Billy Graham once said: "Whatever the circumstances, whatever the call, whatever the duty, whatever the price, whatever the sacrifice, His strength will be your strength in your hour of need."
For the past six and a half years, I have had both the honor and the privilege of pushing my best friend and mentor, Joe Labriola, in his wheelchair, around the small, dirt (sometimes muddy) rut-filled track in the prison yard here inside the Shirley Medium prison to raise money for charity. Every October (since 2012) we do the Toys-for-Tots Walk in accordance with the United States Marine Corps, who provide brand new toys for kids less fortunate during the holiday season. Joe Lab is a retired, highly decorated, combat veteran who rapidly ascended to the rank of sergeant at a young age while in-country in Vietnam. After his second tour and second Purple Heart, it was only a matter of time before he put in his papers. So you can well imagine how near and dear this particular charity is for Joe.
Every May (since 2013) we do it again for the Walk for Hunger, in conjunction with Project Bread, raising money for food banks and shelters throughout the state. It also should be noted that Shirley Medium is an official satellite representative of the Project Bread organization.
This past Saturday, October 6, 2018, was Joe and I's 13th event together here in Shirley. It could very well be our last one here together as well. I have finally been granted a parole, and I should be moving to a lesser secure facility. Joe will be filing for a medical release in January when the new medical release bill takes effect. Because of these circumstances, Joe and I did a little math, and this is what we came up with: In our 13 combined events, we have traveled a total of 275 miles, never having done fewer than 20 miles nor more than 26.2 miles in any single event.
As a community, we have raised over $20,000, combining these two charities for the past six and a half years, and that total may go up even higher, since the final tally is not yet in from the latest event. What I can tell you is that as of this writing, we are on a record-setting pace to break last year's total of over $1,350.
Doing this work has had a profound effect in a spritual way on Joe and me, as well as on our entire prison community. It has allowed us to focus on what the true task at hand is, on the true reason we are doing this work, and for whom we are doing it. Being inside of here, it has become easy for many of us to dodge our responsibilities to God, to our communities, and to our fellow men and women, along with all of the poor and needy kids out there. It's one thing to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities. I believe that doing this charitable work has allowed me and numerous others to realize that we have a greater calling to treat every human being, whether encountered inside of a prison or out there at a shelter or food bank, with grace and dignity. All life was made in the image of God.
Throughout the day when I'm pushing Joe, an inevitable sense of purpose washes over me. Once I feel that purpose, I throw myself into accomplishing the goals that were set, using the gifts of strength of both my body and my mind to get it done — despite whatever obstacles I may (and usually do) encounter — because the Almighty blessed me with these resources in order to do His work.
You should also know why I titled this essay "13." It is the custom of the setup team to hand out stickers with numbers on them for tracking the runners and walkers as they pass by the lap counters who add up each participant's totals in both laps and miles completed. Since Joe and I are always the first ones to hit the track, bright and early, we select our own numbers to display as we fly around the track. I always select my football number, 79, and Joe always picks 13. Quite some time ago, I asked him the significance of that number. He told me that while he was in the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, he became both the coach and manager of the legendary "Boston Bandits" softball team, and 13 was his number then. So he wanted to keep the memory alive and wear it every time he and I are out there.
For all of you reading this, thanks for listening and for your help and continued support and prayers; trust us (Joe and I), they help.