Seven years ago, Chris Wilson was released from prison with nothing more than the clothes on his back and $50. On Thursday, he spoke in front of the Boston College Class of 2023 at this year’s First-Year Convocation. His story—one he put pen to paper in his memoir The Master Plan—is truly an anomaly.
Wilson’s childhood was violent. Growing up during the ’80s and ’90s in Washington D.C., he was no stranger to the dangers of abuse, assault, and gun violence. Even in his own home, violence was front and center—an environment that ultimately led Wilson to carry a gun.
“My mom was dating a police officer at the time… and used to beat my mom up and verbally abuse her, and us too,” Wilson said. “And then one day, he attacked us and sexually assaulted my mom in front of the front of me. And my mom fell into a deep depression.”
A self-proclaimed “mama’s boy,” Wilson felt the effect of the abuse he and his mother experienced, falling into a deep depression himself and beginning to purposefully get in trouble. After his mother’s ex-boyfriend continued to stalk his family, Wilson carried a gun, discharging it and killing a person after being followed by a different group of men one night.
Tried in court as an adult, Wilson was sentenced to natural life in prison at age 17. Weighing in at a meek 118 pounds, he compared his experience being removed from society and placed into prison to being sent to another planet—an entirely different lifestyle and set of rules.
“So, this was around a time where I fell into [an] even deeper depression. And, you know, I just started like looking within myself, like thinking about how I knew I was a good person,” Wilson said.
Locking himself in his cell, Wilson wrote up what he eventually called his “master plan,” which later became the namesake of his book. First on his to-do list was earning his high school diploma, which he completed in about two months. After that, he moved on to longer-term goals: being able to exercise more frequently and eat healthy, a method of self preservation, he said. To say they panned out would be an understatement. After all, Wilson hasn’t had sweets in 25 years. His secret to success? Simply writing his goals down.”
“I mean, it’s different when you write it on paper,” Wilson said. “I wrote it up. I sent a copy to my judge, I sent a copy to my grandmother. And I just, like, worked it.”
This method of forced accountability helped Wilson stay focused on his goals. Those to whom he sent his goals kept him on the straight and narrow toward a high school diploma, an associate’s degree, and a clean lifestyle.
Wilson ultimately served 16 years in prison before crashing on couches and learning to assimilate back into society.
But, his natural entrepreneurial spirit kept him afloat. As a child, he sold candy to make money. In prison, he profited off family pictures of fellow inmates, which he snapped with a digital camera during visiting hours. Wilson’s instincts were and continue to be rich with diligence and motivation. According to Forbes, Wilson now proudly leads several businesses—his resume is a laundry list of impressive feats, including being the founder of Barclay Investment Group.
Now, sitting from a position of self-made success, Wilson advised first-year students to think about what they want and “make it happen.”
“Think about what your end game is and what you feel like your purpose is,” Wilson said. “Once you figure that out, be willing to put the work in to achieve it, whatever that is.”
Wilson has put together his own board of advisors, people that he turns to when he needs help in specific areas of his life. Whether it is relationships or financial struggles, Wilson has created his own personal network of those he trusts for advice when he needs it. For those who are looking for a mentor in their own life, Wilson tells them not to define the mentor-mentee relationship, but, rather, simply trick them.
“So, what you do is like, you ask them, is it okay if I … treat you to coffee once a month, or lunch? And whatever advice you need you just … ask them for it,” Wilson said. “Most people will be down and meet up for coffee once a month.”
Despite his successes, Wilson’s had moments of doubt—of which he credits his personal network and therapist for helping him overcome those obstacles. He has been a prisoner and a business founder within less than a decade. What comes next for Chris Wilson is all a part of his master plan.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor