visits, she and Shaka fell deeply in love.
“I came to crave his words. I craved him,” Roberts writes.
“I checked the organization’s mail once a week, sometimes more, hoping for a letter from Shaka. When there was, I rushed to my car and opened the envelope as soon as I got inside. His letters were usually typed and no less than three pages long. I’d sit quietly in my car poring over each page, reading and rereading his words again and again.
“‘You can use my home address,’ I told him after a month of exchanging letters. It was like switching from snorting cocaine to free-basing – I could get my fix a whole lot faster if the letters came straight to my house. Getting the letters at home brought Shaka further into my life.
“One day, while I was sitting on my bed daydreaming, I got lost in the idea of what we could be. Two black activists working alongside each other, in love, building community, building a family, little brown babies with their tiny Black Power fists raised. I was unsure of the feelings I was feeling but there was something there. I have to tell him, I thought. He must know.
“Before I talked myself out of it, I wrote Shaka what I called the love letter that wasn’t a love letter. It was decidedly not a love letter because those feelings weren’t there yet, but I wanted him to know how much I was feeling about him. A risky step. It felt like free-falling out of an airplane with no parachute.
“What will he thin? Will he respond? I wondered.
“I also wondered whether I was setting myself up to be played. I’d heard the stories about men in prison who manipulated women for money and companionship, making promises to be with them forever. Promises they never planned to keep. Shaka seemed different. Though I didn’t really know him, there was something both familiar and fresh about him that made me think my heart would be safe.”
Following his release from prison, Shaka was embraced by Oprah Winfrey and wrote a New York Times bestselling memoir, Writing My Wrongs. Their lives had been transformed—the worst should have been behind them. Yet, Shaka’s release became the beginning of the end of their love story.
The Love Prison Made and Unmade is heartfelt and insightful as it reveals powerful lessons about love, sacrifice, courage, forgiveness and of living our highest principles and learning not to judge someone by their worst acts. Ultimately, it exposes the high emotional cost that American justice exacts on human lives—the partners, wives, children, and friends—beyond the prison walls.