David Meyers spent 30 years in prison.
David Meyers spent 30 years in prison.
Meyers spent 30 years in corrections, which is quite a different thing.
So when the Clintonville man's plans to co-author a book on the history of the "Little Cities of the Black Diamond" coal mining region in the Hocking Hills fell through, he and daughter Elise Meyers had a ready-made subject and his vast experience to fall back on.
The father-daughter team collaborated on "Images of America: Central Ohio's Historic Prisons." It's part of the ever-growing, picture-filled local history series put out by Arcadia Publishing of Charleston, S.C.
"Originally, this wasn't the book we set out to write," Elise Meyers said.
The abrupt switch in subject matter -- from the rise and fall of the small towns and rural townships in the rugged hills of southern Perry, northern Athens and eastern Hocking counties to a work with chapter headings that include "Boredom and Terror Behind the Walls" and "Days and Nights in Dracula's Castle" -- is not a case of research gone horribly awry.
Rather when Elise, 26, who was taking a class at Hocking College, and David, 61, put together their proposal to Arcadia executives, they learned that another author already had dibs on the coal mining subject.
They say write what you know, and David Meyers certainly knows prisons.
After graduating from Miami University with a degree in psychology, and being assured by many people that the degree would help him find no kind of job at all, Meyers found work at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, the "Dracula's Castle" referred to in chapter eight of the new book. Over the course of the next 30 years he worked as a psychologist and later as an administrator in various adult and juvenile facilities, including the old Ohio Penitentiary in what is now the Arena District in downtown Columbus.
"I've always been interested in history," said Meyers, who began collecting both memorabilia and tales from co-workers early in his career.
"You can't work in those places without hearing the stories," he said.
Meyers is now with Columbus State Community College in community education and work force development, a post he was asked to fill upon retiring from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Elise Meyers, who does legal research for a tax firm in Worthington, has a degree in art history from Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y. As a child, she can remember her father getting calls in the middle of the night whenever someone tried to escape from the Technical Institute of Central Ohio.
For David Meyers, the prisons book marks his second Arcadia Publishing volume. He was the lead author, along with Arnett Howard and James Loeffler, of "Columbus: The Musical Crossroads," which came out in 2008.
In meeting with some of her father's old colleagues to gather material for "Central Ohio's Historic Prisons," Elise Meyers said that she quickly came to realize her presence as more or less an outsider was pretty important. Things insiders didn't think were all that interesting about what goes on behind bars were often exactly what people would want to read about, she said.
"I was especially interested in the more salacious stuff," she added. "If he'd done the book himself, it would have been for prison employees."
Elise Meyers said she worked to make the book something her friends would like to read.
"Most people don't care what goes on behind the walls," David Meyers said.
But they might be interested in some of the things Elise insisted upon or discovered.
For instance, the future Bob Hope once spent some time, for an unknown crime, at the Boys' Industrial School as a 14-year-old in May 1918. Former Gov. James Rhodes, according to David Meyers, attempted to get rid of the records related to the famed comedian's brushes with the law, but members of the Boys' Industrial School historical society were able to preserve the records.
"We were very, very lucky," Elise Meyers said.
David Meyers hopes people can draw some lessons from the book, especially about repeated failures to follow through on frequent and worthwhile prison reform efforts.
"In 'Central Ohio's Historic Prisons,' we take a detailed look at the three 19th century Ohio prisons that laid the foundation for the state's correctional system and, taken together, established a model that was replicated by others," he wrote in his introduction to the book. "Each of these institutions was once viewed as the best the country had to offer and yet, each was later condemned, justifiably, when it fell behind the times.
"Unfortunately, it is a pattern the state has had difficulty breaking."
Meyers also hopes readers will come to realize that, in spite of some bad apples, people who work in corrections want to do their best in difficult situations.
"Some of the finest people I have known were working in some of the most thankless jobs imaginable," he wrote. "This book is dedicated to them."