Chris Wilson got a life sentence for a murder at age 17. After an initial period of despair in a Maryland prison, he found it within himself to dream of a better future, determined to one day walk out a free man. He set to work educating himself and building his character, devouring books and tracking his progress toward a lengthy list of goals he called his Master Plan.
With the help of his attorney, Keith Showstack, UB School of Law JD ’03, Mr. Wilson obtained a sentence modification that allowed him to leave prison in May 2012, after serving 16 years of his sentence. He details his journey, which includes participating in the University of Baltimore’s Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellows Program, in his 2019 memoir, aptly titled The Master Plan (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). Chris Wilson will tell his story at a sold-out event at UB’s Student Center on Tuesday, Mar. 26.
Mr. Showstack said he got to know Mr. Wilson over six years’ worth of visits to him in prison, as his pro bono attorney. He was working as a young associate in the Annapolis law firm of Brennan, Trainor, Billman, Bennett & Milko, LLP. Partner Harry Trainor, who had represented Mr. Wilson in his murder trial, gave Mr. Showstack the file and said, “Keep in touch with him,” Mr. Showstack said. Mr. Trainor had great concern for his former client, who had come from a very difficult background.
Over time, Mr. Showstack said, “I’m growing to really like Chris, and seeing him develop into a man up there.” Mr. Wilson was learning foreign languages and painting murals. “He taught himself Mandarin and Italian,” said Mr. Showstack, “and he started a Spanish club at Patuxent Institution to teach other inmates how to speak Spanish.”
“My job was to be a buffer, to keep him positive,” the lawyer said, until an opportunity came for a sentence review. Even the correctional officers told him, he said, “He does not belong here, get him the [expletive] out of here.”
The moment came when the Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge who had presided over Mr. Wilson’s case retired and was replaced by The Hon. Cathy Serrette, who was known to be very compassionate. Mr. Showstack put together a lengthy motion, outlining Mr. Wilson’s achievements and leadership roles at Patuxent, got a hearing date, and presented his case.
It was an extremely emotional occasion for everyone. “I actually had to pause because I was about to break down,” said Mr. Showstack, so strong was his belief in his client. As Mr. Wilson tells the story in The Master Plan, he told the judge, “Even if I never do go home, I want to be the guy that, even if I’m seventy years old, I’m still doing positive things. Because it’s in me.”