The Other Wes Moore is the story of two boys in Baltimore with many things in common and nothing in common when they reach adulthood. It was December 2000 and Wes Moore saw his name in the Baltimore Sun newspaper. The newspaper said he had been awarded a prestigious Rhodes scholarship. He would soon leave Baltimore to do postgraduate work at Oxford.
But that day there was another story about Wes Moore. It was another young man with the same name. The story was on the front page, and he was arrested for killing a police officer after a botched armed robbery of a jewellery store.
Wes the college graduate, amazed by the coincidence that his name would appear in two very different stories, wondered what circumstances led his namesake to commit such a terrible act for the sake of some pieces of jewelry.
The college graduate knew nothing about the cop killer other than they were both young African-American males from the City of Baltimore. But he didn’t have time to do anything about that. He was on his way to Oxford, but there was a nagging curiosity in his mind.
When he returned from England a few years later, he decided to contact the other Wes Moore. His namesake was convicted for murdering the police officer and he was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The two men exchanged correspondence followed by a series of face-to-face visits. They had a lot in common and they forged an enduring friendship, even though their fates were very different.
Both young men were raised by a single-mom in a rough neighborhood and both had frequent run-ins with the police. Both of them also dropped out of school to hang out on the streets of Baltimore with a fast crowd.
The difference came when one Wes benefited from an intervention. He was sent to military school for a serious attitude readjustment. It worked. The other Wes simply continued , having no positive influence to guide him.
The book, The Other Wes Moore, recounts the parallel, then the sharply diverging paths the two young men took.
The book is engaging, illuminating and touching, as it tells the fascinating story of the lives of the two men. Moore the author does not speak in a “holier than thou” voice. Instead, he altruistically embraces a “There but for fortune” tone. He also suggests that his position and that of his alter ego could just as easily have been reversed.
Wes Moore pays tribute to the slain police officer who left behind a widow and kids. “Let me be clear,” he states, emphasizing the point that any empathy for the other Wes Moore “is not meant in any way to provide excuses… The only victims that day were Sergeant Bruce Prothero and his family.”
This double-biography weaves together the lives of the two Wes Moores. It is a view into the discouraging odds of making it out of the inner city ghetto nowadays. The ghettos are unforgiving and thy are likely to continue destroying any misguided, unprotected or impressionable youngster unfortunate enough to take one misstep too many en route to adulthood.
“This is the story of two boys living in Baltimore with similar histories and an identical name: Wes Moore. One of us is free and has experienced things that he never knew to dream about as a kid. The other will spend every day until his death behind bars for an armed robbery that left a police officer and father of five dead.
The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his. Our stories are obviously specific to our two lives, but I hope they will illuminate the crucial inflection points in every life, the sudden moments of decision where our paths diverge and our fates are sealed…
It is my sincere hope that this book does not come across as self-congratulatory or self-exculpatory … Rather, this book will use our lives as a way of thinking about choices and accountability, not just for each of us as individuals, but for all of us as a society.
This book is meant to show how, for those of us who live in the most precarious places in this country, our destinies can be determined by a single stumble down the wrong path, or a tentative step down the right one. This is our story.”
– Excerpted from the Introduction (pg. xi-xiv)
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The Other Wes Moore:
One Name, Two Fates
by Wes Moore
Spiegel & Grau
252 pages, Illustrated