South Piedmont Community College trains correctional, probation, and juvenile justice officers throughout the state and provides educational programs designed to prepare students for productive lives after they’re released from prison.
The man behind it all is Jason Miller.
Miller, the College’s director of correctional education, is an Anson County native. He played football at Anson High School, but he went to North Carolina State University on a rodeo scholarship. There, he earned his associate degree in Animal Science and Livestock Management. He went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s in Postsecondary Education from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
Growing up, Miller always envisioned himself serving in the military, but as an adult, he was drawn to public service.
“I wanted to be able to answer the question: How did you serve your community?” Miller said.
Miller began his career as a corrections officer before transitioning to correctional education in 2007. In addition to his work in correctional education, he teaches in the College’s Emergency Medical Services and Firefighter Training programs. He is also a senior captain and medical responder director for Lilesville Fire Rescue.
As director of correctional education, he oversees Basic Correctional Officer Training, In-Service Correctional Officer Training, Probation and Parole Training, Juvenile Justice Training, and justice-involved education programs at Anson Correctional Institution, as well as specialty training at four additional prisons.
His career is full of success stories — and lessons learned both in the rodeo arena and on the cell block.
Q: What inspires you to work with the prison population?
A: We’ve had a number of individuals who’ve come through our correctional education programs and gone on to be productive members of society. I can recall a man who was released from prison and went on to own several restaurants and now runs a cooking school for former offenders. There was another man who opened a gym with his dad in South Carolina. Another guy got a job working in construction after he was released, but he was also a computer whiz, so he started his own IT business on the side. We do have those who re-offend, but we have plenty of success stories too.
Q: What programs are offered in the prisons?
A: For women, we currently have Sewing, Commercial Cleaning, High School Equivalency, and Human Resource Development, and for the men, we have Electrical Wiring, Plumbing, Maintenance Mechanics, High School Equivalency, and Human Resource Development. We teach skills that can be utilized in the prison but that will also open up opportunities after they are released. An individual can fix the sheets in the facility or sew the uniforms, and when she gets out, she can work as a seamstress, maybe even run her own business. We have a great team of instructors that go into these facilities and inspire these students to become more productive citizens upon their release.
Q: What have all these years of working in correctional education taught you?
A: I’ve learned to overcome adversity and to be adaptable. When you work in the prisons, you’re a guest in someone else’s house. You have to learn how to deliver education while also respecting the environment, abiding by its rules, and adjusting as necessary. An instructor may be in the middle of a class, but if an inmate count needs to be done or there’s a code that gets called and the institution has to shut down, we have to be able to adapt on the spot. I’ve also learned to deal with a lot of different personalities. I’ve developed patience, though it does get tested. I have learned to treat every person the same way: firm, fair, and consistent. Respect is a big deal inside those fences and behind those walls. The students in there know that in order to receive it, they must in return give it.
Q: You live by a set of mottos. What are they and how do they guide you through life?
A: One of my mottos is in my email signature. It says, “The first step in becoming successful is losing the mindset of a failure.” I preach that every day to the students, to the correctional officers, to anyone I can. If you think you’re going to fail, guess what, you’re going to fail. You have to lose that perspective. The other motto is to leave the world a little better than you found it. That’s just something my family taught me, to always do something to make things better for someone else. You never know who’s watching you and who might be inspired by the things you do.
Q: Prior to your career in corrections, you were a bull fighter and rider. How did those experiences prepare you for where you are now?
A: When I interviewed for my first corrections job in 2000, one of the questions was, “Are you scared of working in the prison?” I laughed out loud. The warden asked what I was laughing about, and I pointed to the captain, who knew me. The captain told the warden that he must not have read my entire background prior to the interview because for eight years, I rode and fought bulls. As a bull fighter, our job is to take the hit for the cowboy. We literally take the bull by the horns to get the cowboy out safely. I’m not afraid of much of anything after being in the rodeo.
South Piedmont offers a variety of programs for those interested in careers in public safety. Learn more at https://spcc.edu/areas-of-study/public-safety/.