Monday, January 31, 2022

Least of All Saints: A trucker’s road to redemption

Twenty years ago, Jason Webber was addicted to meth and living under a bridge until a job in the trucking industry helped him get sober, change his ways, and set him on a career path he never imagined possible.

By Ford Boswell

Driving a truck helped save Jason Webber’s life. The Alabama Trucking Association’s 2020 Truck Driver of the Year Runner-up has over­come setbacks that would bury most. Looking back over his 20-year career, he believes his job as a commercial truck driver is among the things that kept him going when it would have been easier to just give up.

Jason Webber’s road to recovery started with a job driving a truck.

He credits his family, faith, and experiences for also playing significant roles in his trans­formation, making him a stronger, more grateful man. Through everything, he believed in him­self, worked hard doing the little things it takes to be successful, and now he’s considered among the trucking industry’s elite.

Strength From Struggles

Webber is a throwback to when truck drivers didn’t worry about a public image. Back in the industry’s pre-regulation Golden Era, truckers were regarded as Knights of the Highway for always seem­ing to show up at the right place and time to help a motorist in need. Those who know Mr. Webber, a driver for LB3, Inc. in Wedowee, Ala., say his professionalism and commitment to doing what’s best for his employer and the customers he serves are what set him above the crowd.

His rise as an industry leader has been years in the making, but it wasn’t easy for the 42-year-old. A difficult childhood, personal issues, and plenty of bad luck held him back for years. At 19, he was a high school dropout married with two children and working low-wage jobs to support his family. By his early twenties, he had settled into trucking but, not long after he got his start, his marriage fell apart, and he sub­sequently turned to drugs and alcohol. For several years, he battled addiction, and at his lowest point was living under an overpass so he could afford to pay child support and still buy drugs.

He makes no excuses for his past struggles. He embraces them now, saying they are an important part of his story. He adds that another key element of his development as a person was a rocky relationship with his late father, Jan, a troubled man who did the best he could but was oftentimes difficult to be around.

“My father had paranoid schizophrenia and struggled all his life with mental illness and a learning disability,” Webber says. “But he always worked hard, and I admired him for that. He couldn’t read or write and struggled socially, but he was great with numbers and became a master carpenter who built homes from the ground up.”

His father was strict and expected a lot from Jason. Sometimes the relationship was abusive. “Daddy didn’t tolerate being lied to, and one time he got after me with a belt for lying to him,” he recalls. “Momma tried to move us out of the house, but I wouldn’t leave. I told her that I deserved what I got and I wanted to stay.”

Webber says it sometimes felt like he couldn’t measure up to his father’s expectations, but realizes now that it was just his dad’s way of showing love and pushing him for what he thought he lacked in himself. “Looking back on it, I now understand where he was coming from,” he says. “All he wanted was for me to be my best. Truth is, my dad was my hero, and all I ever wanted was to make him proud of me. I think me wanting to live up to his expectations is part of what still drives me today.”

Becoming A Trucker

Webber worked several jobs after high school, including gigs as a cashier at a gas station, a service tech at an oil change shop, and a forklift operator at a truss manufacturing facility where he worked his way up to plant supervisor by the time he was 21. He says the position was too demanding for the pay and offered no further advancement opportunity.

Loading trucks at the plant, he got to know a few truck drivers who encouraged him to give trucking a try, so he enrolled with a local CDL program. After completing the program, he signed on with Werner Enterprises because of the fleet’s comprehensive entry-level training and sign-on bonuses.

During his initial eight-week training, his then-wife, who he had been supporting while she attended college, told him she was leaving him for his best friend. “I had no idea that she was going to do that,” he says. “She told me she wanted a divorce while I was on a payphone in Colorado. I hadn’t been driving a truck all that long, but it had already cost me my marriage. I went home to sort out our affairs, and tried to start over.”

The breakup of his marriage began a downward spiral, and he soon turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the disap­pointment. At his lowest point, he contemplated suicide and decided to go on one final drug binge. He estimates he used several thousand dollars in methampheta­mine that weekend.

“At the end of it, I had been up for days and was completely out of my mind,” he says. “I tried to go into a house I hadn’t lived in for years. A relative of my ex-wife was living there at the time, and fortunately, he didn’t shoot me or anything. Instead, he called a friend to come and get me, who talked to me for hours trying to convince me that I needed help.

“When I calmed down and started listening, he said something that changed everything for me. He told me that if I were to die that day he’d have to tell my kids that I loved my drugs more than I loved them. It was that moment when I learned the respect for brutal honesty and it made me put down the drugs cold turkey. It was the start of my sobriety.”

He remained sober, kept working to straighten out his life, and returned to trucking for a career that has since offered him redemption, self-esteem, and quality of life he never dreamed possible. Now, nearly 20 years later, he has safely logged 2.8 million miles and serves as a senior driver for the fleet, training its new hires and mentoring younger drivers.

“Jason means so much to our opera­tion,” says LB3 Director of Operations Valerie Lindley. “We have been blessed with him for three years, and we appre­ciate his hard work and faithfulness to our LB3 Family.”

Top drivers: LB3, Inc. commercial drivers Nathan Heflin (left) and Jason Webber finished one and two for the 2020 Alabama Driver of the Year Award.

Alabama Trucking Association Vice President of Safety and Compliance Tim Fraizer notes that this year, two LB3 drivers placed in the top spots for ATA’s Driver of the Year Award with the top spot going to Nathan Heflin.

“Our judges had a difficult task in selecting our winner and runner-up,” Frazier says. “Mr. Webber’s career speaks volumes about his dedication to highway safety and his passion for the work. On top of that, he has a great story and a long history of serving his employer, his custo­mers, and his community. He personifies the true professional driver.”

Through it all, Webber is proud to say he kept pushing to improve himself. He made his peace with his past, built a career, married the love of his life, Isa­bella, and successfully raised his adult son, Alex, who works for a subsidiary of Alabama Power and training to earn his CDL. He says he’s happier than he has ever been.

He adds that he recently turned his life over to the Lord. When he started going to church a couple of years ago, he says it was more for Isabella than himself. “She told me she wanted to start going to church, and I told her I would, but was only doing it to sup­port her,” he says.

One Sunday a Bible verse struck him. It was Ephesians 3:8, which states:

“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

“That verse spoke to me because af­ter all the things I had done, and all I had been through, it’s a comfort know­ing the Lord loves and accepts me no matter what,” Webber says. “I am so grateful for that. I now know how I got to where I am today. I am blessed.”

Of course, age and wisdom played a part in his transformation, too, and he credits the help and guidance from Isa­bella and a lot of great family, friends, and co-workers. But he’s most thankful for the career that’s given him steady work, the ability to take care of his fam­ily, and the self-esteem to push through the toughest of days.