When Ben Shirley came to The Midnight Mission in May 2011, he didn’t know where he was going or how he got there. His friends had tired of watching him die so they got him up, told him to say good-bye to all his belongings and drove him downtown’s skid row to drop him off at The Midnight Mission. He had no idea what would happen…what did happen would change his life forever and the lives of those around him.
TMM’s healthy living program is based on a social model, meaning you must get up and ‘go to work.’ Ben’s first work therapy assignment was washing dishes, where, soaking wet from tears and dirty dishwater he found himself consumed with rage at where his life had ended up. Once a bass player in a hard rock band with a record deal playing to sold out stadiums with some of the biggest names, he felt his life was now officially over. That’s when the executive chef gave him the opportunity to organize the dry goods stock room; an assignment he would take personally. He found purpose in the responsibility and ran with it. He had surrendered to the process and in doing so, started down a path that would change him forever and introduce him to a life beyond his wildest dreams.
When Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell started his now infamous running club, Ben joined to lose weight. He had run marathons before, but that seemed like a lifetime ago. On the first run, he got as far as Crocker, threw up and started crying again. But once the club had started to gain momentum, and he got some shoes that fit, Ben began to run with a passion he had not felt in a long time; a passion that he started to bring into the rest of his new life. In 2013, he would complete the Los Angeles Marathon and Accra International Marathon in Ghana, Africa, among other organized runs, with Judge Mitchell and The Midnight Runners. This would also be the same year his music would take a sudden turn and begin to transform from the stage to the classroom, from playing to composing.
In March of 2015, Ben was among the twenty-five runners; five TMM graduates, three current participants and the rest members of the community that ran the Maratona di Roma in Rome, Italy. That race was different; he didn’t, for the 1st time ever, feel as if he had to run his fastest. Instead, he was able to experience the miracle happen for the others in the club. He was able to share with the new guys the life changing journey, the transformation that occurs when running a marathon in another country. He was able to slow down, take it all in, see how far the club has come and the way it was transforming lives. That was when he chose to announce that he had been accepted into the San Francisco Music Conservatory.
Ben entered the San Francisco Music Conservatory in fall 2015. Since then he has worked hard to maintain a 3.45 GPA. He is currently working on an orchestra piece for his TAC (Technology and Applied Composition) program, he is Student Body/Council Chairperson, leads a volunteer program at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and heads a running club. If that isn’t enough, Ben also maintains four jobs.
In Ben’s words: “The Midnight Mission gave me the opportunity to make decisions but also to fall on my face. Failure was always an option, but the opportunity to succeed was greater.” In much the same way his running has evolved so has his music. He used to be all about the money; now he is ok just being a musician. “I want to learn today; I didn’t want that before. Maybe I’ll be a teacher.”
Ben is proof that it’s never too late to create a new beginning. We are so proud of all that Ben has done and we look forward to seeing what the future holds.