In 2006, Marylander Chris Wilson earned an associate’s degree in general studies from Anne Arundel Community College (AACC).
“Me walking across the stage was the proudest moment of my life,” he said of his graduation.
Perhaps the accomplishment was most notable because Wilson earned his degree while in prison. After shooting and killing a man who cornered him and made threats at a neighborhood gas station, Wilson was charged with murder at age 17 and tried as an adult. In 1997, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Today, Wilson is free, and he is a Baltimore resident and entrepreneur. The author of “The Master Plan,” a memoir detailing how he turned his life around, Wilson is a successful artist and an advocate for criminal justice reform.
On September 30, Wilson visited AACC’s Arnold campus to speak to students. He was interviewed onstage at the Robert E. Kauffman Theater by AACC graduate and University of Maryland junior Alexandra Radovic.
Telling his story from the theater’s stage, Wilson recalled his early childhood.
“I was a good student for the most part,” he said. “I liked to read books and go to the library. I played the cello.”
As he got older, Wilson explained, gun violence in his neighborhood spiked, and family members and friends fell victim to shootings. His brother was shot in the front yard and survived. A cousin was shot and died. Wilson and his mother were assaulted. Living with daily trauma and constant fear, he took to carrying a gun, never intending to use it — until the night he pulled the trigger at the gas station.
After his sentencing, Wilson was sent to the Patuxent Institution, a correctional facility in Jessup, where youth were segregated, and some rehabilitation services were provided.
In prison, Wilson realized, “This isn’t who I am.” He wrote what he called his master plan — a bucket list of things he wanted to achieve. It included goals like run a marathon, learn Spanish, learn Italian and buy a Corvette. In his book, “The Master Plan,” Wilson said he thought, “What do I need to do today, tomorrow, and for the rest of my life to get a second chance?” The plan stayed taped to his cell wall, a daily motivator.
In 1998, Wilson earned his GED and then enrolled in college classes provided at the prison by AACC. “School in prison was like a sanctuary,” Wilson admitted.
He assured the AACC crowd that the professors who came to Patuxent treated inmates like real students, and they pushed him to do his best.
“I had to delude myself that I would get out one day,” Wilson confessed. “I genuinely believed it, and it allowed me to resist temptation, and I made it.”
In May 2012, Wilson was released from prison. He had served more than 16 years. Fifty-two days after gaining his freedom, he had a job. He went on to start Barclay Investment Corporation, a residential and commercial contracting social enterprise, and House of DaVinci, a furniture design and manufacturing business.
Wilson enjoys creating art, and he visits schools and prisons all over the country telling his story and encouraging people to develop their own master plans. In 2016, he received a President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama.
“I wanted to travel the world,” Wilson told the audience of life since his release. “I got my passport two years ago.” In the last 18 months, he has traveled to more than 20 countries.
When asked about the most important lesson he has learned, Wilson said the idea of “paying it forward” is meaningful to him. “I’ve made it this far because people have helped me,” he said.
Following, Wilson’s talk, he signed copies of his book. Refreshments were served, and a cake was decorated with icing depicting the cover of “The Master Plan.” Wilson’s website is www.chriswilson.biz. “The Master Plan” is available at local bookstores and on Amazon.