Trent Griffin-Braaf: Dealing Drugs Cost Him His Freedom, Prison Taught Him Humility and the Rewards of Serving Others #17

Warwick Fairfax

April 14, 2020

His father died when he was 9. Not long after, his mother’s drug addiction forced him out of his home to live with his grandparents. Money was tight, school was not his strong suit, and by his late teens Trent Griffin-Braaf was running with the wrong crowd. By 19, he was serving 4-12 years in prison for selling drugs. But he tells Crucible Leadership founder and BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE host Warwick Fairfax that when he had to attend his grandmother’s funeral in shackles, unable to hug grieving loved ones because of the chains, he decided he would not allow being locked up to be his legacy. He seized the academic opportunities prison offered, and when he was paroled after three years he dedicated himself to learning all he could to build a life he could be proud of. He landed a job at a hotel cleaning toilets, spent hours soaking up from co-workers the ins-and-outs of their jobs — and in a few years had become the hotel’s general manager. But he had a grander vision — and risked all he had achieved to launch an airport shuttle serving Schenectady, N.Y.’s hotels. The business took off, and continues to grow: It now serves former inmates in the area not only with assistance in getting to and from work, but helps them find work that will allow them to build their own lives of significance. What has his journey taught him? “I believe in my heart that from doing good you get good,” he says.

For more information on Trent Griffin-Braaf, visit https://www.techvalleyshuttle.com/

Highlights

 

  • How he wound up dealing drugs … and going to prison for it (5:15)
  • The hope a prison education program gave him to to envision a life beyond incarceration (6:19)
  • The crucible of prison — even after release (10:05)
  • Why he never gave up, even through an onslaught of youthful crucibles (12:07)
  • The decision that’s key to moving beyond life’s most trying setbacks (14:55)
  • How family tragedy and family joy kept him on the right path (19:16)
  • The critical role humility played in keeping him on the straight and narrow (23:19)
  • How continuous learning helped him rise from cleaning toilets to management in the hotel business (25:12)
  • When his vision for Tech Valley Hospitality Shuttle was born (30:32)
  • The need for changing his business vision when competition arrived via Uber and Lyft (33:54)
  • Why significance is more rewarding than money (37:10)
  • How he’s used his business to help former inmates get to and from jobs — and to get jobs (39:39)
  • The inspiration for launching a free shuttle service to prisons for inmates’ loved ones (41:40)
  • The rewards of helping others move beyond their crucibles (44:00)
  • Key takeaways from the episode (50:01)

Transcript

Gary S:
Welcome, everybody, to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Gary Schneeberger, the cohost of the show and the communications director for Crucible Leadership. You have clicked play, clicked subscribe, pushed the button, made your phone start playing audio on a podcast that deals in crucible experiences. Crucible experiences are those events in life that can change the trajectory of your life. They’re painful. They’re traumatic. You don’t know why they happen to you. They can leave you feeling sometimes like you just want to lie in bed and bury your head and not move on. They’re things that are failures, setbacks, traumas, tragedies, those kinds of things that just knock you off balance.

Gary S:
But here’s the good news. We talk about those things, not so we can wallow in them, not so we can stay there, but we talk about them so that we can look for ways to get beyond them. One of the things that we do is interview people who have had crucible experiences that were quite traumatic, that were quite a bit of a setback, that changed the course of their lives, but they have bounced back from those crucible experiences and they are now living a new and fulfilling chapter in their lives. Our purpose in talking to folks like our guest today, who we’ll introduce in just a moment, our purpose in doing that is to bring hope to listeners, no matter what your circumstances. If you’ve had a crucible, you can glean hope from the conversations we have here.

Gary S:
To guide that conversation, as always, is the architect, the founder, the Lego master, if you will, of the build that is Crucible Leadership, Warwick Fairfax. Warwick, we’ve got a good show today, I think, that’s really going to touch people.

Warwick F:
Absolutely. Good to be here, Gary, and great to have Trent here.

Trent B:
Hey. How you guys doing?

Gary S:
It’s great to see you, Trent. I’m going to give you the introduction you deserve.

Gary S:
The Trent that Warwick referred to is Trent Griffin-Braaf. Trent is the 36-year-old husband and father of two, and Trent was released from prison more than a decade ago. He was locked up for more than three years for selling drugs. This is a quote that Trent gave to a media outlet in Schenectady, New York, where he lives. This is what he said about that experience. “I knew I didn’t want to go back to prison, and I was willing to do whatever I had to do not to do that,” he said.

Gary S:
After release, Trent took multiple low-wage temp jobs before getting into the hotel industry. He worked his way up from cleaner to general manager of a hotel in Rotterdam in New York. When he noticed no hotel in the area offered shuttle service to the airport, he saw a business opportunity. That’s how his business, his thriving business, I might say, Tech Valley Hospitality Shuttle, was born.

Gary S:
Trent, welcome to Beyond the Crucible. Warwick, take it away.

Trent B:
Hey, guys. Thank you for having me.

Warwick F:
Well, Trent, it’s great to have you. You have a remarkable story. I’d love to hear about your story, your background, growing up, and how that led to just the crucible experience that you had. Yeah, so tell us a bit about Trent and how you grew up, and yeah, a bit about your life there.

Trent B:
I was born in The Bronx, New York. At a young age, my father passed away, when I was around nine years old. Eight or nine. Yeah, nine years old. From that point, we moved from New York City to upstate New York. That’s where we had more family at.

