December 20, 2019
Torrence Bivens’s story is about his second chance and how he is using his experience to inspire others to pursue a similar path. His own personal motto may best sum up his tale, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” Torrence struggled with addiction and spent 25 years in and out of prison from the time he was 17 years old but the man he is now would hardly recognize the young kid he was then. For over a year now Torrence, 54, has been an exemplary employee at Flagger Force, having been promoted to crew leader after only a couple of months. This story may not have had the same ending if it weren’t for his experience in Living Classrooms’ Project SERVE.
To say that Torrence is an exception would be accurate in some ways – he does possess a positive attitude, work ethic, and self-awareness that is commendable – but in other ways it fails to acknowledge just how many men and women are out there like Torrence, who want to work and be successful but have faced barriers in their lives that have kept them from reaching their potential.
Living Classrooms’ Project SERVE hires men and women like Torrence every day. Many of whom have been incarcerated, some for lengthy sentences, and all who need a chance to get back on their feet. Project SERVE provides a rapid attachment to work for its members who join our Neighborhood Stabilization Crew, learning valuable job skills while earning a paycheck, cleaning Baltimore City properties. The members have an opportunity to obtain industry-recognized certifications in things like flagging and forklift operation while also working on soft skills like accountability, professionalism, and financial literacy. Ultimately, each member is connected to long-term employment after successful completion of their program.
Every member is assigned a case manager who supports their re-integration back into their lives and works with them on identifying and removing barriers towards reaching their goals. It’s relationships like these that can make all the difference in a members’ eventual success. Many of the staff at Project SERVE are graduates of the program themselves – men and women with similar life experiences who provide walking, talking testimonials every day as to the program’s efficacy.
“These guys showed me how to be a man,” Torrence boasts. “Men take care of their responsibilities. They taught me accountability.”
Torrence entered the program determined to turn his life around, an attitude that he says is essential to anyone’s success. He also took a cue from his predecessors and used his experience to inspire others who needed a second chance. Not only did he offer his advice to others in his neighborhood but he helped connect some to Project SERVE, one of whom was Michael Martin.
Having the right role model is often the key to unlocking someone’s potential. In Michael’s case, he was an only child who lost his father at a very young age and in his absence was drawn to other male figures in his neighborhood, most of whom were modeling dangerous and often illegal behavior. When he joined Project SERVE, he saw himself in the men that came before him, men like Torrence who showed him that he too could be where they are if he just put in the work.
Michael, 52, attributes his second chance to having several people come along to help him at the right time, help him get clean and sober, help him regain control of his life. And now that he is in control, he is able to enjoy his 3-year-old grandson and is using his second chance to provide the role model for him that he was lacking at that age. Today, in a true story about following in someone’s footsteps, Michael is also working hard as an employee of Flagger Force.
“I was truly blessed to find Living Classrooms,” Michael proudly admits. “I love living good on this side, I have structure in my life, I’ve been blessed with some good people in my life.”
Flagger Force is a trusted employment partner of Living Classrooms and has hired many graduates of Project SERVE, several of whom are building long-term careers within the company. When asked for feedback on Torrence and Michael, their supervisors both pointed towards their impressive drive and motivation. It should come as no surprise that Torrence was recently asked to become a mentor to one of their newer employees – a role that seems an inevitable next step on his path towards reaching his potential.
Both Torrence and Michael are grateful for their second chances, for the opportunity to provide for their children, and are hyper aware that these chances don’t come along very often so they don’t take them for granted. They are making positive choices every day to make sure that they do not return to prison.
“I’m determined to live a better life,” said Torrence. “I never thought in a million years I would be sitting in the position I am now.” He is proud to claim that, “today I’m trustworthy,” something that may not have been true before his new journey began at Project SERVE.