Don’t let your past dictate your future
Apr 23, 2012, noon
By Betty Lundgren
We all have shadows of past transgressions in our lives, but probably not many of us have the title of “felon” on our resume. Montrose resident, Charlie Winger, a retired computer consultant, businessman and mountaineering author, recently released his autobiography that delves into a past as a felon that he was happy to forget for nearly 50 years.
Two Shadows: The inspirational story of one man’s triumph over adversity shares the story of his challenges, resilience and accomplishments throughout an amazing life moving from criminal to prosperous businessman and mountaineering adventurer.
Winger, 73, was born in Chicago and suffered through years of parental neglect while growing up in a tenement there. He endured by taking up petty thievery and vandalism and had more “street smarts“ than “book smarts.” His parents divorced, and when he was 11, his mother abandoned him and his sister. They were sent to live with their great aunt and uncle in Wichita, Kansas.
His transition from big city life to a small town was difficult, but so was the physical abuse and authoritarian rule by his aunt and uncle that drove him to more self-destructive behavior and criminal acts. At the age of 18, he was sentenced to five years in prison. It was in prison that he asked himself what direction he wanted his life to go and how he could start down that path, and the life changes began.
“I wrote this book for myself,” Winger said. “I wondered how I could be such a loser in early life and end up having such a great life. But then I also thought it was a time to reflect and see if I had some advice to offer to others.”
The beauty of Winger’s book is that he not only gives us a hard look at his troubled past, but offers a sense of hope and encouragement to those who want to set out on a different, less destructive path. In Winger’s opinion, education is the key to turning a life around.
“I got my high school diploma and started taking college classes while in prison,” Winger said. “They gave me an aptitude test and found that I had skills for a new field called computer programming. A white collar criminal in prison began teaching me computer skills that would shape the rest of my life.”
Winger’s friend, who worked at the Boeing Company, got them to test Winger for computer work at the aircraft company that had manufacturing plants in Wichita. He did well on the test, and Boeing offered him a job and the second half of Winger’s life began to take shape.
In 1973, Winger was transferred to Denver as a management consultant for an accounting firm. His new job meant that he had to make weekly trips to Washington, D.C. and he read a lot of books during his travel time. One book that was especially meaningful to Winger was entitled, The Ultimate Journey: Canada to Mexico Down the Continental Divide by Eric and Tim Ryback. As he read it, the seeds for a new life passion were planted.