Trent B:
It was tough. I went from having two parents to having just my mother by herself. In due time, we found out that my mother even had some demons she was fighting off with addiction, which even caused me for a short period of my life to be living with my grandparents. It was a lot of change.

Trent B:
Then even once my mother came back, we were struggling to get by. I was telling my wife recently, I remember sharing a room with my mother in my teenage years, sharing a bunk bed, to be more specific. It was a battle. One thing I can say is I never felt like we had without, though. My mother did a good job of making sure the love was there.

Trent B:
Another thing I knew was I definitely didn’t want to live in poverty my whole life, so I kind of became infatuated with money at a young age and I found creative ways to make money, even lunch money. My mother would give me lunch money. I would save it until I had enough to buy a pair of the jeans and clothes. I remember going to school every day and eating everybody else’s lunch, so that way I could save mine, selling candy bars and lollipops until we got a written letter saying I couldn’t do it anymore.

Trent B:
I was always infatuated with making money, and after high school, went to college, did a semester, flunked out, just playing around, and came back home. That’s when I got introduced to the underworld, I would say. Now I’m probably 18 years old or so, and I started to just hustle and sell drugs. Everyone that I seen who had a lot of money, that’s what they were doing, and it was attainable and something you could touch. You could talk to those people, and so I did. Quickly, I went from low-level selling of narcotics to higher level pretty quickly, almost like I had a mentorship program in that.

Trent B:
But that didn’t last long. Probably a year, year and a half run of that, and then I found myself incarcerated. Never had a run-in with the law before that in my life, but because of the amounts I was selling, I ended up getting a four to 12-year prison sentence. Here you got this 19-year-old, maybe 20-year-old kid at that time, who never had any problem with the law, was scared to death, because now I’m going to prison for four to 12 years, and all I could think about was 12 years just being gone.

Trent B:
So I go to prison. I quickly learn how to adapt in that environment, but one huge blessing I had was I was accepted into a college program through Marist College through the prison I was in. That was the first time in my adulthood that I seen I could really get good grades. I was the top of the class. I took pride in it, and I started to really have a passion for learning and education. That’s when I really started to read a lot more. I never, in prison, tried to make plans of what I was going to do next because I really didn’t know what challenges were in front of me, but I just knew that I wanted to prepare myself and be able to be the best version of me once I was released.

Trent B:
Oh, go ahead.

Warwick F:
Yeah, that’s a remarkable story. Take us back to your childhood, because obviously you’re married and have kids, and your kids, I’m sure, are growing up very differently than you grew up.

Trent B:
Definitely.

Warwick F:
They probably know something about how you grew up, but they can’t understand. They can’t relate. I’m sure you’re grateful that they can’t relate or understand, but I’m sure you’re trying to love them unconditionally, care for them, not just give them food and shelter, but emotional support, encouragement, “You can be whoever you want to be,” all of the things that any parent wants to do.

Warwick F:
Obviously, your dad died at a young age. He wasn’t able to provide a positive male role model. Your mother, I’m assuming, probably had a good heart, but with the drugs, it takes that out of the loop a bit. Talk about how you’re growing up, and did you have any positive role models, whether it’s mother, grandparents, cousins, somebody that gives you hope? Were there any positive role models there?

Trent B:
Definitely. I have a very tight-knit family, even to this day. My mother, she has four sisters. I know they all speak on a daily basis. The family group chats. My grandparents. My uncles. I had an uncle who passed away since, Uncle Odell, who I was really close with. My grandfather. Definitely had a lot of good role models.

Trent B:
Even my mother. Once she even got through her demons, I seen her climb in from an entry-level position to being a vice president of a company. I seen her go on to retire from the state as one of the top budget analysts. I’ve seen the growth even from that, and that was something I’ve always been able to pull from, was that strength. Again, I’m just blessed to have a very tight-knit family, even to this day. We’re not like a typical family. I can definitely say that.

Warwick F:
Wow. That’s wonderful. Through some of these challenges with losing your dad so young and a mother, good heart, but with, at the time, when you were small anyway, addiction problems, so talk about how you took a road that, in hindsight, probably wasn’t the most helpful road. There’s always a reason why. We could try and guess, but I don’t think we want to guess. Just tell us why you took that road that led to a lot of other challenges.

Trent B:
I think it was a mixture of things. For me, one, at a young age I was so motivated by money, I would do anything for it. Plus, not having a father figure there, I think just hanging out with the boys was the replacement. I would just, every day, hanging out with the guys, and that’s what we would do. I felt that love and that bond there, but definitely was not a good thing. It wasn’t good just because to even put the poison in the community and to just be bringing that negativity around, but even bigger than that, it just wasn’t good in terms of a setback.

Trent B:
Unfortunately, you could make decisions at a young age that can alter the course of your life, and that’s ultimately what I did. I put myself in that position that few rarely come out and turn into a success story from. Going to prison, more specifically, does it because then you have this criminal record, that even though you do some time, and your life is paused, but the world continues to grow and go, but even upon being released, they still hold it against you. It’s just a huge setback that if I could… I tell the youth all the time, “Learn from my mistakes and from mistakes of others. That’s a path you don’t want to take, because it is very hard to get out of.”

Warwick F:
Yeah, and I know in some states, they talk about three strikes, but I guess in some ways it’s really one strike, that for a lot of employers and a lot of people, it’s like, “Once a criminal, always a criminal.” “No, but really I’ve rehabilitated.” “We don’t want to take a chance. Stay away.” There’s that attitude, which is often not fair.

