The central concept of The Other Wes Moore is that, despite similar beginnings, Moore the author ended up leading a successful and fulfilling life while “the other” Wes will spend every day of the rest of his life behind bars. Prison is a haunting presence in the narrative. Each of the book’s three parts begins with a conversation between Moore and Wes during visitation at Jessup Correctional Facility, where Wes is incarcerated. Moore vividly recreates the grim reality of the prison environment, from the bulletproof glass that separates the prisoners and their visitors to the “DOC” emblazoned on each of the prisoners’ uniforms, reminding them that they are “owned by the state.” The repetitive routine of each visit—Moore waits to be searched, waits for the inmates to enter, and speaks with Wes for the strictly-monitored allotted time—mirrors the repetitive monotony of each of Wes’s days. In the Epilogue, Moore notes that Wes begins each day at 5.30am, works as a carpenter for 53 cents a day, is instructed when to eat, wash, and sleep, and is allotted two hours of free time every day. In contrast to Moore’s life, which is filled with a diverse series of achievements and adventures, Wes’s existence will be the same every day for the rest of his life.
Ironically, it is this monotony that allows Wes to look to the future for the first time. Before being sent to prison, Wes’s life is full of instability, and his involvement in the violent drug game makes it difficult for him to imagine a future for himself. (When Wes finds out he will become a teenage father, he does not worry about parenthood ruining his future plans “because he didn’t really have any future plans.”) Once he knows that he will spend the rest of his life incarcerated, Wes is finally able to “see his future.” This tragic observation evokes the idea that many poor young black men like Wes are destined to end up incarcerated due to lack of resources, opportunities, and support. Indeed, earlier in the book Moore mentions that the way “many governors projected the numbers of beds they'd need for prison facilities was by examining the reading scores of third graders,” thereby confirming the idea that the broader social system pre-determined that Wes would end up behind bars.
Despite the monotonous and inescapable nature of incarceration, however, Wes does use his time in prison to undergo a dramatic personal transformation. He converts to Islam and becomes a leader in the Muslim community at Jessup; his newfound faith gives him a sense of moral direction and purpose. Furthermore, despite the fact that he personally will never be able to leave prison, Wes hopes that through Moore’s telling of his story, he will be able to help other young people avoid the same fate.
Prison Quotes in The Other Wes Moore
We definitely have our disagreements––and Wes, it should never be forgotten, is in prison for his participation in a heinous crime. But even the worst decisions we make don't necessarily remove us from the circle of humanity. Wes's desire to participate in this book as a way to help others learn from his story and choose a different way is proof of that.
Later in life I learned that the way many governors projected the numbers of beds they'd need for prison facilities was by examining the reading scores of third graders. Elected officials deduced that a strong percentage of kids reading below their grade level by third grade would be needing a secure place to stay when they got older. Considering my performance in the classroom thus far, I was well on my way to needing state-sponsored accommodations.
"I think so, or maybe products of our expectations."
"Others’ expectations of us or our expectations for ourselves?"
"l mean others' expectations that you take on as your own."
I realized then how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.
"We will do what others expect of us," Wes said. "If they expect us to graduate, we will graduate. If they expect us to get a job, we will get a job. lf they expect us to go to jail, then that’s where we will end up too. At some point you lose control."