Loyola University Maryland


Common Text Study Guide

Book Cover for The Master Plan by Chris Wilson and Brett Witter

Each year, Loyola chooses a Common Text for all first-year students to read before arriving on campus. During Fall Welcome Week, the Class of 2025 will convene and you will discuss this text with your academic advisor and your fellow students in your Messina group. It is important that you read the text with care and come prepared to discuss the ideas presented in this study guide. The Common Text is considered “common reading” and may be included in Messina course discussions, tests, or assignments. Messina will also sponsor events throughout the year to address themes raised in the text.  


The Loyola University Strategic Plan, 2017-2022 describes Ignatian citizens as people who "think of themselves as part of something larger, as responsible for the betterment of our shared world…. who think and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed.” As citizens living and learning in Baltimore in 2021, we must grapple with the gritty realities that contribute to systemic inequality in our city and beyond. To better understand the complexities of racism, mass incarceration and the systemic challenges returning citizens face, we have selected The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose by Chris Wilson and Brett Witter as the 2021-2022 Loyola Common Text.

Accessing Your E-Book:

Members of the Class of 2025 will receive information about how to access their e-book and study guide in an e-mail sent to their Loyola e-mail account in late June.  Learn more about how to redeem an e-book on Google Play.

Before you read:

  1. What do you know about mass incarceration in the United States?   What sources do you get your information from?  How (or was) the topic addressed in your schools, peer groups, communities, and families?
  2. In his foreword to the book, Wes Moore writes, “The Master Plan is less of a road map and more of a philosophy that we should all take to heart: we are all better than our worst decision, our sense of justice should honor the redemptive possibilities inherent in every person, and our destinies are truly intertwined.” (xvi)   What are your reflections on this quote?
  3. On page 98, Chris begins to introduce his “Master Plan” and the influence of the question “What is your endgame?” had in his development as a young person.   As you prepare to begin college, do you think it is helpful to have an endgame in mind?  What core question is guiding you at this point in your life?

While You Read:

  1. In what ways do you believe Chris’ early life experiences shaped his adult identity?
  2. How does Chris utilize Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” throughout The Master Plan? 
  3. How does Chris, both during his early years and as an adult, benefit from reading and other forms of education? In what ways does education serve as a form of empowerment for him? 
  4. “Every child needs a safe space. They need love, and, like, quiet to think. They need an adult they can talk to, and a hot meal on the table once in a while. I wasn’t getting that” (p. 45). How does the absence of these things ultimately affect young Chris?
  5. How does Chris’ relationship with his mother change throughout the book? If you could use one word to describe their relationship, which word would you use? Why? 
  6. How would you describe Chris’ relationship with his son? How does Chris’ time in prison affect this relationship? How does this relationship change over time? 
  7. In what ways does the prison system dehumanize? How does this dehumanization affect inmates? 
  8. “Your greatest accomplishment is molding yourself” (p. 112). How does Chris acquire agency during his time in prison? How does he establish some control over his own life? 
  9. “Think of all the good you could be doing for people in here. Those words really stuck with me” (p. 140). In what ways does hearing these words function as a turning point for Chris? 
  10. “Whether by bad people or by good people who didn’t comprehend the consequences of their actions, black poverty was planned. Society didn’t put me in prison; I would never say it did. But society created the cave. Society put obstacles in the way of black people” (p. 171). What is Chris getting at here? In what ways do broader social structures and obstacles shape individual actions? 
  11. What are some of the challenges that Chris and other returning citizens face as they return to society?
  12. After his release, in what ways does Chris use business as a force for social good? 

After You Read:

  1. What did you notice about the drafts of Chris Wilson’s Master Plan? How did the list change   from the earliest draft to the last list he includes in the book?
  2. At the conclusion of the book, Chris Wilson includes “32 Things to Remember When Following Your Master Plan.”   How many of the statements resonate with you?  What would you include on your Master Plan?
  3. What larger points does the book make about the intersections of the criminal justice system and systemic racism? How have your views on mass incarceration shifted after reading the book?
  4. Chris writes, “The last thing I want is for you to read this far and think the system works . . . The system doesn’t work” (p. 231). In what ways is the system broken? How should it be reformed? 
  5. How do you view Chris’ story in the larger context of the Black Lives Matter movement and continued police violence against people of color? 
  6. If you could ask Chris Wilson a single question about The Master Plan, what would you ask and why?

Engage Further


Contact the Messina Office at 410-617-2669, messina@loyola.edu, or browse the website for a list of academic and support services available to Loyola students, including helping you make the transition to campus and college life.

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