Former probation officer volunteering in same circles

Jim Miller (center) at a December, 2017 Circles of Support meeting. (WLUK)

APPLETON (WLUK) -- A former Wisconsin Department of Corrections employee is making a difference in retirement, and he's choosing to do it in the same circles he's known for decades.

For the past 10 years, Jim Miller has continued to work with former inmates. And he says it’s just as rewarding now even though he’s no longer getting paid to do it.

Miller, an Appleton resident, spent more than 30 years working in the probation and parole department, and he’s still making a positive impact for those who have gone through the justice system by volunteering with Circles of Support.

"They’ve done their sentence and they’re coming back to the community," says Miller. "They’re needing to re-establish relationships with family, employment, residence, and I think the community volunteers in this group serve as role models.”

Circles is a branch of Goodwill Industries. The focus is the help those who have spent time behind bars transition to life on the outside. Based on past history, Miller is optimistic people can always improve their future.

“I’ve seen it," says Miller. "So I think it takes community volunteers like we have in the program to facilitate that.”

The group is a mix of volunteers and participants. They meet on Saturday mornings in Appleton, and the participants talk about what’s been happening in their lives over the past week. Attendance is completely optional.

Bryant Hester has been coming for almost a decade since being released from prison in 2009.

“When I’m in this circle, and I’m working with the volunteers and participants, and I can open up and be me," says Hester. "It allows me to succeed.”

Hester is originally from Mississippi but moved to Milwaukee at age 13. He now works in Sturgeon Bay, and said with the help of Circles, he’s been able to quit a life of drugs and gangs.

As a way of paying it forward, Hester also shares his perspective with other group members.

“I think I’ve gotten more out of the program than I’ve given because I’m still out here," says Hester. "I’m still free.”

Miller says many participants, like Hester, have committed to coming to meetings regularly for years. “I’ve been surprised by their tenacity, their motivation, and willingness to stick it out,” says Miller.

Hester says, these days, he’s happy to live what he calls, “a normal, boring life.” And he credits Miller with helping him get there.

“I take care of my family, and I get by," says Hester. "And I’m doing it in a positive way, and anyone would be proud of that.”

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