by Celia Coates
“So they shackled me and locked me in solitary, no belt, no shoelaces, just white walls, a cot, and a food slot in a metal door. I stared at my little room. What else could I do?
I thought, My life is over. I’m seventeen years old and I just got on this planet. I don’t even have a mustache yet. And my life is over.”
In THE MASTER PLAN: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose, Chris Wilson writes about the “what else” he found he could do.
He was in prison as a teenager with a life sentence because he’d murdered his attacker. He’d been surrounded by poverty, violence, and drugs in a community with too few resources and one that most people couldn’t leave. It was a neighborhood where you had to fight, sometimes violently, in order to survive. Years later, his prison therapist said his early life had been a tour of duty in a combat zone that had left Wilson with PTSD. It was damage that he had to figure out how to repair on his own. He wrote this about where he began,
“They call it rock bottom, like it’s a hard floor you go crashing into and stop. But here’s the thing. There’s no floor. You only see it that way later, because rock bottom isn’t a place. You can always go lower. Rock bottom is a decision. It’s the moment you decide to stop falling and take control of your life.”
“Every path starts with a step. Here’s some advice: take the easiest one first.”
Wilson watched another prisoner who had what he wanted – confidence, a purpose, the determination to better himself. That other young inmate was always reading, always studying, and Wilson decided he could begin by getting a high school equivalency diploma. That first step led to this,
“It became official on May 25, 2006. More than twelve years after being kicked out of the eighth grade, ten years after my crime, nine years after receiving life in prison, and eight years after adopting my Master Plan, I earned my associates degree from Anne Arundel Community College.”
Wilson had asked himself,
“Why are you here on planet earth? Where do you want your life to go?”
He answered those questions and developed his Master Plan,
“You got fifty hats? You got a gold chain? So what? That’s not a plan. A plan always starts at the end. What’s your endgame? That’s not just a question. It’s the only question that matters.”
He succeeded. He held his vision of a future outside prison, did everything he could to make it real, and became the extraordinary exception to the harsh rules about life sentences. It was not easy. Even after he was freed, it was still not easy.In 2016 Wilson received the President’s Volunteer Service Award and was invited to the White House by President Obama to join in with others for a Rose Garden ceremony. When he went to the White House Gate he was denied entrance by the Secret Service who said he was a security risk,
“I had an invitation. The ceremony was for me and other black role models. I wasn’t a threat. I was an honored citizen. The Secret Service said my murder conviction made me a security risk.
“But I was invited because of my murder conviction,” I argued. “I am being honored for turning my life around.” They wouldn’t budge. Once a murderer, always judged. It was the lesson drilled into every returning citizen: some will give you a chance, but others will deny you rights, deny you jobs, and judge you forever on the worst thing you’ve ever done.
The only reason I got into my own ceremony was because one of my mentors made a few calls to the White House and threatened to have CNN run the story.”
He was finally admitted after a two and half hour wait. But what if you don’t have “connections”?
At the end of his book, Wilson includes a reading list. The last book on the list is Napoleon Hill’s THINK AND GROW RICH. That surprised me. Although Wilson’s memoir clearly shows his use of what’s called the Law of Attraction, he doesn’t name it. Mitch Horowitz has written a book about this process – THE MIRACLE CLUB: How Thoughts Become Reality – that I suggest reading. It presents the history of the idea that thoughts are causative,
“Born loosely from the traditions of New England mental healing and Transcendentalism in the mid-nineteenth century, this philosophy came to be known as “New Thought.”
Napoleon Hill is only one of many authors who have written books on thought as a positive force. It’s a list that includes Norman Vincent Peale‘s THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING and Rhonda Byrne’s THE SECRET. I agree with Horowitz that some of these books are, “…often unquestioning and childish in … language and temperament.” This is a profound practice that has been known and used for hundreds of years. It is mystical wisdom that Edgar Cayce, “The Sleeping Prophet,” summed up as, “Spirit is the life, Mind is the builder, Physical is the result.”
There is more to it than just wishing hard for something. Chris Wilson presents it so clearly that he helps us experience the process ourselves. It calls for desiring an outcome whole-heartedly, forming a vision, holding it clearly in mind, developing intentions to support the visualization, doing real work to support the “dream,” and being patient. Horowitz describes this,
“I believe that thinking in a directed, highly focused, and emotionally charged manner expands our capacity to perceive and concretize events, and relates us to a nontactile field of existence that surpasses ordinarily perceived boundaries of time and thought.”
“The more the other inmates joked about my dreams, though, the more real they felt. I could hold them in my hands. I could see them. This is why I was putting in the work. Why I was learning. Growing. I was going to be on the beach. I was going to get the Corvette, the watch, the penthouse. Yes the picture was the dream. That’s where my Positive Delusions started.”
One of Wilson’s favorite stories is about Plato’s Cave in which prisoners are chained so that they can only see the shadows on a wall, not the reality of the fire and the solid world opening behind them.
“Every life is lived in a cave, that was Plato’s point. We never know the truth, only the shadows.
But there was something I missed the first four times I read the story. The man wasn’t recaptured. He wasn’t forced to return. He went there of his own free will, to teach the truth to those left behind. To tell them the shadows weren’t real. To tell them the shadows weren’t real and there was a better life. … I needed to be the man who shared his knowledge, of his own free will, with the people still in their bonds.”
That is what Chris Wilson has done – gone back to help others. I believe that is what we all need to do, in whatever way we can.
“We are the heroes of our own story. It was being there for one another – not for a job, not for money, not for credit – that changes our lives.”
“I don’t like courtrooms. Even today, if I’m giving a speech, I hate doing it in a courtroom. I don’t understand the rules there, but I know they are against us: the poor, the dark, and the accused – rightly or wrongly – because that’s the room’s purpose. These are the places America created to finish us off.”
“I’m not trying to be naïve. In my experience, 30 percent of the men and women in prison aren’t ready to change. They’re dangerous. But 70 percent of released prisoners return to prison within five years. That’s 40 percent pushed back into incarceration by a system so broken that it hurts every American, not just because punishment instead of rehabilitation creates more (and more violent) criminals. The cost of housing our massive prison population, after all, was estimated by the Vera Institute of Justice in 2010 to be $39 billion – every year.
“We need a system that identifies good people in prison and rewards them for their efforts. We are watched inside twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You seriously think those watchers can’t figure out who’s made a sincere change and who’s doing the work? We need to get rid of … all the arbitrary deadlines that keep good people locked up on technicalities, and let everyone who has earned their freedom to achieve their freedom.
“People in prison have the potential to achieve great things. I’m not talking about working minimum wage jobs, although those are important. A hard worker is a positive example and a pillar in a community. I’m talking about entrepreneurs, executives, and artists. I’m saying we can turn prison into a success factory. We have the information, the infrastructure, and the human potential. All we need is the desire.”
Chris Wilson changed himself but it is going to take many of us to change our destructive systems.
* * * * *
THE MASTER PLAN: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose, by Chris Wilson, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019.
THE MIRACLE CLUB: How Thoughts Become Reality, Mitch Horowitz, Inner Traditions, 2018.
The image accompanying this post is by Gianni Crestani from Pixabay