This update will be different. It's something I feel is important to share before we file our Form C and sign contracts. Essentially, it's something about me. And while I feel sharing it is the right thing to do, in reality it's been so long that I wrestled with sharing it at all. Wefunder and our corporate attorney left it in my court to decide as there is no legal obligation to do so. More important than any obligation is transparency, however, and LIVSN is built on an honest foundation.
So without further rambling, here is a passage I wrote after many years of thinking about the right way to write it.
I hope you read it with compassion, but I'm ready for anything.
Last week, a famous TV personality and startup investor passed on an investment pitch with LIVSN because of my past.
What follows may come as a surprise to you:
I have a criminal record.
Does that change how you think of me? Of LIVSN? Of what I’ve accomplished?
I wouldn’t fault you for saying yes. I don’t lead with it. And while I don’t actively hide it, it’s not something I bring up in casual conversation. In business, I’ve treated it more as a “third date” topic. However, I always disclose it before things get serious.
Before I go on, I should answer the obvious question. What happened?
In 2011 I was in a different place than I am today. I was deep into a multi-years-long addiction to oxycontin and not doing well. I was 115 pounds, battling withdrawals every day, and deeply in debt to the wrong people. In the midst of this personal turmoil, I made an unthinkable decision.
I robbed a liquor store.
There was no violence. There were no threats. I think I even said please and sorry. I was in there for over 15 minutes, presumably working up the courage to do the act. You see, I don’t really remember doing it. I recall being there. I recall driving away on my motorcycle, but I don’t recall much detail of the event. What I do know about that night is what I read from the cashier’s witness testimony.
The next day I purchased a tragically small amount of my drug of choice with my ill-gotten cash and I went camping. In that state of mind, I didn’t even really remember what I had done when I got a call from a friend asking me bluntly “Did you rob a liquor store? Your picture is in the news.”
I packed up my camp, drove back to town, and turned myself in to the police the next morning. I was released. I think they wanted to see what I’d do. Later that day my house was raided and I was taken to jail.
I started detox in jail. Cold turkey after five years of hard use. It was living hell. Everything hurt. And because I was in a walking boot from a motorcycle crash I was in a solitary confinement cell, locked down for 23 hours a day. My family made the (right) choice to keep me there for three days to think about what I had done and for them to make arrangements.
After being released on bail with about 4 months until my court date, I was flown straight to Austin, Tx, and enrolled in a 90-day inpatient rehab. This opportunity was due to the good fortune of having a family with the means to pay for this - something I do not take for granted.
I chose to forgo a medicated detox with the intention of fully feeling what was happening to my body. I wanted to remember the pain. I still remember. I didn’t sleep for over a week. Hot was cold. And if anyone reading was in central Texas during the drought of 2011, you know hot was hot. I was shivering outside. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t even cry. My body did not know which way was up. I had taken away its crutch. I felt everything for the first time in years.
I made the choice to accept that this was rock bottom. When you’re at rock bottom there is only one way out.
Looking at 40 years to life in prison will do that to you.
What happened next is where my shame turned to pride.
I took rehabilitation seriously. I engaged in counseling sessions, formed relationships with my peers, and made promises to myself about the kind of life I would pursue if given the opportunity. I took every chance to volunteer my time for community service. I discovered spirituality. I learned to meditate. I began to rebuild myself. And I played a lot of ping pong.
When I got out of rehab I checked into a sober house in Austin where I continued to work on my recovery by staying active in AA and continuing community service.
Then came my day in court. That makes it sound dramatic as it wasn’t a trial - only sentencing. Thanks to an incredible lawyer, the written character testimony of many friends, my sobriety, and community service the judge agreed to a charge of felony Theft of Property in lieu of Aggravated Robbery. TOP carried a 20-year sentence (10 suspended) and the opportunity for early release through prison boot camp.
I was given a second chance.
Before I went in, my father told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “they can lock up your body, but they can never imprison your mind.” I thought about that a lot in the coming months.
I did three months in Washington County Jail, one week in general population at Malvern, and then 105 days of boot camp at Tucker before being released. I could write chapters on my experience in those places, but that’s for another time.
What I’ll say is losing your freedom is powerful. Incarceration strips people of their humanity. It’s insidious. It’s at once terrible and oddly enough, not that bad. People survive. It taught me that people are adaptable. I am adaptable.
Prison boot camp taught me to deal with bullshit. It taught me discipline. It taught me patience. It was all the negative parts you see in the movies but without any of the combat training. I learned that boredom is in your mind. Sitting on a cot for 17 hours a day, I was grateful for my time practicing meditation.
I had a lot of time to think. I thought about my family and my friends. I thought about my dog. I thought about what mattered.
When I was released from prison on a hot July day in central Arkansas, I didn’t know where my life would take me. I just knew I wasn’t going to waste it.
I got the ball rolling.
Back in Fayetteville, I landed at my father's house and enrolled in our local community college.
After excelling at college, I was re-admitted to the University of Arkansas and moved into an apartment with a friend. I got a job at the University Bookstore doing shipping and receiving work.
I started working at a local startup apparel brand and worked my way up from part-time in the warehouse to becoming the CEO serving over 20 employees.
While working full-time, I transferred to John Brown University and earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management by attending night classes.
I married the love of my life and together we bought our dream house.
I started my own company built upon the dream of creating something of value in the world.
I had two incredible sons who make me happy every single day.
That time thinking. That time facing the harsh reality of what I’d done. That time considering the consequences. That time all the way from my first day in jail to the last day of boot camp, influenced the person I am today, the life I live, and the business I have built.
What matters in life are experiences. What matters are relationships.
My life is good now.
I am not the man I was in 2011.
I have a company built on values forged in fire. I’m doing what I love. My past created my present. It created LIVSN.
My past hasn’t stopped me yet, and it won’t stop me in the future.
Thank you for your time. I know how valuable it is.
-Andrew Gibbs-Dabney, Founder