-Welcome to the show.
-Thanks for having me. Your book and your journey
is genuinely one of the most shocking stories
I have ever read. You lived a life -that many people should not
have emerged out of. -Right. Right? You-you talk
very early on in the book about how grew up in a world that your-your therapist
referred to as basically growing up
in a combat zone. -Exactly.
-What does that mean? It means there was a lot of gun
violence in my neighborhood. Uh, buried five of my friends
before the age of 17. I lost family members.
My brother was shot. My cousin was gunned down
in front of my house. And this stuff was happening
every couple of months. Right, and you-you lived
in this world where there was on… not only
violence on the outside, -but violence on the inside,
as well… -Right. Because you-you talk about
in the book– and it’s really
heart-wrenching– about how your mom was
physically abused -by your dad at the time,
who was a policeman. -Right. How did that… how did that
affect your-your world? I mean, because you’re-you’re
growing up in this world where there’s so much violence,
and then, -you have this man
who’s a policeman… -Right. who is creating even more
violence in your world. -So he was… so he was
my stepfather, though. -Right. But, um, my mom, um,
was dating him. It was a nightmare.
It was a nightmare, and it started out, um,
verbal abuse, and then it just became
physical, and because
he was a police officer, when my mom would call
the police, -they wouldn’t do anything.
-Right. Did that… did that change
your perception of police? ‘Cause most kids grow up
thinking the police are heroes. -Yeah, I actually wanted
to be a police officer. -Oh. I’m a little, like, embarrassed to admit that now,
but, like, police… (laughter) I mean… I mean,
Officer Friendly– -they would come to the school.
-Right, right, right. And it was, like…
it was… it was a role that I wanted to play,
and then, you know, my experiences
growing up– at least in my neighborhood– it was… it was just
a negative experience. You-you then go on to talk
about how… you went into a world
where crime was basically -the only avenue that was
opened up to you. -Right. You get into a life of crime
as a young kid, I think at 14. -Yes. -And by the time
you are 16, you’re deep into it. -And you-you get sentenced
to life in prison. -Yes. -At the age of 17?
-17, yeah. 17 years old, sentenced
to life in prison. What is… what is going
through your mind when that’s happening? When that… when that verdict
comes down, what is happening
in your brain? It was… it was like
receiving a death sentence, and as you can imagine, going to prison is like being
teleported to another planet. -Right. -And so… And I only
weighed, like, 120 pounds, so I was, like, super terrified
of going into prison -as a child being charged
as an adult… -Right. and having to grow old and die
there, and so, I was terrified. And what had you
been arrested for? -Um, first-degree murder.
-Right. And so, now, you-you lived
in this world of violence, you’re a 17-year-old who’s been
sentenced to life in prison, you go into prison– this is
a story that seems like… -it’s ended now.
-Right. And yet that is
just the beginning -of the story in this book.
-Right. Genuinely, one of the most
amazing stories ever, because you-you…
you set goals for yourself, you get into prison,
and then you decide that you’re going to make
your life better, in prison. -Right.
-Why? So, I knew growing up,
my mom had instilled in me that I was a good person. I’ve always wanted
to be an entrepreneur, and, like, growing up, playing
chess and playing the cello, people in my neighborhood would
say, “Man, that’s not cool, man. You don’t do that.” So I
never really applied myself. And so once I was finally, uh, I
was sentenced to life in prison, and everyone was like,
“Just get comfortable, you’re gonna grow old and
die there,” I knew in my heart that I was a good person,
so I wanted to write up a plan and apply myself
and prove to myself and prove to everyone else
that my life was redeemable. Right. And when
you were in prison, did you feel like prison
helped you believe -that your life was redeemable?
-No. No. Prison, like,
it was mostly punitive, and they were telling me,
“Get comfortable, you’re gonna grow old and die
there,” but there were people that I met in prison who
actually saw a potential in me and gave me hope
that I can get out. Right. You talk
about one of your… one of your cellmates
who forced you to learn math, -Yeah.
-and he would punish you if you couldn’t get
the answers right. I mean, which is, I mean,
a great way to learn math. -Right, yeah.
-(laughter) Being in a prison cell with
someone, you’d be like, “Yeah, “I’m-I’m-a learn my…
I’m-a learn my four-times table. I’ll learn this.” That’s an
interesting way to learn, right? Interesting, right.
Love this guy to death. Um, he would give me
math problems, and then he would say, “I’m
gonna give you this problem, “and you need to beat your time,
and if you can’t do it, “you either got
to drink a cup of water -or you got to do 25 push-ups.”
-Right. -So I put on a lot of muscle
in there, like… -(laughter) But also got
my high school diploma -in, like, two months.
-Right. Now, you… you-you talk about this journey, and when you…
when you went into prison, -it was a life sentence. Right?
-Yes. But then you get out
after how many years? 16 1/2 years. And that, for many people,
is the beginning of an ending, -because you are now a felon.
-Right. You are now someone who
society has deemed dangerous. -Right.
-You are somebody who has been, you know, found guilty
of first-degree murder. -Right. -Where do you
even begin your journey now? So, throughout
my prison sentence, I knew that society
would look at me that way. And I would see a lot of people
get out of prison and come back in prison,
and so I had in my mind, you know, kind of,
like, a mental fortitude that I was gonna be able
to get out there and just work really hard
to prove people wrong. And then oftentimes,
we always hear the stories about people getting out
and committing other crimes, -Right. -so I wanted
to prove everybody wrong -by showing that we can come
home and be successful. -This… What was interesting–
and this is fascinating -about Chris’s story…
-(cheering and applause) …is you… you-you went into prison being what many people would
consider the worst of society. -Right.
