Gordon L. "Gordy" Miller's job as supervisor of the drinking driver monitor program in Howard and Carroll counties was "heaven-sent and the result of prayers fulfilled."
A recovering alcoholic, Mr. Miller left a career as a real estate agent 8 1/2 years ago to work with drunken drivers. Typically, they are under court order to abstain from drinking. They are required to enter a treatment program, join Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar group, and submit to random urinalysis as a condition of their probation.
"Gordy and his staff have had a lifesaving effect on some of the defendants," said James N. Vaughan, administrative District Court judge in Howard and Carroll counties.
"The ultimate sentence for an alcoholic who does not stop drinking is to die. In convincing them that recovery is the way, they stay sober and they stay alive. He and the other monitors have been valuable in understanding the disease of alcoholism and how it works."
For the past 18 years, Gordy Miller, 56, has attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings two to three times a week "to maintain my spiritual condition," he said. Even before taking the monitor job -- while he was a real estate agent in Baltimore County and in Ocean City -- he was helping others addicted to alcohol.
"But the last couple years in real estate, it seemed that material things tasted like ashes in my mouth," he said. "I knew I would not be happy unless I had a job where I served people in need. For two years before I got the monitor job, I prayed every day that I would be put in a position of service like this."
The opportunity came in 1983 when Mr. Miller testified as a character witness in District Court in Towson for a drunken-driving defendant, a young man he had met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
After the trial, he spotted a monitor in the courthouse, and "the words just came out of my mouth." He asked about the requirements for a job as a monitor and soon was hired.
"There is no question this is where I was supposed to be," Mr. Miller said.
His performance and that of the six monitors he supervises in Howard and Carroll counties have drawn strong approval from the bench.
"He has touched as many lives as anyone in the criminal court system," said Diane Schulte, who was a Howard County district judge from 1980 to 1988. "He is a master at doing it. I have seen him touch young, violent teen-agers and older persons. He gets the message of sobriety through to them. He and his staff are miracle workers."
A 21-year-old offender is among the people who have heard Mr. Miller's message.
"I want sobriety more than anything else," the young man wrote recently in a hand-printed letter to Mr. Miller. "All I need to do is live one day at a time," wrote the man, who is in a halfway house and looking for a job.
Mr. Miller is a soft-spoken man with gray hair and mustache who sports a Mickey Mouse watch, wears plaids and bright colors, and has filled his Ellicott City office with inspirational signs, eight pictures of clowns, three clown music boxes and two clown dolls. On his desk are inspirational cards, which he reads at the start of each workday.
When he thinks a client is trying to con him, Mr. Miller squeezes the rubber valve of the brass "denial horn" on his desk. The horn gets the attention of clients who are not facing their drinking problems, he said -- such as when a "client convicted of his fourth DWI [driving while intoxicated charge] tells me he does not have a problem.
"I tell them that you cannot con an ex-con artist," Mr. Miller said. "I have used every excuse in the book. That is one of the reasons why I think I can reach them. I have been there myself."
He said he was living in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1971 when he lost his sales manager job with a golf cart company as well as his marriage because of his alcoholism. He returned to Baltimore, where he had grown up -- in Roland Park -- and had been an all-state lacrosse player at St. Paul's School before flunking out of Washington College in Chestertown.
He was 36 and "down and out" when he returned to Baltimore, and for the next 20 months his alcoholism was "at its worst."
"I don't remember a lot that happened," he said.
He does recall working as a part-time bartender and newspaper vendor, living in cheap motels and wandering around Ocean City, Annapolis and Baltimore in an alcoholic haze.
"I started my day off with three Bloody Marys and drank about 18 beers, and polished off the day by drinking Black Russians," he said.
"I was living with a gal who drank like I did. Those were the 'Days of Wine and Roses' for me," he said, referring to the movie about an alcoholic couple. "I've been to the gates of hell, and I don't plan to go back."
The turning point came when he left an Ocean City motel intent on walking into the ocean until he drowned. As he crossed the motel courtyard, he decided to call his older brother, William, in Baltimore.