May 20, 2015 at 12:15pm

Millikin associate professor named 'Volunteer of the Year' for outstanding leadership

Alex Miller, Millikin University associate professor of theatre and dance, was recognized by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) for outstanding leadership and dedicated efforts in providing positive change in the lives of offenders. Miller was named the IDOC 2015 Volunteer of the Year on April 27 for his volunteer work with the Decatur Correctional Center.
Inspired by Dr. Laura Bates, English professor at Indiana State University, who teaches Shakespeare at the Pendleton Correctional Facility in Indiana, Miller began a Shakespearean program in 2011 at the Decatur Correctional Center entitled "Shakespeare Corrected." Miller brought "Shakespeare Corrected" to the correctional center to help enhance the lives of inmates and prepare them for successful reintegration.
Offenders are involved in all aspects of the productions including acting, making costumes, creating the set and props, and designing programs. Miller uses Shakespearean stories to teach valuable life skills to offenders. The process enables them to learn how Shakespeare's characters deal with life situations.
"I've been volunteering for four years and it's been extremely rewarding for me, but to be recognized on that level is very humbling," said Miller. "There are many individuals, just like me, who have volunteered hundreds of hours simply for the good of the women in the facility. To be singled out with that group of individuals was a huge honor."
The program has staged productions of "Othello" in 2012, "The Tempest" in 2013, and "The Taming of the Shrew" in 2014. The program recently held performances of "Macbeth" in late April. Soundcheck Music Center provided lighting equipment for the productions of "Macbeth," and dry cleaning was provided by Peerless Cleaners.
Millikin students also assisted with the program, including Joseph Bezenek, a senior theatre major from Sioux Falls, S.D. "During my very first visit to the correctional center, I knew Professor Miller was inspiring the souls of every brave woman in the room," said Bezenek. "It's no surprise to me that he won the award. My soul has been tremendously moved by the amount of love this man can give, and I know he is eternally thankful for this honor."
Offenders who have participated in the program described it as a truly life-changing experience.
"I think the program works on several fronts," said Miller. "For the offenders, it's transformational and it helps them learn the intangibles that are required to have a life of meaning and value. It also works because their families are invited. If you really want to have an impact on criminality and poverty, you have to address the individuals who are currently in the situation, but you have to go for the next generation."
IDOC Acting Director Donald Stolworthy said, "Because of Professor Miller, many of the offenders begin to believe in themselves and see that they don't have to live a life of crime that has a major impact on their families, their friends, and the communities where they live."
When asked how the Shakespeare productions play a role in the lives of the offenders, Miller said, "By letting them see that the impossible is possible. The program exists through the efforts of the administration, the students, and the offenders. It's the human spirit triumphing over impossible odds."
Because of the program's positive effect, Miller says he will be reaching out more to the community next year for support of the program.