This story was inspired by the SHARE Charlotte’s Spotlight Series. In January, the series focused on local organizations providing job training, job placement and mentoring to support workforce development in Charlotte. See who they are and find ways to help. #WorkItCLT. SHARE Charlotte is a one-stop shop connecting the community to more than 400 local nonprofit organizations to unite the city through GOOD.
Twenty-seven-year-old Tyrone Miller was released from prison just over a month ago. He spent nearly eight years behind bars in a North Carolina correctional facility for assault with a deadly weapon.
He shares this information with no hesitation as he leans back, relaxed, in a desk chair at The Center for Community Transitions (CCT) at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus off of Wilkinson Boulevard. CCT offers Lifeworks! programs to address the personal and professional needs of those with criminal records.
Miller offers an easy, bright smile. His black hair is kept in neat cornrows, almond-colored glasses round out his face and two sparkling studs flash on his ears. He wears a black button-down, charcoal slacks and black shoes.
It’s the perfect interview look.
He spends most days here at CCT’s job resource center — outfitted with classrooms, computers and cubicles — learning about proper job interview strategies and researching leads for his next one. He rides two buses for nearly two hours one way to get here. Then he sits at a computer, checks his email, scans company websites for opportunities and uses the phone.
He stays busy here — he doesn’t like to be bored.
Even in prison, Miller worked. For most of his incarceration, he worked as a cook and as a janitor, said Erik Ortega, LifeWorks! program director.
He studied, too. The educational accomplishment he lists on his resume is a custodial training and environmental services certificate from Martin Community College that he acquired during incarceration.
He studied himself.
“Prison for me, I didn’t want to be there,” Miller said. “However, it showed me a lot about myself.”
He learned he was lactose intolerant and that he hated potatoes. He learned that he has OCD when it comes to cleaning, and that he has a gift for reading people, and their intentions. He also learned that he can’t tolerate ignorance.
“If I can’t talk to you on an intellectual level, we really have nothing to talk about at the end of the day,” Miller said.
In an interview, he has plenty to talk about.
He talks about his cell phone that only receives texts. He talks about his daughter, Jade, who’s about to turn 8 and lives with her mom. He talks about movies and putt-putt outings.
“She’s a calm and chill little girl,” he said. “Like me.”
Miller talks about what he would be if he had no limitations — like time served on his resume.
“I want to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “I really want to be a real estate agent or something like how Trump is. He’s a real estate — what do you call that? Mogul. I want to be a real estate mogul.”
There’s a reason behind that emphasis on real estate.
“For one, I never really had nothing of my own,” he said. “Two, I want to make sure my kids always have something, because real estate is assets in general. So I want to make sure my kids always got a place to go, and a place to stay. Somewhere to build something.”
For now, Miller is busy building himself up through the employment readiness class he takes on Mondays at CCT. The class is a resource for job leads, with a focus on employers who have indicated that they are willing to hire people with criminal records.
“Tyrone is like many of our clients who seek an opportunity to show not only employers but our community a new brand,” said Ortega, adding that the first class in this series is focused on reinventing and representing your personal brand.
“Everybody deserves an opportunity to rebrand themselves,” Ortega said.
Miller said, “I’m redefining myself, I’m rebuilding myself, I’m rebranding myself.”
He’s also waiting for an email or a call that indicates a business has accepted his new brand. So far, he has interviewed for a job at a cleaning service and a job at a call center. He has been turned down by one, and hasn’t heard from the other. The waiting is the hardest part, he’s found.
“I’ve got to continuously call back and make my presence known to you, who I am,” he said.
So who is he now? What is is his personal brand? What kind of employee is he going to be, when asked in an interview?
“I’m going to be somebody you can get along with,” Miller said. “If you need to smile, I’m going to make you smile some kind of way.”
Photo: Katie Toussaint