The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates

Barb Lazar, Director of Ford Library
This week, as we embrace gratitude, I am struck with the idea that we have choices and that when we choose gratitude, our entire well-being is transformed. We each make choices every day, and each of those decisions matters to our actions, our words, our impact.

The Other Wes Moore - One Name, Two Fates is a book about choices and decisions and, ultimately about gratitude.

Their stories begin in Baltimore, a few blocks from each other, with similar histories and the same name: Wes Moore. One man is now free, having lived a life full of experiences he never could have dreamed of as a child. The other spends each day and every day until his death in prison for an armed robbery that left a police officer dead.

In alternating narratives, Wes Moore, Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader tells the story about choices, gratitude, and growing up. He also tells the story of the other Wes Moore.

“Happy Birthday!”

Wes gave me a half smile. “Thanks, man, I almost totally forgot.”

As the rest of the country celebrated independence, Wes spent his thirty-second birthday in prison. He’s allowed to have visitors only on odd days of the year, so he was prohibited from seeing people on the Fourth of July. I visited a couple days after his actual birthday.

When I arrived at Jessup that morning, my eyes flickered up to the sign mounted above the institution’s steel front doors, the name of the prison -- Jessup Correctional Institution -- inked in bloody crimson...For the first time in a long time I was reminded of the daily miracle of my freedom, the ability to move, explore, meet new people, or simply enjoy the sun beating down on my face…(64).

As they continue their conversation, they talk about when they became men.

“I think it was when I first felt accountable to people other than myself. When I first cared that my actions mattered to people other than just me….”

Wes, feeding off my answer, attempted to finish my thought. “Providing for others isn’t easy. And the mistakes you make are pretty unforgiving.” He paused. I waited. He rubbed his chin, softly pulling at the long strands of his goatee with his fingers. “And second chances are pretty fleeting.”

“What do you mean?”

“From everything you told me, both of us did some pretty wrong stuff when we were younger. And both of us had second chances. But if the situation or the context where you make the decisions don’t change, then second chances don’t mean much, huh?”

I sat back, allowing Wes’s words to sink in. Then I responded, “I guess it’s hard sometimes to distinguish between second chances and last chances (65-66).”

When asked during a school presentation, this is Wes’ message in his words: “I don’t want to tell people what to think. I’m just asking them TO think, and as you are going through life, your life can go in completely different directions based on the things you decide today and the things you decide every day…Had it not been for those folks who ushered me into manhood and the way that they did, things could have been very different.”

I invite you to meet Wes Moore, and the other Wes Moore, and read through the lens of gratitude and choices.