Meryl Miller, the institutional activities coordinator at Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, loves his job but knows it's ultimately not about him.
Miller helps offenders preparing to be released make sure they have all the documentation they'll need for life after prison — a birth certificate, Social Security card, non-driver identification card — but he also works with community and state partners to educate the men he assists about available resources and to introduce them to employment opportunities.
One such program he helped bring to Algoa — the Urban League of St. Louis' Save Our Sons program — was featured in the News Tribune last year.
Miller was featured in last month's Department of Corrections staff newsletter, having been named DOC's March 2020 employee of the month.
DOC noted: "Fully embracing the department's mission of improving lives for safer communities, Miller builds relationships with employers, arranges job interviews for offenders nearing release, and then prepares candidates for both the interview and the transition to post-incarceration employment. He has even brought hiring managers to Algoa to meet with prospective employees. This year, Miller has aided people leaving prison to start new careers with employers such as Delong's manufacturing and Saint Louis University."
Miller said, "We have probably one of the most overlooked workforces in society right now."
Once offenders are released, he said, 95 percent of them not only want to work, but are ready to.
"At the end of the day, they're men, and they just want to support themselves and do good things, the vast majority of them," he said.
It gives him some pride to hear from former offenders who have picked themselves up from the environment of prison and the environment they were in before getting there. He does get calls from former offenders who thank him and tell him what they've accomplished after being released.
Finding a job and a place to live — and, in turn, being able to afford food — can be challenges for recently released offenders and their families. Then there's rectifying "a lot of collateral damage that happens when a man or woman comes to prison," Miller said.
That all entails needing to have knowledge about food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, as well as skills for stress, coping and employment.
"They're going to be your neighbor, my neighbor, everyone else's neighbor," Miller said. "The reward for me is knowing these guys are prepared."
Originally from Iowa, he said his almost 20-year career in corrections began when he was preparing to go into law enforcement, but a friend who works for Iowa's corrections department told him to look into a job there for better pay and variety of opportunities.
The work grew on Miller — particularly through getting to know the people he worked with — and he has worked for DOC since he and his wife moved to Missouri in 2011.
He has been in his role at Algoa for about two and a half years.
Miller and his wife's son and daughter are both grown; their son stayed in Iowa, and their daughter also lives in Missouri.
Beyond spending time with his wife and their dogs, Miller said, he likes to be outside. He got into mountain climbing a few years ago;, and while there aren't many great mountains for climbing in these parts, there are some interesting rock formations around to keep him warmed up for when he travels.