Warwick F:
Sadly, this is probably a familiar story in some ways, is that maybe you had some good relatives, but the person who’s in the home day in, day out, your dad wasn’t there, and you’re hanging out with your buddies, which, in the neighborhood, probably weren’t constructive. You want love and affirmation from somewhere, and it’s like part of being part of this group is maybe doing things that are not helpful, but I’m sure you can look back and see it. I don’t know, some people would say, “Well, it’s probably kind of inevitable in some ways, if you want to get affirmation from somewhere.” I don’t know, I can’t really think of a particularly good question here, other than… Please, go ahead, Gary.

Gary S:
I’ve got something I think is interesting. Trent, we’ve had eight to 10 folks that we’ve talked to on the podcast so far, and each of them has a crucible experience or experiences that they talk about. One of the things that strikes me about your story is how many crucible experiences came in such rapid succession. Your father passes away. Your mother has addiction problems. You have to move from where you’re from to a different city. You live with your grandparents. I read in a story that you really loved basketball, but as you put it, you stopped growing at some point too soon, and you couldn’t pursue that dream. Then you needed money, and you took a wrong turn and you end up in prison.

Gary S:
For listeners out there, I really want to key in on this, because listeners who may feel like the crucibles have never stopped coming, they keep coming, they’ve come over and over again, and I just listed off six or seven of them for you before you were out of high school or before you were out of college, before you were in your 20s, I want listeners to be able to hear you say this, so that they can find hope themselves if they’re like, “I’m done.” If ever a series of crucibles, in any guest that we’ve talked to, if ever a series of crucibles was going to be “Okay, I’m done. I can’t do this. I keep running into brick walls no matter what I do. I’m going to give up,” why didn’t Trent give up?

Trent B:
Well, I didn’t give up. A, I’m not a quitter, and in anything I do, I want to see it out. But I didn’t give up because I knew I wanted more for myself. I remember being inside the prison and talking to gentlemen who… I was a baby. They looked at me as the young pup. I remember being around some older gentlemen who… They were never coming home from prison, or there were others who were on this consistent roller coaster coming in and out. My very first day in the prison, we were walking in the tunnels, and I remember the captain said… He made an announcement, and he said he wanted to thank us for being there. He said it was because of us that his children were able to go through college and he was able to pay his mortgage, and he could guarantee that he’ll see a bunch of us continuously throughout his life and our lives.

Trent B:
That never sat well with me. I knew statistically he was right, but I didn’t want to be a part of that statistic to continue to put his family through college and to make sure his mortgage was paid. I’d rather have those problems of my own and be able to do that for my family. I was just motivated to not be stuck on that consistent path, and I was really literally at one point just at my wits’ end and said, “No matter what I have to do, I won’t put myself in a situation where that can be a reality of me returning.”

Warwick F:
What’s interesting to me is often I find when people turn from a crucible experience, they make a decision. They make a choice. Now, you could’ve said, which I think would be quite justified, “Hey, a lot of this is not my fault. Not my fault that my dad died. I grew up in a neighborhood where, to hang out with any kind of buddies, many of them aren’t going to be on the right track. Was that my fault? I wanted money to get out of there. What other options are there? Not too many. I go to prison. People are going to see me as this criminal forever.”

Warwick F:
You could go into “This is not my fault. It’s not fair,” and be angry. “Why should I try? Because life in the world continues to work against me.” Yet life doesn’t have to be fair for you to say, “Yeah, it wasn’t fair. A lot of things weren’t right, but I’m going to move on. I’m not going to get anger and resentment stop me from moving on.” Talk about how you decided not to say everything was fine and okay, but not let resentment, anger pull you down and say, “I’m not going to let that pull me down. I’m going to move forward.” How did you get off that resentment bandwagon and get into “I’m moving forward”?

Trent B:
Oh, I remember clearly. I don’t know the date, but I remember clearly talking to a buddy of mine and I just told him, I said… Even upon being released and coming back, I was still taking some risks that could’ve landed me back in jail, just chasing fast money. But I remember specifically one day talking to a buddy of mine, and I said, “Bro, I’m not ever going to sell drugs again. I don’t care what I’ve got to do. I’m never, ever doing this again. I can’t.” Literally, from that day, I never did, and that was never, ever again.What got me to that point was the scare of a long-term incarceration. That’s literally what got me together, by seeing individuals that I know, who I was actually incarcerated with, come home around the same time I did and then go back for 10, 12-year sentences. I couldn’t do it.

Trent B:
The ironic thing is it’s two different worlds, like you said. In one world, you’re crucified for this. For going to jail, you can’t get a job. But then in another world, you’re glorified, because you went to prison and you didn’t tell on anybody. It’s a weird mixture, but I had to disassociate myself from that and being that prideful guy of “Yeah, I didn’t. Look at me,” and have my chest out, and really humble myself to the point where, you know what, I’m willing to take these temp jobs and do whatever I have to do. That actually began the next stage of my life, was removing myself from other negativity, humbling myself to the maximum, and taking these temp jobs, taking jobs where I’m making literally minimum wage, I’m working all day long, but going there every single day and working as hard as I possibly could and putting my best foot forward.

Gary S:
That’s a great pivot point. That’s when things turned around for you. But one of the things I read in one of the stories that I looked at, Trent, which really fascinated me, there was a story that said what really helped you in that turning point was that your first daughter was on the way and you missed her birth. I want listeners to hear… Normally, what Warwick and I will do, because we’re both obsessive about this, if there’s any background noise at all when we’re recording, we’ll tell the producers on the back end, “Take that out. There’s a hum in the radiator.” But as we’ve been talking, it’s been beautiful because I hear your family sitting around having conversation, and I hope we don’t take that out, because that family was the thing that led to that turnaround that you just described, where you said, “I will take these jobs because I’m going to create a life, not just for me, but for my family.” Does that strike a chord with you, Warwick, as you hear that?

