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Lisa M. Hendey shares a conversation with Jim Wahlberg, author of the newly released book The Big Hustle.


James Wahlberg is the founder and CEO of Wahl St productions creating a number of short films on the topic of addiction, including the critically acclaimed If Only, and his newest film, What About the Kids? He is the author of The Big Hustle: A Boston Street Kid’s Story of Addiction and Redemption. He and his family are active members of St. John XXIII Parish in Miramar, Florida.

Jim, congratulations on the release of The Big Hustle: A Boston Street Kid’s Story of Addiction and Redemption and thank you for your work on behalf of so many families.

Thank you. It’s been a humbling experience. I’m grateful to my family for their support, and to all of the people who have been so complimentary of the book. The feedback has been great so far.

Would you please briefly introduce us to yourself and your family?

I’m right in the middle of the birth order in my family, nine kids in all, and parents who had a lot to juggle. We grew up in a neighborhood in Boston called Dorchester and we didn’t have much. My parents worked really hard to keep a roof over our heads and try to keep us in line, but some of us were easier to keep in line than others. Some of my brothers and sisters were good kids, they did what they were supposed to do. I had my first drink at 8 years old and was a ward of the state by the age of 12, so clearly I started struggling early, and as I explain in The Big Hustle there were many years that I wasn’t really contributing in a positive way to the family.

You’ve worked tirelessly in the last several years to educate others around the issue of drug addiction. Why this new book, at this time in your life?

For many years I’ve been telling stories through film. I’ve made about a dozen films on the issue of addiction. My faith played a huge part in my recovery and for a while, I didn’t really feel like it made sense for that to be a central part of my message. I’ve been watching the country slip further and further into this opioid epidemic and I just can’t be quiet anymore about the essential role that God has played in my recovery, and in the amazing life that my family and I are blessed to live today.


How have family members and those you don’t know personally responded to your words?

It’s been really well-received. I’m grateful to my family and friends for their support, and to all who have bought and read the book.

Please speak a bit about the beautiful film What About the Kids? How does the power of this form of storytelling send the message you’re hoping to convey?

I can’t tell you how many grandparents I’ve met who are raising their grandchildren. We’ve traveled the country for a few years now and in every single place we go, we meet people who have tried for years to save their own children’s lives. Many have finally accepted that their grandchildren weren’t safe, so instead of enjoying their golden years as planned, they’re shuttling their grandchildren to soccer practice or trying to get them online for remote schooling. They’re working so hard to raise their grandchildren, after having raised their kids already. This story is so common. It’s happening all over the country in every single community. I just wanted to make sure people are seeing how important their faith and their faith community can be.


What words of encouragement and instruction would you offer to parents who are raising children with addictions of any kind?

I’ll say this. I am a parent who has dealt with my child being addicted. I’ve experienced a lot of pain in my life. I’ve suffered a lot as a result of my own addictions, and nothing can compare to the pain of watching your child suffer like that. They aren’t alone. There are parents who are dealing with the same challenges. Find them. Talk to them. Share your burden. Talk to your parish priest. Talk to the people in your faith community. Prayer is power.

How can someone out there who is addicted find the courage and faith to take the first step to recovery?

I know that for me, God never turned His back on me, I just didn’t turn to Him until I was ready to. It took a lot of pain and a lot of losses for me to finally surrender to Him and ask for help, but I will tell you that when I finally did, everything changed.

We’ve heard so much about how the Covid-19 pandemic has challenged those who are addicted or in recovery. What can we, as a Church, do to support our loved ones in this time?

It’s a tough time for everyone for sure. It’s tough being separated from the people you love; but when you have a disease that relies on loneliness to get stronger, this is a double-whammy. I think that the Church community needs to remain dedicated to being exactly that – a community. We know the power of prayer, lift those who are struggling up in your prayers. We know the power of connection, call the people in your parish who are struggling, or who have children who are struggling. Let them know you’re thinking about them and you care.

Great encouragement and support for families who struggle with addiction! Lisa Hendey interviews Jim Wahlberg, author of OSV book #TheBigHustle #catholicmom

Could you please say a few words about Archbishop Wenski’s involvement in the film?

When I met with Archbishop Wenski to discuss this film, it was to ask for permission to shoot on Holy Catholic property in the Archdiocese, but as we spoke God, put it on my heart to ask him to be in the film. I was shocked and thrilled when he did not hesitate to say yes!!! He was a joy to work with.

Are there any closing thoughts you would like to share?

I will close with a few of the lines Archbishop Wenski delivered in What About the Kids?

We need to do more as a faith community for those who suffer from addiction. We need to lift them up and love them.

Find The Big Hustle at OSV or Amazon and learn more about What About the Kids? — including resources for beating addiction — at WhatAboutTheKidsFilm.com.

Copyright 2020 Lisa M. Hendey
Image courtesy of Jim Wahlberg. Used with permission.
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