BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — This month, Governor Burgum and Lieutenant Governor Tammy Miller are handing out big awards to the many men and women who serve North Dakota.

One of the men in question works what may be considered as a thankless job — but one that is extremely necessary and meaningful nonetheless.

KX News went inside the state penitentiary to find out what a day in the life looks like for him.

Garrett McLain is a correctional officer with the North Dakota State Penitentiary, who works in a refurbished correctional unit called the Restoring Promise U.N.I.T.Y. Village, which is focused on educating and transforming residents for a successful return to the community. North Dakota is one of only six states in the nation to have one of these units.

“I believe it’s unique for the residents here,” he stated, “and I think that most of the residents that live here in this pod really do appreciate it. Some of these guys have been here for a long time, and I don’t think they’ve had opportunities like this before.”

18–25-year-old residents of the U.N.I.T.Y Village are referred to as ‘mentees’, and they are given mentorship by older residents and officers, including discussions about everything from financial literacy to creating healthy connections with family and friends.

“Rehabilitation on my part is just showing up, being here, and lending an ear when somebody needs to talk,” McLain explained. “Giving them my opinion, my point of view, sometimes my experiences, and mostly guiding them in the right direction.”

The U.N.I.T.Y Village is structured around valuing the dignity of each resident in every aspect — down to the brightly colored walls. Respecting the dignity of each resident is something that McLain says he takes seriously.

“He works really well with the residents here at U.N.I.T.Y Village,” said Case Manager Barbara Bailey. “He’s really firm and fair. He listens to them, and that’s probably the biggest thing when they’re having their gripes. A lot of the staff don’t take the time to do that, and he does.

McLain’s work occasionally seems unsung, but certainly does not go unseen. He was nominated for a Heritage Award this year by the residents of ND, who believed he was deserving of recognition for all the work that he does for them.

Coworkers say that despite the difficulty of his job, McLain deeply cares about the residents he works with, and never fails to put in hard work, making him more than deserving of the recognition.

“It’s hard work to come here, and I believe it’s even harder work to live here,” McLain said. “I think I got that award just by understanding everybody’s feelings in their positions when they come here or when they live here. It’s definitely a shared award. I feel like everybody I work with, staff and the residents, should receive it too.”

To learn about the Restoring Promise Program that’s being implemented at the penitentiary, click here.