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 picked him up, told him to say goodbye to all his belongings, and dropped him off at The Midnight Mission. He had no idea that action would change his life and the lives of those around him forever.
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 officially over. Then, TMM’s executive chef allowed him 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 and introduce him to a life beyond his wildest dreams.
When Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell started the Skid Row Running Club, Ben joined to lose weight. He had run marathons before, but that seemed like a lifetime ago. On the first run, Ben got a mile out, threw up, and started crying again. But once the club had begun to gain momentum and Ben got some shoes that fit, he 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. To date, he has completed 12 marathons worldwide.
In 2013, Ben’s music would suddenly transform from the stage to the classroom, from playing to composing. He was accepted to the San Francisco Music Conservatory, where he learned that his music had a voice to speak to people’s hearts.
In 2017, Ben’s life took another turn when he got married. He also had the extraordinary opportunity to have his story told in the award-winning documentary Skid Row Marathon. Skid Row Marathon follows the Skid Row Running Club members as they climb out of homelessness and recover from addiction. As the film has gained acclaim, Ben spoke at screenings, film festivals, and on various panels. He was able to share his experience, strength, and hope across the globe from Berlin to Santa Barbara. Today, he serves on the Board of Directors for the Skid Row Running Club.
Ben remained active in the Skid Row community through his work with Street Symphony. As the first Composition Fellow for Street Symphony, Ben was the Co-Composer in Residence, Teaching Artist, and Director of Community Engagement. Ben also co-orchestrated composer Kim Planert’s soundtrack to Skid Row Marathon and has been commissioned for original music by numerous organizations and individuals. He also provided sound design for an independent film and composed for a Canadian film.
In 2020, Ben and his wife moved to Ohio to help care for her father. Ben has become involved in the Licking County Taskforce for Homelessness, using his experience in Los Angeles to help the people in Ohio make decisions to help the homeless community there.
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 is never too late to create a new beginning. We are so proud of all that Ben has done, and we look forward to his continuing success.