Warwick F:
Yeah. Trent, I’d love to hear the role that your family, and while you were in prison, just talk about that fact when helping you bounce back and give you motivation.

Trent B:
Two things happened in prison that changed my life forever, one being I lost my grandmother. While I was serving that four to 12-year sentence, I lost my grandmother. I had a conversation with her the night before she passed. She told me she was dying, and it was hard. But going to the funeral with my hands and my feet shackled, seeing my family like that and not even really being able to hold them the way we normally would and embrace each other, that was heartbreaking. That was literally heartbreaking for me.

Trent B:
Then the second was, like you were saying, Gary, I had missed my oldest daughter’s birth, because during that time before the transaction, before I said I’m never doing this again, I found myself rearrested and fighting a new case, which ultimately was thrown out for illegal search and seizure. But during that time, my daughter was born. I got incarcerated a month before my wife had her, so I missed that. I got her name tattooed across my chest right here. She’s the only one, and that’s the reason why.

Trent B:
Yeah, those two things just told me, “This can’t be my life. I can’t allow this to be my life. I’m not going to miss out on my children’s lives.” Sometimes me and my wife, we reflect on that. My oldest daughter today is 11 years old. She’ll be 12 next month. If I didn’t beat that case, they were offering me 12 years. Ultimately, I would just be coming home right around now. Our life today would be nonexistent. The company would be nonexistent.

Trent B:
We actually have three daughters. The youngest, she’s 18 months. That’s probably why you didn’t see it in the other stuff. I wouldn’t even have my other two daughters if I would’ve continued to possibly gamble my life in those ways. The big thing I realized was my motivation was money, but life is more important than money. That was a pivot point, and it was the point of no return at that point.

Warwick F:
I imagine as you’re going through this, being in chains at your grandmother’s funeral and then missing your oldest daughter’s birthday, you probably thought, “Well, I know what it’s like to grow up without a dad,” and you probably said to yourself, “That’s not going to be my kids. I’m going to be there for them. I’m going to help them learn to ride a bike, be there at their recitals, be there at their football, baseball games. I’m going to help coach. I’m going to be present. When they said, ‘Hey, a kid beat me up at school’ or ‘I got a bad grade,’ I’m going to be there to console them, to advise them, to say, ‘Hey, that’s okay. Tomorrow is another day.’ I’m going to be there.” That had to have been a huge motivation, saying, “My kids will grow up differently than I did,” right?

Trent B:
Definitely. 100%. Me and my wife, we talk about it. We have similar upbringings in terms of single-family households, and one thing we are both fully committed to is assuring that we have a family, because that’s one thing we both felt we didn’t have in the household. I couldn’t agree more.

Warwick F:
I want to just shift a bit to what you’re doing professionally. One of the amazing things, you started work in cleaning and eventually working up to being general manager of a hotel, which that in itself just feels like a miracle, given where you grew up and prison and all. But there are some people, again, that have this attitude of “The world owes me. I didn’t deserve to lose a dad or to have a mother that at some point had addiction issues.” Yet you felt like, “Hey, I will do whatever it takes, no matter how low the job is.” It feels like there’s a sense of humility in your story, “I don’t care whether life is fair or not fair. I’m going to do whatever it takes, no matter how humbling or even humiliating.” A lot of people need to hear that, as they might feel like the world owes them or “I’m too good for…” Talk about your attitude as you started to work your way up.

Trent B:
The attitude, again, it was humble. I did have to humble myself completely. I was someone who was known for being kind of flashy, having nice cars, jewelry, girls, stuff like that. Once I made that decision and dove fully into “I’m never going to do this again, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to be successful just working hard,” that’s what it became. I actually isolated myself from everyone.

Trent B:
In the midst of all of this that was going on, as I was transitioning at working and scrubbing toilets by day working in the hotels, at night I was actually throwing parties. I would throw these big concert series in different venues. I was actually exploring my entrepreneur spirit at that point, but socially distancing myself from everyone at the same time. I would do this. Not too many people even knew who was throwing these parties. I wasn’t out social about it, but I was starting to build a reputation and a brand for myself in the club world, club scene, in terms of the owners. But at work, I was humbling myself enough to clean those toilets every single day.

Trent B:
There was some nights… I remember there was a night I made like $23,000 doing an after-party with Kevin Hart, but then the very next day, here I am scrubbing toilets in a hotel, being told if I could bring someone coffee. I really learned to humble myself to the highest level during this transition. The one thing that I was more so focused on was being the best form of me at every single thing I did. So-

Gary S:
And-

Trent B:
Go right ahead, Gary.

Gary S:
One of the ways that you did that, when you and I talked earlier, is that, yes, you started out scrubbing toilets, but when you were finished scrubbing toilets, what did you do? You were out talking to the front desk clerk. You were learning as much as you could about that business, right?

Trent B:
That’s right. In everything I did, I started to always just continue to learn. I think that college in prison started that for me. I would go to work. I would work with the front desk staff at night, and she would train me on how to check people in, how to answer the phones. I would come home, if I wasn’t throwing an event, and me and my wife, she would be studying me on the language. How do you check someone in? What’s the proper way to do it? That way, I was preparing myself for the opportunity, and the opportunity came.

