The Other Wes Moore features a great deal of violence, yet this violence comes in many different forms. Perhaps the most obvious example is the violence of the streets, which affects both men yet is a far bigger part of Wes’s life than Moore’s. Both men are born in Baltimore at a time in which drugs and gang violence are taking a devastating toll on the city. However, as Moore moves through life he becomes increasingly insulated from the violence of the streets—first through moving out of Baltimore, then enrolling in Riverdale, finding success as a football player, being placed in military school, and so on. Wes, on the other hand, has no escape route. Although Mary, Tony, and Woody attempt to keep him away from the world of crime and violence, Wes’s entrance into this world seems inevitable; this is true even though Wes himself has no desire to engage in violence, and tries multiple times to pursue a different path.
For Wes, violence is less a deliberate choice or action and more a reality that surrounds and suffocates him: “Wes was tired… tired of being shot at and having to attend the funerals of his friends.” In this way, Moore implies that there is a note of injustice in Wes’s life imprisonment for murder. When the judge sentences Wes, he accuses him of behaving as if he lived in “the Wild West,” a statement that fails to grasp the fact that Wes’s environment is just as violent and chaotic (if not more so) than the Wild West was. Although Moore believes that Wes is guilty, the overall portrait of Wes’s life suggest that there was never any real chance of him escaping the violent world into which he was born.
To some extent, the book suggests that the antidote to violence is discipline. Moore’s enrollment at military school, for example, is shown to be the turning point that enables him to succeed in life and escape the streets for good. On the other hand, discipline—and particularly the criminal justice system—is also shown in the book to be a form of violence in itself. When both Wes Moores are young, they have frequent interactions with the police in which the police behave in a violent and aggressive manner, despite the fact that the boys are only children. Meanwhile, Wes’s life imprisonment illustrates the injustice of the prison system. Although Moore does not deny that Wes should have been sent to prison due to his involvement in a violent crime, it is clear that the discipline of prison has significantly changed Wes, such that he could likely emerge a non-threatening and responsible member of society. Yet unlike Moore, whose experience of a disciplinary institution (military school) ultimately enables him to flourish, Wes is stuck with discipline for discipline’s sake, working every day in order to make 53 cents and with no hope of release.
Discipline and Violence ThemeTracker
Discipline and Violence 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.
The walls and floors were coated with filth and graffiti. Flickering fluorescent tubes (the ones that weren't completely broken) dimly lit the cinder-block hallways. The constantly broken-down elevators forced residents to climb claustrophobic, urine-scented stairways. And the drug game was everywhere, with a gun handle protruding from the top of every tenth teenager's waistline. People who lived in Murphy Homes felt like prisoners, kept in check by roving bands of gun-strapped kids and a nightmare army of drug fiends. This was where Tony chose to spend his days.
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.
From everything you told me, both of us did some pretty wrong stuff when we were younger. And both of us had second chances. But if the situation or the context where you make the decisions don't change, then second chances don't mean too much, huh?
Wes, you are not going anywhere until you give this place a try. I am so proud of you, and your father is proud of you, and we just want you to give this a shot. Too many people have sacrificed in order for you to be there.
Wes had his entire operation organized with the precision of a military unit or a division of a Fortune 500 company. The drug game had its own rules, its own structure. He was a lieutenant, the leader of his small crew. Everyone in the crew had a specific job with carefully delineated responsibilities.
I had to let this one go. I had to look at the bigger picture. My assailant was unknown, unnamed, and in a car. This was not a fair fight, and the best-case scenario was nowhere near as probable as the worst-case scenario. If I was successful, who knew how the fight would've ended? If I failed, who knew how the fight would've ended? I thought about my mother and how she would feel if this escalated any further. I thought about my father and the name he chose for me.
"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."
As I started to think seriously about how I could become the person I wanted to be, I looked around at some of the people who'd had the biggest impact on my life. Aside from family and friends, the men I most trusted all had something in common: they all wore the uniform of the United States of America.
"Fuck God," he said, drawing in a lungful of smoke. "If He does exist, He sure doesn't spend any time in West Baltimore."