Pete Monsanto is running the 2018 New York City Marathon because his father can’t.
Incarcerated since Pete was 5 years old, Peter Monsanto Sr., is a federal inmate serving life without parole. At 69, he has spent 32 years in federal custody.
Pete began running to connect with his father and to support social justice for his father. His participation in the 26-mile race through their hometown is the subject of a new documentary by Transform Films: “Run for His Life.”
“My dad and I don’t have many activities to connect us. He runs in the prison yard, so I’m going to run this race in honor of him,” says Monsanto.
A photographer, DJ and New York City Transit telecommunications employee who works the night shift, Pete Monsanto also speaks on behalf of the nonprofit We Got Us Now, a movement built by, led by and about children and young adults impacted by parental incarceration, which has affected more than 10 million children in the U.S.
Pete toughed it out as a kid. Now, he shares his story, employing a brutally honest approach to create dialogue around a common issue that is rarely addressed.
Pete recalls the traumatic events when federal marshals seized his boyhood home: “I came home from school one day and was homeless.”
He was three days shy of his sixth birthday when his father was arrested. Peter Monsanto Sr. was later indicted on federal drug charges and convicted of having violated the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute, commonly referred to as the Kingpin Statute.
This began a tumultuous period of staying with family, in homeless shelters, and with whomever would take in Pete, his mom and his two little sisters—including a stay at the notorious Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx, where Peter remembers sleeping on a stiff plastic chair for four days and wearing shoes that were too small.
A semblance of normalcy returned when Pete’s mother was able to move the family back to the Westchester County enclave of Mt. Vernon, where Pete was in the shelter system for ninth grade and where Pete went to high school.
Pete started working in telecommunications after high school. In 2008 he was laid off from his job at Verizon, which proved to be another turning point in his life. It spurred him to transform his photography hobby into a successful “side hustle,” an endeavor he jump-started on the set of the BET phenomenon “106 & Park.”
This period was also marked by monthly visits to the federal correctional institution in Pennsylvania, where his father was incarcerated after stints in Kansas, Texas, Florida and Georgia.
“My father was running to keep his mind and body sharp,” Pete says, “at one point doing at least five miles a day.”