Trent B:
I was given the opportunity to be a front desk clerk for the Marriott. Once I got that role, I started to aim on, how do you be a good manager? I started to read books on management. My wife would teach me different management skills. Next thing you know, I get that position. Now I’m the front desk manager. I’m rocking and rolling. The next thing was, how do I become the assistant manager of the hotel? I start to educate myself on that, and all the way until I’m the operations manager.

Trent B:
But every single night, I’m going home, I’m learning the language, I’m learning what a P&L is, I’m learning… I was self-taught every single step of the way, but I was also hands-on every single step of the way. I think I got the best kind of practice you could possibly get, and that’s something I encourage everyone I talk to, “When you go to work, there’s opportunities in front of you. It’s what do you want, and what are you willing to do?” I think the more you learn to give of yourself, the opportunities are given to you that you’re looking for.

Trent B:
That became my approach, was just to stay two steps ahead in everything I was doing and to have goals. Once I started to see if you have goals, you can actually achieve your goals, or if you don’t achieve them, get really close to achieving them, that became my new way of life.

Warwick F:
There’s a few strands I think it would be really useful for listeners to understand. There are three words I think I’ve heard you say, the importance of humility, the importance of learning, and the importance of having goals. My sense is they’re tied together, so talk a bit about just why, in terms of bouncing back from just some incredibly difficult circumstances, why humility and a heart to learn is so important.

Trent B:
Well, I think you have to humble yourself to understand you don’t know everything, and humble yourself to be willing to tell and express that to other individuals, and then not only tell it, but then listening to the advice given and act on the advice given. It’s a lot of steps in admitting you don’t know something, but I think the sooner people start to admit that, the sooner you also start to grow. I think you have to humble yourself, you have to be willing to accept advice from others, and you have to be willing to work on it if it’s ultimately what you want to do. Like you said, they definitely go hand in hand.

Warwick F:
One of the interesting things in life is there are some people that are jealous of your success. If somebody is down, they want to push them even further. But there are other… Humanity is a mix of good and bad, and there are some people, more than one would think, that when you humble yourself and say, “Look, I don’t really understand this. What does it take to be an assistant manager? What does it take to be a general manager?” there are some people who probably said, “Trent, thanks for asking. I’d love to help you.” You’re probably thinking, “Really? Somebody in the world wants to help me? Wow, that’s kind of new. Cool.”

Trent B:
You are-

Warwick F:
Go ahead.

Trent B:
No, I was going to say you are so right. That’s what I try to express when I talk to a lot of the youth, and even formerly incarcerated individuals. People who have seen any bit of success want to share that. It’s just a matter of them knowing that the person is really going to act on what they’re sharing and they’re not wasting their time. But if you’re able to prove that you’re willing to do what it takes, I find that anyone who’s successful, if you ask them, “Hey, how’d you do it?” who doesn’t want to share how they did it and hopefully help someone through their story?

Warwick F:
Because part of the American dream is clawing your way up from nothing or not much. There’s something in the American spirit that when somebody says, “Hey, I’d like to be successful. Can you help me?” there are a bunch of people that say, “Well, of course.” That’s America at its best, is helping people be successful. I’m from Australia originally. Every country has its positives and negatives.

Warwick F:
Talk a bit about how you went from being in hotels and you had this vision, this dream of shuttles and hospitality, and tie that in with goals, because goal-setting is so important. I don’t know how many people there are that have grown up the way you have that are not just humble and willing to learn, but set goals. It’s like, “Goals? My goal is to eat. What are you talking about? A roof over my head. Goals in business? Come on, what are you talking about here, Trent?” Talk about how you went from this hospitality and hotel, and you had this vision, you had this goal. How did that come about, this whole idea for shuttles and hospitality?

Trent B:
The whole idea for the shuttle and the hospitality just came about just from seeing a need. I sat on the Schenectady Hospitality Board at the time, and we would always joke about how bad the taxi service was, and we had a casino coming. I said in one of the meetings, half-jokingly but half not, “So what if I had a shuttle service? Would you guys utilize it for your hotels to bring people to the airports or the casino?” People in the room were like, “Yeah, we would, definitely, Trent. We know you. Why wouldn’t we use it?” That’s literally what sparked it for me like, “All right.”

Trent B:
I went to the drawing board and started to put it together and put my business plan together, and we built it up. We identified that there was definitely a need, and being that we had a couple of hotels that were willing to give us a shot, I said the worst that could happen is we go under and I still become a GM somewhere. Actually, the original goal was for me to continue to be the GM of the hotel and run the business at the same time, but things quickly took a turn from that. We learned how to pivot quickly in business, as well as it’s also just shown me in life how we have to be open with what’s going on right now and be willing to live with it and understand we’ve got to let go and let God in a lot of circumstances.

Warwick F:
Absolutely. Yeah, I want to talk about current circumstances here in a minute. You had this vision that the shuttles for some of these hotels weren’t that great, and you could provide a business partnering with the hotels. That was a gap in the market, right?

Trent B:
Yeah, that’s right.

Warwick F:
How did you convince the hotels to partner with you and “We can do this”? You’ve got to raise funds to get… How many shuttles do you have now?

Trent B:
Today, we’re up to 10.

Gary S:
Oh my goodness.

Warwick F:
Wow. That’s amazing. How did you go from just an idea, convince the hotels, to partner with them, get some funding? How’d that all happen?

