Inside Jessup Correctional Facility, Wes works as a carpenter for 53 cents a day. He gets 2 hours of free time, and is in bed with lights out at 10 pm. He converted to Islam at first so he could see Tony at Friday services, but he is now a devout believer and leader in the Muslim community in prison. His family visits, but he finds these occasions difficult. When Barack Obama is elected President, the inmates at Jessup are overjoyed; this joy subsides, however, when they once again confront the monotony of their lives behind bars. At the time Moore is writing, Wes has become a grandfather at 33, and is serving the tenth year of his life sentence.
Perhaps the saddest thing about Wes’s fate is the contrast between how much he has changed personally and how little his environment ever has or ever will change. Wes is now responsible, disciplined, and devoutly religious. Yet despite this positive transformation, Wes will never be able to make an autonomous contribution to society. Instead, he is forced to perform what is essentially slave labor in prison, knowing that every day of his life will be the same until he dies.
Moore moves on to describe how the lives of other characters in the book progressed up until the point at which he is writing. Joy lives just outside Baltimore, working for a consultancy that works with charitable foundations. Nikki runs an event-planning business in Virginia and Shani graduated from Princeton and Stanford Law School, and now lives with her husband. Uncle Howard was the “co-best man” (alongside Justin) at Moore’s wedding. Justin received a scholarship to college; during his senior year, his father died and he himself was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He recovered and is now the dean of a “prestigious high school” in Pennsylvania. Captain Hill served as an Army officer for seven years before becoming a corporate lawyer; he was a groomsman at Moore’s wedding and is still an important (if “intimidating”) mentor to Moore. Moore’s grandfather James passed away, and although Moore rushed back from Afghanistan to be with him, he was sadly too late. Moore’s grandmother Winell, now in her 80s, “watches over her family like a lioness protecting her pride.”
It is not only Moore himself who finds success in life, but also those closest to him, highlighting the way in which the success of one person is implicated in the success of their community (and vice versa). At the same time, this passage also illustrates the fundamental injustice in the distribution of misfortune. Whereas everyone undergoes some level of hardship in life, the experience of someone like Justin serves as a useful reminder of just how cruel fate can be. Justin was a good friend and disciplined student; what did he do to deserve the death of both his parents and his own battle with cancer all before he finished college? The fact that Justin is able to overcome this level of misfortune and still succeed is perhaps even more remarkable than Moore’s own story.
Meanwhile, Mary still works in medical technology while raising six children: three of Wes’s kids, her niece and nephew, and her youngest son. Aunt Nicey works in elder care; all her children have graduated from high school. Sentenced to life in prison, Tony died of kidney failure at 38. After graduating from high school, Woody spent time in and out of prison before getting a job as a truck driver. He has three children. White Boy is married and lives in Atlanta, running the printing press for a magazine. Alicia works for TSA and is raising one of her two kids with Wes. Cheryl continued to struggle with addiction and lost custody of her children. At 24, she died of injuries sustained from falling down the stairs.
Just as Moore’s family and friends followed his general trajectory of success, Wes’s loved ones tend to have had a much harder time. While certain individuals such as Woody and Aunt Nicey managed to avoid disaster, they are still left working poorly paid jobs, close to the bottom of the social hierarchy. Meanwhile, many of those closest to Moore died young, highlighting the impact of poverty not only on quality of life, but also life expectancy.
Moore spent two and a half years at Oxford through the Rhodes Scholarship and graduated with a master’s degree in international relations. Back in the United States, he interned in Washington DC before taking a job on Wall Street. He then took a leave of absence and headed to Afghanistan with the Army, before being accepted into the White House Fellow program. He became a special assistant to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and during this time married his wife, Dawn. Moore has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and has visited Seoul, Istanbul, Havana, Egypt, Amsterdam, Venice, Berlin, Brazil, and countless other places. He also delivered a speech at the event during which Barack Obama accepted the Democratic party nomination.
Moore’s achievements since college are almost comical in their impressiveness and diversity. Perhaps the most striking thing about Moore’s biography is the extent to which it is clear that he feels at home all over the world. This is evidenced not only in his tales of travel to exotic locations, but also in the fact that he moves seamlessly from Oxford to DC to Wall Street to Afghanistan and back again. Clearly, Moore has internalized the idea that he is a welcome and valuable no matter where he is—arguably the ultimate form of freedom.
Moore reflects that The Other Wes Moore was a labor of love, rigorously researched even though Moore has no journalistic training. He hopes that in writing the book, he has honored the legacy of his father, Westley, who was himself a journalist. He acknowledges that the central question in the book is over what “made the difference” between his life and Wes’s. He confesses that he doesn’t know the answer, and that it would be impossible to isolate a single factor. Moore admits that life has not always been perfect for him and that he’s made his fair share of mistakes. He argues that the most important transformation in his life was the moment when he realized he was surrounded by a community of people—his family, friends, and mentors—who were all pushing him to succeed. This encouragement taught Moore what it means to be free. He and Wes both hope that other young children feel that same sense of freedom, and argues that “it’s up to us, all of us,” to make that possible.
Moore’s admission that he doesn’t know what made the difference between him and Wes may seem frustrating. After spending so many hours interviewing, researching, and writing, how is it possible that he cannot determine how their two fates came to diverge? As Moore indicates throughout the book, however, destinies are shaped not by single, decisive events so much as the accumulation of millions of much smaller moments that are impossible to view in isolation from each other. Moore’s hope that other children will be encouraged to be “free” as a result of his work is bittersweet; for Moore, this means a chance of others following in his footsteps. For Wes, it means others opening doors that are closed to him forever.