Wolverine Spotlight: Spencer Layman

Spencer Layman SpotlightWhen Spencer Layman first started down the path of addiction, life was all about survival. He dropped out of school at 12 years old, left home with his two older brothers, who within six months were serving long prison terms. 
 
He was on the streets to fend for himself. 
 
“[Drugs] was a way for me to put money in my pocket, have clean clothes, and eat every day, it was the way of supporting myself,” he said. 
 
From age 15, Layman recycled through county jails and prisons for ten years. He tried restarting his life, hitting roadblocks at every turn because of his formerly incarcerated status. Eventually, he checked himself into rehabilitation, and started attending San Bernardino Valley College. 
  
Getting back to the real world was also painstaking, at least at first. He remembers nearing the bus stop on his first day of class as one of his worst days. His hands were shaking, he was dripping with sweat. He was going to a place where all the other students were doing big things. They had goals. 
 
“I felt like an outcast. It was nerve-wracking,” he said. “People think it's funny. They're like, were you scared to go to prison? No, because I was so institutionalized. It was normal for me."  
 
Hood pulled deep over his head, he took his seat at the back of the class. He thought everyone knew his past, and privately told his teacher that he was extremely anxious because hadn't been in school since he was 12 years old.  She assured him everything was fine. “She was like, 'Don't worry about it, if you wouldn't have said you just got out of prison, I wouldn't have known," said Layman, who graduated from San Bernardino Valley College last year. "I thought I had it written across my forehead, but that was just my perception."
  
Human Services Department Faculty Chair Melinda Moneymaker helped him get past the fear. Today, Layman is a substance abuse counselor, helping other formerly incarcerated students surmount similar obstacles and insecurities to re-entry. 
 
Some of the impetus to get on the right track was his need to make amends to all those he had hurt along the way. “What better way than helping other addicts? That's what made me want to become a drug and alcohol counselor and go back to school,” he said.
  
He said Prof. Moneymaker connected him to the Human Services Club. From there, he served a stint as president of grassroot advocates All of Us or None, then became a student senator that led to crafting his successful resolution to start a formerly incarcerated community center.
  
One personal mandate is to never forget where he has come from. He works with Project Rebound, which sends the formerly incarcerated his way so he can help them meet the criteria for that program. He is concerned that many formerly incarcerated don't realize they qualify for financial aid. He sits down with them, helps them navigate registration, picks classes, and figure out their goals in life.
  
As Layman moves up the career ladder, he is juggling several projects, and making good use of time management skills. He is buying his first home, preparing to open and manage a new residential treatment house through his current employment. He attributes everything to lessons learned from San Bernardino Valley College.
  
“With all the classes here, my documentation and my interaction with the clients rose me through the ranks,” he said. “They offered positions that I've never even dreamed of.”