Trent B:
I started working on the business plan. I actually went to a community-based organization to help me on my business plan, being I never did one. I got the business plan going. From the business plan, financing, only thing I really did was I bet on myself. Me and my wife, we had a conversation, and I said, “Babe, if I went to college, odds are I would have about a $50,000 tuition bill right now that would be due.” I said, “If I invest this same amount of money in myself right now, there’s a good chance that we could make more money. We’re already in the world.” Like I was saying, I was selling her on “Hey, I got the money from the job anyway. If it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work. We lose whatever investment we make with the car.”

Trent B:
So I gambled on myself, and I took a shot. This is pre-Uber, Lyft. The taxis were terrible. I went for it and got six hotels from jump to say they would use us. This was in February we went live, the same day as the new casino. Business was booming. The phone would not stop ringing. It was just pandemonium. I was excited. We were doing great. Then in June, Uber and Lyft came, and the phone stopped ringing completely. Now we’re seven months in to the business. Well, February was when we went live, so really we were four months in, but I established it in December.

Trent B:
It became a moment of “Hey, Trent, I could stay in the hotel.” The owners of the hotel didn’t want me to leave. They wanted me to stay. It became “Well, I could stay and just wrap up shop, and we had a good run. Or do I really want to see this thing out?” I decided I wanted to see it out.

Trent B:
So we transitioned to just having bigger vehicles during that time. I started focusing on getting buses, vans, things that Uber and Lyft couldn’t do in the moment. Then what I made our relationships with the hotel look like was, instead of airport shuttles all of the time, what we wanted to focus on was corporate groups, corporate outings, corporate transportation to work, as well as weddings, because a lot of wedding parties come to hotels in the summer months. That’s exactly what we did.

Trent B:
We partnered with a bunch of these hotels. We went from that six to nine hotels to today we work with over 50 hotels. It definitely took off. Now we actually do transportation for school districts, so we have some school buses. We have a party bus. We do a lot with weddings. We work with wedding venues, specifically. We partner with them. But what we’ve transitioned to as of late has been workforce transportation, helping individuals get to and from work.

Warwick F:
One of the things I think it’s really helpful for listeners to hear what Trent is saying, because there’ll be a number of listeners that have small businesses, and inevitably in any business you’ll face obstacles, but yet, I think as we said earlier, you saw the obstacle as an opportunity. It’s like, “Okay, I’m not going to let this get me down. Okay, Uber and Lyft has come. There’s always going to be changes in the market. Okay, so how do I respond?” You saw that there was a gap in the market by having bigger shuttle buses with wedding parties, corporate groups. You didn’t let that say, “Okay, game over. How do I compete against Uber and Lyft? I can’t.” You said, “Okay, let’s retool. Let’s refocus.”

Warwick F:
For any small business owner, you don’t give up. You say, “Okay, one avenue of revenue may have stopped, but let’s think of others.” You had this creative, never say die, “Okay, let’s keep at it.” If you’re a small business owner, learn from what Trent is saying. There is really valuable input. Go ahead, Gary.

Gary S:
Trent, I want to ask you about one aspect of the business that you talked to me about offline, because early on in this conversation, you mentioned that you were motivated by money. That was one of the things that led you into selling drugs, that having money when you didn’t have it was kind of a thing for you. It was a lure for you. Now you’ve got a business that’s successful, and one of the things that you’re doing, and I want you to talk about it in a second in detail, is offering rides in that transportation area to work with some folks who used to be incarcerated, like you were. I think what that speaks to is you are living now a life of significance. You’ve discovered significance.

Gary S:
I think if I ask you this question, I know what your answer is going to be, but I’m going to ask it anyway so the listener can hear it. You’ve chased money. You’ve chased significance. What’s more important to you? What’s more meaningful in the long run?

Trent B:
Definitely, significance. Definitely. Hands down. Even to this day, I have a successful company. I was still more liquid when I was doing things in the street than I am to this day, but I definitely wasn’t living the life that I’m living to this day. I didn’t have this beautiful home. I own multiple homes now. I had to learn finance, too, to be honest with yourself and learn the importance of credit and all sorts of things like that.

Trent B:
At this point, I look at money as almost… It’s a necessity for life, but like I was telling my brother the other day, the main thing money gives you is just options, I think, and allows you to take advantage of opportunities. We were speaking more so to… I was just telling him we booked a couple of vacations for the family for next year and the year out, three trips, and I told him how great of a deal it was. But as I explained to him, I said, “That’s the only difference. Money allows you to take advantage of opportunity.”

Trent B:
For me, that doesn’t move me anymore. I’m more so moved on legacy and being able to… I want my name to mean something when I’m gone. I want my children, every time they look at me, I want them to think of me as a superhero almost, and that doesn’t come from money. That comes from teaching them the intangibles, anything is possible, and instilling in them the things that I’ve learned over the years, and so that way, they don’t have to take the same paths, but they could get a little cheat in life and have a better start.

Trent B:
Definitely, money is going to be made. They print new money every day. Deals are made every day. I think it’s to be expected, if you want to go make some money, you can go out there and make it. I don’t think money is the end-all, be-all like I once did.

Warwick F:
I think we’re about to touch on it, but when you talk about significance and legacy, and I want to hear some more detail, you’ve used your whole shuttle bus service, in a way, to give back to those who’ve had some challenges like yourself. Just talk a bit more about how you’ve used that to help others.

