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Jack Bivans Unshackled

For decades Jack Bivans has been one of the radio voices on Unshackled!, the radio theater produced by Chicago's Pacific Garden Mission for over 50 years. Chuck Green tells the story of Jack's own redemption:

Bivans worked a variety of jobs in broadcasting, usually in commercial time sales. He continued to perform Unshackled! every weekend. Although he'd always considered himself a Christian, Bivans was not particularly religious in his youth, and for years he regarded Unshackled! as just another acting job. But in his personal life Bivans was as troubled as some of the characters he portrayed on the radio. He first married in 1948, but the union was unhappy and ended in bitter divorce ten years later. The second of Bivans's three sons, Scott, was diagnosed with polio in 1953, just months before the discovery of the Salk vaccine was announced. Bivans acquired a taste for alcohol in the service; by 1950 he was drinking heavily and steadily. Although he dismisses the suggestion that his war-time experiences had anything to do with his drinking, he volunteers that another member of his flight crew suffered a crisis of conscience that led to a serious breakdown and eventual institutionalization.
In 1975 Bivans hit bottom. He had remarried in 1962, but his drinking was contributing to the destruction of that relationship. "My family life began a downward spiral and my emotional world started crumbling around me," he says. Then Bivans's life imitated his art for the second time. "The lives of the people whose true stories I had portrayed on Unshackled! began to hit home," he says. "One day, following a taping, I was driving home alone and felt the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit within me. I changed. I was drinking, and sometimes too much, and so I gave it up." It took another five years for Bivans to put the bottle down for good, and he says he never would have made it had he not been born again. Since then, Bivans has weathered a number of crises—a second divorce, the loss of his son Scott to pancreatic cancer—without resorting to drinking.

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