By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—Alston Wilkes Society celebrated its diamond anniversary Nov. 17, marking 60 years of rebuilding lives for safer communities in the name of Jesus.
For 60 years, the Alston Wilkes Society—started by the late Methodist minister the Rev. Eli Alston Wilkes—has worked to help provide those most at risk, particularly those recently released from prison, with hope for a brighter future. Today they also provide supportive services to veterans and their families, people with justice system involvement and at-risk youth and adults.
AWS held their anniversary luncheon Nov. 17 at Seawell’s Restaurant, recognizing outgoing board chair the Rev. Stephen Taylor and other outgoing board members, as well as honoring a slate of award recipients for service. The new AWS chair is Dr. Jay Dowd.
Among the highlights of the anniversary luncheon was a message from speaker, author and consultant Chuck Gallagher.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and handcuffs to remind all of his past, Gallagher shared testimony about his own conviction in 1995, when he did time in federal prison for embezzlement.
“Every choice has a consequence,” Gallagher shared, describing the day he took 23 steps and entered a new life—behind bars. That day, he said, “I became Prisoner 11642058. I became a nobody.”
Gallagher had a wife, two children, service as a music minister in his church and a successful career as a tax partner in an accounting firm when he started to get behind on his bills and stole money from a client’s trust. After he was discovered, he lost his license, was convicted and spent time in prison for his crimes. Today he is a convicted felon who boldly and publicly shares his message about bad choices in the hopes he can inspire people to hold firm to ethics, avoid the slippery slope from unethical to illegal and realize the importance of wise choices.
“Prison sucks,” he said. “But it was also the most profound experience of my life.”
His experience taught him the truth will always come out, and despite feeling like a horrible human being with no possibility for redemption, he’s gone on to own his past and use it for a positive benefit.
Before his prison sentence began, he contemplated ending his life. He was in a hotel room, guilt-ridden over all he’d done.
“I’d failed as a husband, a partner, a daddy,” he said.
He started calling psychologists, hoping to find someone to help him, only to get a series of answering machines. Then he dialed one office and got a live person on the phone who’d accidentally picked up the line.
“Son, you’ve made a terrible mistake, but you are not a mistake. You are not a mistake,” the man told Gallagher.
That man, Gallagher says, was an angel who changed his life.
“Your history does not create your destiny,” Gallagher told the audience to a standing ovation.
Also a key part of the luncheon was recognition of people whose above-and-beyond service earned them awards.
Honored were Crystal D. Boyd as the William C. Nau Federal Probation Officer of the Year; Rodney Keziah as the Mark Hart Probation and Parole Agent of the Year; Roderick Pam as the James W. Sparks Youth Worker of the Year; Kathy Ellis as the Case Management Professional of the Year; Master Trooper David G. Jones as the South Carolina Law Enforcement Trooper of the Year; and Officer Luke Boling as the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers’ Association Distinguished Officer of the Year.
AWS awards presented by S. Anne Walker, AWS president and CEO, were Tracey Lawson as the Linda J. Allen AWS Employee of the Year; Valerie Moon-Wiser as the Barbara L. Rippy AW Part-Time Employee of the Year; the Lib Gossett Prayer Group of Cedar Shoals Baptist Church as the AWS Parker Evatt Veterans Home Volunteer of the Year; Julian Morris as the 2022 AWS Educational Scholarship Recipient; and Timothy D. Roberts as the Parker Evatt Alston Wilkes Society Volunteer of the Year.
In addition to outgoing chair Taylor, other AWS trustees, past presidents and outgoing board members recognized were Faith Line, Will Batson, Scott Smoak, Ken Makins, Robin Dease and Steven MacDougall.
For more on the Alston Wilkes Society, visit https://www.alstonwilkessociety.org.