Trent B:
What I identified when I was working in the temp agencies was a lot of individuals on parole, the biggest issue we faced was we had to take public transportation. So I joined some boards to gain some knowledge, and one of the local boards I sit on is the capital region’s transportation committee. Basically, on that board, we discuss the public transportation in the capital region of New York State. They’ve been able to help me to identify that those who rely on the bus, 20 minutes on a bus in comparison to 20 minutes in your car where we live is night or day. In a bus 20 minutes, they’re still in the same typical area, but in a car, you can actually drive yourself to an area where you could have a job making $20 or better an hour.

Trent B:
What I started to do was realize there’s industries that are in these areas, and I would imagine they need bodies. One of the biggest problems is there was no transportation that could connect the bodies to these industries. What I’ve done is I’ve gone into a lot of these, what are they, distribution centers and I’ve been able to try to educate them on the benefits of hiring ex-offenders, A, the tax breaks that they get, but then on top of it, helping them to understand that if you give an individual a chance, that’s all they’re really looking for. These guys and young ladies will work their tails off because all they wanted was this opportunity to have a livable wage, and now they have it.

Trent B:
So we started to actually transport people to and from these locations, and it’s been highly successful. I have a lot of companies reaching out to see how they can get involved, if I can work with their company. I work with the Department of Labor to help expand what they’re able to do. It’s just been really, really great. We did a job fair right before the corona thing took off, and we were able to help 30 individuals who just came home from prison get jobs making $20 an hour.

Gary S:
That’s fantastic.

Trent B:
That’s what I said. I felt good. Then another thing we started to do was, last Mother’s Day, we did a free shuttle to the women’s prison, because I just had the idea of how important visits were for me, and I was blessed to get a visit literally every weekend. So we did a free shuttle for individuals who might want to go and visit an incarcerated mother in prison. It was highly successful.

Trent B:
But then with that, I started to look into what options there was for prison transportation, because I was like, “That speaks directly to me.” I started to do a lot more research and I started to find out recidivism rates drop by visits, and how most offenders end up over 100 miles from where the crime took place. Most of these individuals come from poverty, meaning to get 100 miles is tough for a lot of people if you could barely pay your bills. So I started to put these things together, and I put a service in place in upstate New York where we’ve been able to help individuals go from 20 hours’ commute time in the state of New York, plus over $200 a trip, to we’ve made the price points affordable. $50, $60, $70, $80 is the most we charge for a person to go visit a loved one in prison. Then, once a month, we actually do a free prison shuttle service for the community, where we identify just one specific prison and anyone could go for free. We’ve been doing that since the beginning of this year, and that’s been really, really great just to help individuals.

Trent B:
Now we’re starting to get a little steam behind it, so we’re getting organizations that want to actually help educate the families on what resources are out here. I’m starting to get more businesses in line, also, to the places that we actually work with and partner with, so we can start to educate people, “Hey, not only can we’ll get you to the prison for free, but the big thing is there’s resources out here to help your loved ones and help you. We also can help if you guys need an actual job or if they need employment when they come home, which they will.” It’s come, definitely, a 180. A lot of the problems that I lived through, I’m blessed to now be able to help others get through those same situations a little easier.

Warwick F:
That’s what I was saying. I want to talk a little about legacy in a second, because I know our time is coming to a close. You’ve got former inmates. You’ve got loved ones of inmates. Talk about the feedback you get from them. You’re making a life-changing difference. What feedback do you get from these former inmates and family members of what you’re doing for their lives?

Trent B:
Man, that’s some of the best stuff. Honestly, I don’t feel anything but love from anyone, let it be people who read about me in the newspaper to people’s lives that we touch like that. It seems like wherever I go, it’s just people are just showing me so much love and appreciation for what I’m doing. I hear it all the time, like, “Hey, I wouldn’t have been able to go see my mother” or “Hey, we got these guys who they’re just really thankful to have this new source of income.”

Trent B:
What I’ve been doing, too, on top of that is I’ve used my platform to now go to local banks, and I have them partner with us. The goal is to try to help these individuals who take the shuttle service, within eight months, also educate them on how to have a budget, live off a budget, save their money so they can buy a car, so then they can expand their options from there. I don’t want them to become reliant on anything we’re doing. The goal is to continually just help and just push us forward.

Trent B:
Yeah, so legacy, I feel it when I go outside. People are just so passionate about giving me thanks, and I love it.

Warwick F:
As I think about legacy, summarizing this, you grew up in a very tough upbringing, neighborhood, father dying young, mother, addiction issues, prison, but the legacy you’re leaving for your kids, for those you come in touch with, former inmates, family members, the community, it’s a very different legacy. It’s a legacy of pulling yourself up, making different choices, loving your kids, your wife, caring for those in need. You’re somebody that your kids, I’m sure, are very proud of-

Trent B:
I hope so.

Warwick F:
… that they can say, “You know what, this is who my dad is.” It’s remarkable. It’s a miracle. I’m sure they say to their friends, I don’t know if your daughters say it to you, but “You know what, in some sense, I’d like to be kind of like my dad, because he is a role model.” I’m sure there are other people that know you who say, “You know what, Trent, I want to be somebody like that, that sets goals, yes, provides a comfortable life for their family and vacations, but gives back, helps the community. Trent is somebody. Now, that’s a role model. That’s somebody that you want to be like.”

Warwick F:
If that’s your legacy, which I feel like maybe it is, when all is said and done, that’s not a bad legacy, right? To give to people? Isn’t that a legacy that you can be proud of, and you think hopefully your kids can be proud of?

