MARTINSVILLE — Just three weeks before his 18th birthday, Christopher Shawn Wilson was sentenced to 88 years in prison for being one of six teenagers involved in the 2002 shooting death of Martinsville High School athlete Delvin Hairston.
That sentence included 58 years suspended and 30 years of active prison time.
On Feb. 3, 2020, a little more than halfway through his time behind bars, Wilson was pardoned by Gov. Ralph Northam in a process that began of something he saw on television.
“Christoper Shawn Wilson has made significant efforts to complete his education and better himself while incarcerated,” the pardon states.
Those 17 years became an experience he’s using to move full steam ahead to make the best of his life and sharing his story with others.
“All I did my 17 years there was to create,” Wilson said. “My heart’s full, knowing what happened to me, seeing people going in the same vein, looking down the wrong road, admiring the wrong things. I intend to be an example [that] this doesn’t have to be the case.”
He said violence and crime come from “essentially kids going to bed hungry, not being able to meet their basis needs. … They’re kind of just botted down. They don’t understand life.”
He has been through assorted attempts to get his name cleared, including with attorney Brent Jackson of Richmond in 2009, he said. “It was denied,” he said.
And then things changed.
Northam signed his pardon on Feb. 3, 2020, he said, and he was released on April 2.
The pardon was based on an affidavit from another of the defendants, stating that:
1. “I was in the car with Christopher Wilson on the night in question.
2. “Christopher Wilson never shot at or did anything related to shooting at the victim.
3. “Christopher Wilson never did anything that caused Mr. Hairston’s death.”
The pardon requires he be under probation for 3 years, and it prohibits him from taking legal action against the commonwealth and entities “that are in any way related” to the arrest and incarceration.
His 2-month holdup on getting out was because he was required to go through a reentry program that never got off the ground because of the pandemic, he said.
Being in prison is “like the walking dead,” Wilson said. “The hurt overrides everything.
“It’s like it’s not real. You struggle with it, like, being reality. You don’t want to accept it.”
God and business
Wilson, the son of Terry and William Wilson of Axton — his father is the pastor of a church in Eden, N.C. — and said he was bought up in the church.
While he was in prison, he became licensed in the ministry and earned a doctoral degree in theology from Evangel Christian University of America.
He said he set a record for Virginia prisons by baptizing 31 men. “I hosted my own graduation and graduated 57 men in leadership,” too, he said.
He also learned about business.
He said he was interested in social media and smartphones, though all of that technology had developed while he was in prison. “I had a flip phone when I left,” he said.
He said he learned about apps by reading about them.
The business world also caught his attention.
“I learned everything I know now about business “ from fellow inmate Javon Watson of Richmond, he said.
An avid reader
Watson’s uncle is “the biggest preacher” in Richmond, and Watson “learned the corporate structure from a millionaire. … All he does is create now. He said, ‘Man, you learn the tax code and you create.’”
Wilson said in high school “stuff just came easy to me. I guess when it happened to me in May 2002, it dimmed my fire, but I was always destined to do something.”
Books also helped him get through that time. “All I did was read” in prison, he said, and “I am an avid reader now.”
While in prison, Wilson wrote a book, “Your Piece of the Pie: How to Operate at Greatness,” published by Trinity.
The book “is selling out in the UK,” he said, but he said he did not know how many copies had been sold. He expects to hear about books sales each January and July, he said.
Feelings on guns
Wilson described his reactions to recent shootings in Martinsville, most notably the shootout at El Norteno that left two men dead:
People who are hurting “can’t see beyond their current situation. … You try not to think about it. It’s like it’s not real. I understand families are hurting, and this is real-life stuff.
“I hate guns, to be honest. It’s awful. I understand you got hunting and stuff like that, but when you’ve got misguided teenagers, misguided young men and women, they cause problems,” he said.
In September 2019, Wilson and Watson formed a company called Watson & Wilson Businessaire Holdings LLC, according to Dun & Broadstreet. The limited liability corporation is registered out of a house on Meadows Run in Richmond, which also has four registered businesses. They also formed AireTech Holdings LLC in September 2019, according to Open Corporates.
Their first undertaking is My Event Advisor, an app that will be a directory of businesses that offer services related to events. People can see the entries for free, but the service providers will have to pay a fee to be included, after a year of free inclusion.
The process began with their writing out a 22-page description of an app they wanted to create.
“Once we had the product description down pat, everything we wanted the app to do, the service side, user side – once all of that was included,” they contracted with a company called Open Excel to create the app, at a cost of “being over $21,000,” he said.
The pair were backed by funding from investors, he said: “Since I got here, I’ve been pitching the vision, been telling people about it. I’ve had local pastors fund the business. … Since I’ve been here, my company has been given over $30,000, maybe closer to $40,000.”
“Events will revive. That’s why we give it a 1-year giveaway,” he said.
The development of the app included three months of management. After that, Wilson will take over as the systems manager, he said. He will answer all emails that come through firstname.lastname@example.org. “It’s kind of humbling when I talk about it.”
The app, under AireTech Holdings, will go live on March 15. The pair also “have got 40 different apps already ready.”
“This thing is expensive to get going, but it’s a big giant once you get it going: You’re a player in the field,” he said.
Making the rounds
On Monday, Wilson was featured in a 7-minute segment on “The 700 Club” with Pat Robertson. He is a real fan of the show, he said, starting when he was in prison.
In fact, he said it was a message by Robertson on the Nov. 18, 2019, that set in motion the process that eventually would get Wilson freed.
Robertson’s message inspired Wilson to pray, and right after the prayer he called his mother, who sent a text to the retired judge “to see if she knew anyone in the governor’s mansion, because it was going to take his signature to get out,” Wilson said.
The 7-minute segment on The 700 Club features scenes of Wilson and his family in the present time interspersed with scenes of an actor portraying Wilson in earlier times.
A film company has approached him about making a program about his life, he said, and he’s planning to be on podcasts.
Overall, Wilson said, he’s been quite busy.
“You kind of don’t get to sleep now,” he said, “being the CEO of a company.”
Holly Kozelsky reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at email@example.com and 276-638-8801 ext. 208.