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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Our latest “South Florida Survivor” proves it’s not how you start, but how you finish.

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Alexander Lian admits he was a bad student growing up, failing a variety of subjects and getting into trouble before ending up in a youth shelter.

But now, he’s giving back to the same organization that helped him when he needed a “bridge” to his future.

Lian is an accomplished attorney.

“This is a second career,” he said. “My first career I was a history professor.”

But his personal history may surprise you.

While he has dedicated his adult life to upholding the law, Lian says as a teen growing up in Miami, he had his share of run-ins with law-enforcement.

“Getting involved in group related activities I shouldn’t have gotten involved in. Getting involved in taking things that weren’t mine. Those kinds of things. It was a difficult time,” Lian told CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana. “I ran away so much the cops got to know me in that area. After the umpteenth time that they brought me home at 3 in the morning my mom just said I don’t know what to do.”

That’s when he ended up at the Miami Bridge, Miami-Dade’s only 24-hour shelter for troubled, abused, neglected, or abandoned kids ages 10 to 17.

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“It was a very difficult time and the Bridge was very important because it provided a safe space from a home life that had become a vicious cycle and a time out from the influences that I was subject to where I was growing up,” Lian said.

He was there for 42 days in 1979, then moved to a group home for a year, before eventually graduating high school, then college and law school!

Now, more than 30 years later, Lian is the Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Miami Bridge and is committed to showing kids there that they too can turn their lives around.

“It’s fair to say, a pretty good success story, right?” Pastrana asked.

“Well you know, the story’s not over yet,” Lian replied.

His is a story of success and survival.

“Even to say I’m a survivor, I don’t want to take too much credit as a survivor because I recognize, as Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers, ‘We all owe something to somebody else’,” Lian said. “I think it’s the recognition that you can change your circumstances. You don’t have to accept things exactly the way they are.”

Lian says he owes not just the Miami Bridge, but also the state of Florida and the community that keeps the program running, a debt of gratitude.

Roughly 1,000 “Bridge Kids” as they’re affectionately known, pass through one of the two shelter campuses each year.

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For more information about the Miami Bridge, visit