-And in that time, you-you go in, you study. What are all the achievements
that you… that you did for yourself
in prison? -Just list them, ’cause
it’s really impressive. -Okay. So, I… First,
I got my high school diploma. -Uh-huh. -I got
my college degree in sociology. -Right. -I taught myself
to read and write and speak -in Spanish, Italian.
-Uh-huh. Went on to learn Mandarin. Start a book club.
Start a career center. -(laughs)
-(cheering and applause) -And on and on and on
and on, yeah. -Right. Yeah, I just… So, I mean, you-you come out
with all these skills. You go out into the real world, but the real world
doesn’t appreciate a person who has
rehabilitated themselves. -We’ve learned this in society.
-Not at all. Right. We’re trying to change that,
but we have learned that. You start going into business. You want to become
a businessperson, -but banks don’t want
to give you loans. -Right. -Yeah. -So how do you
even begin that journey of getting the money?
How-how does that work? So, it’s actually very,
very strange, too. Like, going into banks…
My companies… When I started my first company,
it was profitable. I was making, you know,
like, $20,000 a month. And I would go into the bank and say, “I need
a $5,000 line of credit.” And, like, every bank,
like, told me no. And eventually I found out -it was because I was
a convicted felon. -Right. And so it just made it
very difficult for me to be successful, and that’s what happens
to a lot of people when they come home from prison. It’s like,
you want to do the right thing, and doors just shut
everywhere you turn. And so it’s very, very,
uh, very difficult. And now you-you’ve decided to
make that part of your purpose. -Yes.
-What does your company do, and how do you work
with, uh, with people who have come out of prison? So, I started my first company, which is
a furniture design company, making high-end furniture. I started a second company, a construction contracting
company. And both of my companies… I didn’t know it at the time
when I was in prison, but I wanted to create
opportunities for people. And, so, I now know the term
“social entrepreneur.” But I create job opportunities for people who need…
who need help the most. And, so… I’m-I’m,
you know, very, uh, proud -of the work I’ve done since
I’ve been in Baltimore. -Right. (cheering and applause) Someone who-who is pro,
you know, a punitive system might say, “Chris… “clearly America’s
prison system works “because you went in
as a murderer, “and then you came out
as a model citizen. Isn’t that what the prison
system is supposed to do?” How would you respond to that? So, I would push back
on that, right? So… But it all depends
on who you ask. Some people think the
prison systems are working fine. They’re decimating, uh,
communities and people of color. Um, but, you know, I think that
the prison system is broken, and it didn’t help me. I had to really, like,
push myself, um, to learn all I can. And even when I finished
vocational shop or got my high school diploma, -I read hundreds and hundreds
of books. -Right. Um, but the other thing
I’ll say, too, is, you know, we got to think about what
we’re doing to our children. I went to prison as a child, and, you know,
my brain wasn’t developed. You know, uh,
my life was threatened, and I took a person’s life,
and that’s wrong, right? But my life
shouldn’t have been thrown away. And, you know, as-as a society, we should–
we should be more thoughtful of giving children who commit
crimes a second chance. -So I’m– I’ve dedicated my life
-(applause) to, um, being of worth for them. If you go back in your life and you look at that decision
that you made to take somebody else’s life, what do you think could have
changed in your community that could have prevented you from getting into the life
that you did? I mean, there-there’s
a lot of things, right, um, in my neighborhood. Like, one, like,
the-the crack epidemic that swept
through my neighborhood. Um, our teachers,
um, were underpaid. There was a lot of crime.
There were so many things. -Right.
-I can’t really, um, say what-what a magical solution
would have been. But I guess, like, the
shortest answer would’ve been, um, like, my mom– if my mom had, like,
more support. Like, my mom was sexually
assaulted in front of me. And, as a victim,
I watched her slip downhill. And there was no help for her. Even watching all my friends
die, there was no one
to come talk to me and say, “How you feeling about, like,
watching your friend die?” -They would just say,
“It’ll be okay.” -Mm-hmm. And I would think
about these images every day, and I couldn’t concentrate
in school. I couldn’t, like, function. I had to sleep on the floor because stray bullets
would come to our h– go through our house.
And so it’s tough. And a lot of children grow up
like that. And so I want to be a voice
to speak out against these conditions
and-and continue to do so. When-when you look at, um, people who have come out
of prison now, do you try and tell them
the importance of-of speaking to someone? Do you tell them
the importance of therapy? -Do you– do you try
and get them into that? -Right. So that’s something
that’s-that’s very, very important. Um, I talk about this
in the book. Um, there’s, like, 30-something
things that you can do -and implement
in your own Master Plan. -Right. And, like, the first one is,
like, man, write that shit down, right? Write it down, um, and-and give, like,
someone else, like, a copy of your list so
they can hold you accountable. And, like, me,
I did my grandmother. ‘Cause, like, no one tells–
no one, like– You know, you always obey
your grandmother, right? -Right.
-So, um, I had other things, like, you know, create your own
personal board of advisors. Right? So, someone who’s, like,
an expert in, like, finance or, like, you know,
relationships. And you just take ’em out
for lunch, like, once a month. -You just do stuff like that.
-Right. And-and, like, finally, just,
like, never, never quit. Never give up. And surround yourself with,
like, positive people that push you. And-and, often, people say, “You know,
your story is amazing.” And maybe it is. But there’s nothing special
about me. I only made it this far
because a handful of people saw potential in me
a-and pushed me to make me believe
that I could be successful. And it’s still like this
to this day. I disagree, man. I think
your story’s very special. I think you’re an amazing guy. It’s not a perfect story, and that’s what makes it perfect
to talk about. The Master Plan,
an amazing story, an amazing book,
is available now. Chris Wilson, everybody.