Trent B:
Yeah, 100%. That’s just to show you how you can easily go 180. I was the kid that would do anything for money, but like you said, now it’s more so “How do you help? How do you give back?” That’s why our call was delayed. Right now, we’re actually delivering groceries for families that just are in need. Me and my daughter, we were out at my office just doing some work in there cleaning up and got the call, so I just shot over and brought a family some groceries. That’s literally the legacy. How can we help? How can we be of service? My thing is, the more lives you touch, the more you could be of service to others, I just know good things are going to come, and that’s all a part of legacy.

Warwick F:
I should ask real quick… Sorry, Gary. I’d be remiss of saying, how are you handling the whole coronavirus with your business? Is that impacting you a lot? That’s a huge obstacle that’s affecting the whole planet.

Trent B:
Definitely. We’ve lost a lot of revenue, conferences, weddings. We do daily services with Amtrak that we had to stop doing. We lost a lot of business. I did have to make some tough decisions and lay some off. I’ve been able to keep some individuals on. Even the individuals we keep on, it’s more so just for the giving at this point. But at the same time, I believe in my heart that from doing good, you get good. If we keep doing good things, I think these will create new relationships, which in the future will create new opportunities. So let’s just continue to help out at this time and do whatever we can for the community, and the community will take care of us.

Gary S:
Well, this is, as I say on every episode… I’m going to say it differently this time, though. This is the time that we normally say, “It’s time to land the plane.” But given what we’re talking about, let’s put on the parking brake instead of land the plane, and let’s wrap up our discussion on that point.

Gary S:
A couple things. One, Trent, you are a very humble man. You’ve talked about that here. I’m a PR guy, so I don’t have to be humble about you, and I can point out to our listeners that you were recently named one of the top 40 business people in Schenectady under 40, so congratulations for that well-deserved recognition.

Trent B:
Thank you very much.

Gary S:
I also want to encourage listeners, we have a YouTube channel. Crucible Leadership has a YouTube channel. If you’ve listened to this on a podcast app, I encourage you to watch it and listen to it on YouTube if you can do that again. Here’s why. I want you to see Trent’s face, as we can do as we’re recording this, when he talks about significance, when he talks about legacy, when he talks about the reactions he gets from the people he helps. The smile on his face lights up this room, lights up this screen. This is a man who not only loves what he does, but he loves the folks that he’s touching. That is something I think, for all of us who’ve been through crucible experiences, to see that can help us have the courage, have the ability to take the next step forward.

Gary S:
There’s a few things, I think, as we do close here, I want to leave listeners with. The first one is this idea that money is great, money is fine, money does make the world go around to some extent, everybody needs it, but where those smiles showed up most on Trent’s face was when he was talking about significance. The idea that a man who was so focused on money and flash, his own word, is now so focused on helping others is a beautiful thing. That’s available to all of us. Please process that and live that, listener.

Gary S:
Second thing that Trent said in every communication I’ve had with him, he has said this. He said it several times here. One key to overcoming your crucible experiences and getting on a path to a life of significance is simply don’t ever give up. Know that there’s something out there. Regardless of what circumstance you’re in right now, find something, grab something out there that you want more. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as prison, and you want to live a “normal” and fulfilling life out of it. It can be something far, far less dire and far more simple. Whatever your crucible is, find that thing that gives you hope and grab it and go for it. That’s the second point.

Gary S:
The third point, I think, is interesting here. In real estate, they tell you the first rule of real estate is… There’s three rules of real estate, location, location, location. One of the things that Trent has said throughout this conversation is that there are three elements to overcoming your crucible experience and bouncing back, and that is learn, learn, learn. He dedicated himself to learning, whether it was a formal education program while in prison, whether it was running from scrubbing toilets to going and talking to the front desk clerk in that hotel, to coming home and his wife teaching him and they’re talking about things about business. He learned every step of the way. You can learn yourself through a crucible. That is a crucial thing to hang on to for everybody.

Gary S:
Then the last thing, as you’re doing that, as you are learning, set goals. As you’re learning, set the goals of what your learning is going to bring you to. Trent did that. Trent is living out those goals. Even though things right now in the time that we’re having this conversation have created some other crucibles, he’s pushing through that with confidence, with hope, and I just looked at him on the screen, if you’re watching it on YouTube, and a smile. That’s the kind of thing that we need.

Gary S:
All of you, thank you for joining us on this episode, this truly special episode of Beyond the Crucible. Thank you, Trent, for being here with us.

Gary S:
I encourage you, listener, if you want to help us out, if you want to do a favor for us, so that stories like Trent’s can get told and more people can get inspired by them, on the app that you’re listening to this right now, click subscribe. Share this link with other people, so that the kind of hope that’s being offered here to help people get beyond their crucibles can be put into the earbuds, if you will, of more and more people. You can do that by visiting us at crucibleleadership.com. You can find out more information. But you can simply click subscribe on the app that you’re listening to right now.

Gary S:
If you want to know more about us, as I said, you can visit crucibleleadership.com. Warwick has a blog. We have some other resources there that can be helpful to you.

Gary S:
Until the next time that we’re all together here on Beyond the Crucible, we encourage you to remember what Trent’s life has proven, that those times of crucibles can feel like the worst times in your life, they can knock you off your feet, they can knock you down, you can feel like you don’t want to get up, but if you get up and if you dedicate yourself to learning the lessons of your crucible, those crucible moments can be far, far more than the end of your story. They can be the start of a new chapter in a new story that will lead you to exactly where Trent just told us for the last hour he has gotten to, a life of significance, and that’s a beautiful thing. Thanks for being here.

Leave a Comment