The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
February 23, 2011
“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”
There are times one discovers an important book and then feels an obligation to encourage others to read it as well, immediately and urgently. This is one of those occasions.
As the title clearly suggests, the story follows the lives of two boys who coincidentally share the same name. They also shared the experience of growing up in fatherless households in the same rough inner-city neighbourhood at the same time; the potential presented to them at a very young age was remarkably similar. However, the course of their lives took radically different directions. One Wes Moore would go on to become a Rhodes Scholar, a participant in the prestigious White House Fellow program, a decorated soldier from time served in Afghanistan, and a successful business professional. He is happily married and the author of this book. The other Wes Moore faced frequent arrest for a variety of drug related crimes, became a teen father to several children, and is presently serving a life sentence for murder.
In 2001, The Baltimore Sun newspaper was following the stories of the two local boys – one was the recipient of academic accolades and the other, a recipient of a life-long prison term. In reading the articles covering his accomplishments at Johns Hopkins University and his recent Rhodes Scholar designation, Wes Moore took note of the articles featuring the other Wes Moore and his arrest and subsequent sentencing for murder. The coincidence of their names and the contrast in their positions in life, despite the similarity of their beginnings, became an obsession for him that lasted several years. Finally, he took it upon himself to write a letter to the other Wes Moore. To his surprise, a letter came back from the prisoner and a correspondence ensued between the two Wes Moores.
In time, their correspondence and their life stories prompted Wes Moore to share their experiences in the form of this memoir. It is a well-written, if not unsettling, account of inner-city life. It also explores the role of family, mentors, friendship, decision-making and education in any young man’s life. The two lives are revealed to the reader but the judgement is not. Wes Moore provides you with the food for thought but not the recipe for one’s success and the other’s failure. This is refreshing and serves as a fascinating starting point for discussions. You can’t read this alone – you must have friends, book groupers and family members join you so you can share your interpretations. It is a remarkable read that will long linger in your mind. Our boys were introduced to parts of the book at school and listened to the audio book version on a long road trip – they were enthralled and I’m sure will always consider it an important influence.