From the goosebump-inducing strains of “America,” to the lump-in-the-throat endorsement of Erica Garner, the Bernie Sanders campaign has become famous for its masterful storytelling and moving imagery.
Bernie’s latest ad features the story of Chris Wilson, a young black man whose life went off the rails due to poverty and inequality, landing him in prison with a natural life sentence, but he got it back on track by using what he calls “positive delusion,” creating an outrageously ambitious “master plan” and using every opportunity he had in jail to further his education.
A week after the Sanders campaign went big in California with $1.5 million spent on a 30-second ad specifically targeted at Californians, the stirring short is almost four minutes in length and is much more documentary-like. It shows the neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, where Chris grew up, the photos he cut and pasted onto different scenes to create his “positive delusion” and the business he now runs to help former inmates get a new start in life.
The ad elicited an outpouring of emotion on the Bernie Sanders Facebook page, especially from people who had been through similar circumstances. Facebook user Billy E. Thornton said the following.
“Chris, I just gotta say I been in your shoes and the only thing that saved me was my attitude, believing a better day was to come. I applaud the judge for taking the chance and pushing you to bring your vision to fruition. I too believe that Bernie is the man for the job, not because I know him but the trust I see in him. I’m gonna pray for your continued success in this life we’re living and hope that everyday the sun will shine brighter upon you.”
Comments on Reddit ranged from “I wish I could stop crying” to longer, more thoughtful treatises on the effects of childhood poverty on adult crime rates. Reddit user “sebawim” from Florida said the following.
“I always see pundits bewildered by this campaign’s enthusiasm, and our refusal to give up. And I always wonder: do they not see these videos, or are their hearts just made of stone?”
Chris Wilson became something of a celebrity when a sympathetic judge told him at his 10-year hearing that if he completed his master plan, she would release him. By taking every class offered by the jail, he earned himself an Associate’s degree, and after 14 years incarceration, the judge was good to her word and set him free.
That’s the short story. The long one is an extraordinary read of Dickensian proportions where the system fails him again and again, from incarcerating him as an adult at age 17, to siphoning the $40,000 in funds he and another inmate raised in prison to upgrade their gym and instead installing another surveillance system, to finally making it to the halfway house where he could attend university but being repeatedly told by his caseworker that he should just give up and pump gas, to being sent back to jail for 13 months for “administrative reasons.”
Despite the frustrations and the setbacks, Wilson clawed his way out of there, is completing his full degree, and now runs a business employing ex-cons. He’s sought after by Harvard and John Hopkins to complete his MBA with them, but his priority remains with staying in Maryland to lift people out of the poverty/crime cycle through education.
Maryland became something of a flashpoint for the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movement when a young black man named Freddie Gray died in custody in April, 2015, sparking off the 300 Men March and a viral video confrontation with Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera.
It was gratitude for the lifeline that education threw him that drew Chris Wilson to endorsing Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ strong emphasis on educating people rather than incarcerating them attracted Wilson, and he agreed to tell his story for the campaign. “Education was the key path to me getting out of prison,” he says in the ad.
“Bernie gets it more than anyone.”
Check out the stirring ad here.
[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]