The Optimist Citizen
Chris Wilson

The man, who was once a 17-year old cold blooded murderer, is now a Ratcliffe scholar and is the owner of 2 successful startups

Chris Wilson was a simple child with a wondrous mind who loved to read books. But after an incident which saw his cousin getting shot, he moved with his mother to Prince George’s County. Deeply scarred by the loss, Chris’s sadness was aggravated by the abuse he faced from his mother’s boyfriend that changed his life.

By the age of seventeen, he had stopped caring about school, became addicted to alcohol, weed, and other such addictive substances, and had started carrying weapons. He had accumulated charges for gun possession, assault, and a string of robberies. His descent was so rapid that the court system had not locked him up for any length of time before he made the worst decision of his life- On 29th June 1996, Chris Wilson killed a man about his age. After a year, he was tried as a grown adult in court and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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The first few months passed in a haze as Chris kept himself addicted to drugs that got smuggled into the prison. But, it was a phone call from his cancer-stricken grandfather that struck the right chords with him. His grandfather told him, “I don’t understand how somebody who’s that smart would purposely do stupid stuff. That’s not you, man. Promise me you’ll turn your life around.” After a few months of retrospection, he realized what he had become and started working towards changing his future, and wrote out what he calls his “master plan” of self-improvement. He traded cigarettes to get a spot in a woodworking class. Chris devoured the complete prison library, studied Spanish and earned his GED. With the help of counselors, Chris untangled himself from the past horrors and emerged out of prison at the age of 33 in 2012.

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Chris’s testament of sheer determination didn’t stop here. Achieving his dream, he graduated from the UB’s Merrick School of Business with a degree in Business Administration in December 2015 where he won business plan competitions, became a Radcliffe Scholar, and earned a place in the school’s rigorous Entrepreneurship Fellows Program. Eventually, he became the founder, owner, and operator of the Barclay Investment Corporation—a small general contracting company—as well as the House of DaVinci, a startup furniture repair and upholstery business. Here, he employs ex-offenders and advocates for juvenile justice and sentencing reform. Amidst all the achievements, Chris humbly reaffirms that he is still the silly kid who committed a grave mistake and made amends with hard work and unfazed determination.

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