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Odds and Ends: The Thin Line Between Life and a Life Sentence
Odds and Ends: The Thin Line Between Life and a Life Sentence

Author Wes Moore on his unlikely bond with a convict also named Wes Moore

Rick Tulka

In December 2000, Wes Moore was named a Rhodes Scholar, an achievement that made news in his hometown of Baltimore. At the same time, another Wes Moore was making news in the same city: He was about to go on trial for the murder of an off-duty police officer. After returning from the U.K.'s University of Oxford in 2004, Moore felt compelled to understand what put two young men with the same name and similar backgrounds on such divergent paths. A letter to the Moore who is serving life in prison led to a friendship and the bestselling book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. In it, Moore the author examines the choices, chances, and influences that made him a success story and the other man a cautionary tale. The difference, he says, was education: "It's the thing I'm most grateful for." Moore will speak about the transformative power of education at the 2014 CASE-NAIS Independent Schools Conference, Jan. 12–14 in Orlando, Fla.

Your book has been a popular class reading selection for incoming college freshmen. What do you want students to learn from your story?

I want them to understand that it's about much more than just these two kids. It's really about all of us—the decisions we make and the people we have in our lives to help us make those decisions. For me it's not so much about telling kids what to think but simply asking them to think. I think people understand that the line between our life and someone else's life is really thin no matter who we are, no matter what our background is.

What drove you to try to understand what happened to the other Wes Moore?

I didn't have a clear idea about what I was looking for from Wes when I first contacted him in prison. I wasn't even sure if he'd write back. The fact that we've built this bond over such a long period of time is pretty remarkable to me and shows the importance of reaching out and trying things. You never know where a door will lead you if you're willing to walk through it.

What does freedom mean for you?

I'm reminded of my sense of freedom every time I visit Wes. You realize that sometimes the smallest decisions we'll make can have long-term implications on our lives. You learn to appreciate freedom in a way you never did before when you witness people who don't have it. It allows you to live your life with a sense of context.

You're working on another book. What's the inspiration for it?

It's called The Work: Creating Success in New and Meaningful Ways. I'm trying to take some of the themes from The Other Wes Moore and challenge the definition of success and service by looking at the lives of people who have found success and purpose in different ways.

What does success look like to you?

Success means following your passion and forging a legacy from whatever you're passionate about. I'm very passionate about the transformative power of education and making sure we can provide educational prospects for all of our kids.

How frequently do you see the other Wes?

I still visit him often. I didn't reach out to Wes to write a book, so I don't know why I would stop reaching out to him now that a book is written. I know that his situation is not changing, and he's going to spend the rest of his life in prison. But I also know that the impact his life has made on others since he's been incarcerated has been real, both through this story and the work he's doing in prison [with his fellow inmates].

—Interview by Theresa Walker




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