On hope, second chances, and keys: Cleveland’s story

There are some people you don’t forget. For us, his name is Cleveland.  

Cleveland Finch carries himself with certainty. With honesty. He’s transparent when he tells us about the 11 times he’s been to prison. His voice shakes when he talks of the 27 years he’ll never get back. 

He doesn’t hold back when he shares about the assault he faced as a teenager, or the crimes he’s committed since. 

While we listen to Cleveland, it doesn’t feel like an interview. It feels like something bigger. 

We met Cleveland through StepUp Greensboro, a local nonprofit that provides free job readiness training, mentoring, and support services to those who need it in the Triad area. Cleveland had gone through the program once before. He’s clear when he says that he hadn’t listened to what they said. 

This time, he tells us, was different. This time was a second chance. 

Now, he’s 19 months strong working at the ministry that once housed him. He reminds us that his work there isn’t just a job. That being a janitor isn’t something to be scoffed at. 

It’s a sign of trust. It’s a reminder that the world has faith in him. 

A feeling that, up until now, Cleveland hadn’t ever known. 

“I wanted to show my mom that I could do it,” he tells us.

Now, we see Cleveland carrying his house keys. His keys to the office. His car keys. He holds them like something precious. 

To some people, keys are a burden. The forgotten thing on the kitchen counter. A relic of times past, before thumbprint ID and face scans. 

To Cleveland, a set of keys is a promise, a beacon of light. A set of keys is hope. 

Our work with organizations like StepUp is a message to Cleveland. To his mother. To any person or organization doing the work to contribute to a brighter future. A message that says that we believe in you. That we believe in the voices that bring us hope. That we will do whatever we can to make sure that  voice is heard — because authentic storytelling matters. Because your story matters.


UPDATE Dec. 19, 2022

We like to stay in touch with Cleveland. We’re always excited to hear how things are going for him — how work is treating him, how he’s continuing to settle into his second chance. He told us he’d been sharing our video and blog post. He also mentioned that the car he had been gifted by Wheels of Hope had broken down. He was, once again, without transportation. Wheels of Hope was in the process of securing a new car for him. 

But as the video had been shared and spread, it had made its way in front of the wonderful leaders of Mount Zion Baptist Church of Greensboro. When Bishop Bryan J. Pierce, Sr. and First Lady Debra A. Pierce heard of what had happened with Cleveland’s car, they offered him another option: his dream car. 

Going into 2023, Cleveland will be equipped with a 2020 Nissan Maxima, a year’s worth of car insurance paid in full, a gas card, an extended two-year warranty on the car, and the entirety of his rent for the year paid by Mount Zion Baptist Church. 

To Mount Zion Baptist Church: thank you for seeing Cleveland. Thank you for listening to his story. To Cleveland: we still see you. We still hear you. And we still believe in you. 

You can see Cleveland receiving these generous gifts here.

Abigail Leow is a copywriting intern at Tigermoth Creative. In her freetime she is a poet, visual artist, and lover-of-all-things-spooky. Her dream is to one day overcome her fear of the office mannequin (and be a published poet and fiction writer).