After 16 years behind bars, Chris Wilson left prison with little but his mind was set.
“I was homeless. I was unemployed and I had $50 in my pocket. But I had a plan,” Chris Wilson said Monday in front of a theater full of Anne Arundel Community College students, faculty and members of the public.
As author of “My Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose" and with an associate’s degree in sociology he earned from the college while in prison, Wilson took the time to explain his story as a way to show what he did to turn his life around — an opportunity that he was pleased to do.
“I am honored to be called in and to speak,” Wilson said in an interview with The Capital.
"I put in a lot of work. I think it is important to show people that the world can be different when you work really hard. What better place than a college, which is like the nexus of information and the future of everything," he said.
Before Wilson received a life sentence at age 17 for killing a man, he recalled his time crossing a busy street to get to the library and being part of the chess club. But the reality of living in Washington, D.C., during a high time of crime and drugs took a toll on him and his family.
“I couldn’t pay attention in class. There would be shootings all night and someone would get killed and I was expected to go to school and do my multiplication,” he said.
“I just couldn’t do it.”
Wilson decided to get a gun for personal safety and one night after being approached by two men he ended up killing one after an altercation began outside of a convenience store. While at Patuxent Institution, he said he walked into the recreational center and noticed someone working on computer code.
“He didn’t have a computer, he was writing it down on paper,” he said.
The man, who became a close friend, made a choice to spend his time learning code for a future career in software.
So Wilson also made a choice to learn as much as he could while in prison as part of his master plan that included goals like learning Spanish, earning a high school diploma and a college degree.
He found out about a program through AACC that sends professors to prisons to educate inmates. Wilson took advantage of that program because he saw a way out.
One of his professors attended the event on the campus in Arnold Monday and said his experience teaching at a maximum-security prison created a perfect classroom.
“They’ve been waiting for me, they are attentive in class and they want to participate, they didn’t want class to end and couldn’t wait to have the next class,” said Dan Ferandez, who taught meteorology through the program.
“I found the perfect classroom and of all places it was in a maximum-security prison.”
Despite his circumstances, Wilson adopted what he calls a “positive delusion,” as a way to keep a focused mindset on leaving prison.
"I had to believe I was not going to be here for the rest of my life so I believed it. I could get up every morning and study," he said.
Wilson was able to convince a judge to reduce his sentence and be released in 2012, he was able to create companies on furniture restoration, a construction firm and a media company. He employs other returning citizens and he even paints.
Now as a business owner and criminal justice reform supporter, Wilson looks to offer support for others who are still behind bars and advocates on behalf of children who may have a similar experience as him.