Chris Wilson, a writer, entrepreneur and ex-offender, gave a guest lecture during a class titled Health and Wellbeing in Baltimore: A Public Health Perspective on Tuesday.
He discussed his life and his book, The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose, which was published this February.
Philip J. Leaf was the primary instructor of the class this semester.
Different guest speakers such as Wilson came in each week to speak about public health issues Baltimore faces. They also discussed how Hopkins students should interact with the Baltimore community.
Wilson was handed a life sentence in prison at the age of 17, after being convicted for murder as an adult despite still being a juvenile.
He reflected on what his life sentence would have entailed for him.
“When you get life in the state of Maryland, you grow old and you die here,” he said.
He was released 14 years into his sentence, on the condition that he complete a self-compiled list of dreams which included writing a book and starting his own company.
He explained that, while in prison, he wrote to the judge in order to advocate for his release.
Wilson detailed his plans for what he would do with a second chance at life on the outside. He said that he has since completed about 90 percent of the items on his list.
“[The judge said] here’s the deal. You wrote to me every year what you wanted to do, you wanted to start a business, you wanted to write a book, you wanted to travel around the world. You gotta do everything on the list,” he said.
Wilson was inspired to use his prison time productively by another prisoner who learned how to code despite not having access to a computer.
“I locked myself in my cell for about three days, and I thought about who I would be, maybe at age 40. What story do I want to tell? What’s my endgame? I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, make a difference in my community,” Wilson said. “Most importantly I wanted to be free again, free to return to these impoverished communities and lead people out of the cave.”
Megan Scafaria, a freshman in the class, said that Wilson’s lecture was inspiring, especially within the context of the course.
“Having him as lecturer spoke volumes to the necessity of having a strong character when faced with unforgiving circumstances... His story fits well within the course because all of the speakers before him also talked about their own hardships or the struggles of those around them in the Baltimore community and how they managed to rise above them,” Scafaria said.
Wilson grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in Washington, D.C., during the ‘80s and ‘90s, when it had the highest murder rate in the world. He spoke about the challenges and pressures he faced growing up during this time.
“My grandmother would just tell me, ‘Chris, mind your business, say your prayers, go to school and no one will bother you. And right in front of my house, my brother was shot, seven times, and he survived. But then my cousin was shot, 17 times, in his face, and he passed away,” Wilson said.
After witnessing a police officer rape and assault his mother, Wilson said that he was never the same.
Wilson’s mother committed suicide after receiving a phone call from Wilson after his release. He told students what he would have said to her, had she been in the room with them.
“I’d tell my mom how I helped 273 people in Baltimore City get jobs, and less than 10 of those were minimum wage jobs. I would tell her how I went from feeling invisible, to serving a life sentence, to spending over 100 days in solitary confinement, to coming home and winning every award in the state of Maryland, including the Presidential Award from Obama,” Wilson said.
Wilson told students what his book was about, noting that it is not solely about being in prison.
“It’s about figuring out how you want to be remembered, what your endgame is,” he said. “Maybe you wanted to be a professional bird watcher or live somewhere in Brazil.”
Wilson elaborated on the theme of The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose.
“My book is about people who have ideas of what they want to do with their life, and it’s about helping them write it all up and come up with their own master plan and live it,” he said.