From Felon to Business Owner, Terran Tillman Has Come a Long Way by Doing Things the Right Way
When Terran Tillman went through Construction Ready in April 2016, the timing was perfect – graduates from that class at Westside Works were given the opportunity to earn a CDL through an Atlanta-area driving school and begin a career as a driver in the construction industry.
Terran took advantage of that offer and ended up as a ready-mix concrete driver for Argos USA. Terran’s original story is presented at the bottom of this page, and recently CEFGA sat down with the Smyrna resident to hear about his latest venture – Dump Dumpers, a dump truck business he launched in 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, no less.
Here’s what he had to say:
How did you reach the point of starting your own business?
At Argos, they gave me a skill, and I learned I had a little bit of a passion for driving and trucks, and I decided to start my own company. The transition was perfect. I realized, working in the trucking industry, during a pandemic, one of the worst times in American history, what didn’t fail? Trucks – they continued working, they never missed a beat. I was like, ‘Hmm.’ A cousin of mine kept saying, ‘Get you a dump truck,’ and the pieces finally came together, and it worked.
I cashed my 401K out, bought a dump truck and started my company – the scariest thing I’ve been through in my life. Been to prison, been in gunfights, been in all kinds of situations, but the scariest thing is … stepping out on my own and starting a company. Because you never know. You don’t know where it’s going to go – up or down, and it was in the middle of a pandemic. I took a chance, I took a leap of faith, and I’m alright. I’m doing good.
Besides starting your own business, you’ve been able to buy a home, you own another home as a rental property, and you have a car and a motorcycle. How satisfying is it to accomplish these kinds of things?
You don’t have to sell drugs, you don’t have to be a criminal; you can actually do it right with good credit and paying your bills. That’s not to brag, but I’m proud of myself. And I want more, and I’m going to continue to want more – I’m just that type of person.
What kind of work are you doing with your trucking company and what do you enjoy about it?
I go wherever [customers] pay, but it’s usually within 50 miles. When I got my truck, the company I worked before for gave me a contract. They knew my work ethic was A-1. I get a lot of work from people I met along the way when I was with Argos. I never burn bridges. If I met you out in the construction field, I know one day I might need you – not for a handout, but a hand up. It was a good transition, coming from [Construction Ready] to Argos to my company, Dump Dumpers now, it was just smooth.
The money is amazing. I’m in my own office all day. With Bluetooth, I talk on the phone. The hardest thing is [maintaining] the truck, because they break, but once you get up and running and get your money put up for the hard times, it’s no problem.
You had a goal of owning your own company. How does it feel to have accomplished that?
It was the best feeling. I felt like King Kong. But once you settle down, you realize it’s still work. There’s mornings I wake up and don’t want to go, but I’m going to go and push a little harder, because it’s my company – whether I make it or fail, it’s all on me.
How did Construction Ready help change your life, and how did it feel to discover you had a passion for truck driving?
[Construction Ready] was everything. You’re giving a felon, straight out of prison, an opportunity to be somebody when the world is telling you that a felon is nobody? That was like, ‘Wow. Why are they doing this?’ Do I care why? No, but thank you – thank you for the chance. It’s like too good to be true – these people are actually going to give me a chance at a job just for going through this program? … And they did. It’s the best thing.
How do you know what you want to do? How do know your passion? What do you know you’re great at? Some people can figure it out, but for me, I never was really interested in anything. But this, it’s me – and it’s going to be me. I met friends … I networked. That’s the key. You meet people here, there, and you might find what you’re into. And I found my niche.
Interested in learning how Construction Ready can change your career and life? Learn more about CEFGA’s NCCER-accredited, four-week training and certification program at constructionready.org.
Truck Driver Terran Tillman is a Changed Man, Inside and Out
When Terran Tillman interviewed for a driver position with Argos USA, he knew he was bringing some baggage with him.
Years of trouble on the streets had come to a head in 2010 when a drug charge landed him a lengthy prison sentence. He was paroled after serving less than five years and had started to get his life back together by going through Westside Works’ Driver Ready program and earning a Class B CDL license from Daly’s Truck Driving School in Buford.
Then came his meeting with Winette Sharpe, Atlanta Employment Center Manager for Argos, a multinational company that produces cement and ready mix concrete.
“I was nervous, and I just broke down,” Terran recalls. “I said, ‘Look, this is what it is. I’ve done wrong, I’ve made mistakes.’ I just told her the real, uncut story. It was basically like, ‘I am what I am. Talk is cheap; I’d rather just show you.’ And she gave me a chance.”
With a character transformation already in process, Terran also underwent a dramatic physical change, losing 80 pounds over a four-month period. “I was 330 pounds when I took the physical,” he says. “I started counting calories and doing a lot of cardio.”
The weight loss helped him fit in the cab of his Argos concrete truck. The honesty and work ethic helped him fit in as a dependable company employee.
“He’s taken ownership of his truck and his job,” says Plant Manager Daniel Jernigan. “ He keeps everything in good working order and he’s gotten familiar with the area. He’s come along very well, considering he had no experience driving a ready mix truck.”
Born in New Orleans, Terran spent time growing up in Atlanta, where his mother moved to attend college; and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where his grandmother lived.
“I sold drugs and drove my grandmother crazy,” he says. “I had an ego; I thought I was all that.”
The hard living caught up with him while driving through Alabama en route to see a Mississippi woman he had fallen for. He was stopped and caught with seven pounds of marijuana. The ensuing prison sentence marked what he calls “the worst time of my life, and the best thing that happened to me.”
He says he found a relationship with God and started to mature. He wrote a letter to the parole board, admitting his mistakes and asking for leniency. His sentence was first cut in half, then waived altogether. “I prayed and prayed, and God brought me out,” he says.
After being released in December 2014, he moved in with his mother in Atlanta and “slept on the floor for about a year.” He had failed to find steady work when a friend told him about Westside Works. “I said, ‘OK, let me give it a shot.’”
Now, he cheerfully points out, “I’m not on the floor anymore. I have my own apartment, and I’m hoping to buy a house next year.”
And that’s not Terran’s only dream. With a new career and renewed ambition, he says, “I plan on owning a business one day. I’m seeing how the industry works, seeing the bigger picture. There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t wanted to go to work. When I come home and look around at what I have, where I came from and what I’ve been through, I appreciate it so much.
“Everything is good,” he adds with a satisfied smile. “Everything is new. It’s a new beginning.”