Relatives of the mother of three say she relocated to Nebraska 13 years ago in search of a better life for her family.
Meeks, 47, was killed last week in Lincoln when the driver of a van drove into her vehicle.
Thursday night, her family is criticizing the program that allowed that inmate behind the wheel.
In the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, a place from which Joyce Meeks led her family to a better life, relatives gather and lament.
Asked what Meeks meant to him, her son, Martell Buchanan, said: "I mean what does air mean to me? What does food and water mean to me? It was everything."
"I mean, I didn't have a father, you know... she always said, she is my mother and my father, so I feel like I lost two parents," said Buchanan.
Police say Meeks was driving home from her job as a certified nurse assistant Tuesday of last week when she was hit head-on by a state corrections van driven by Jeremy Dobbe, 35, an inmate authorized to pick up other inmates out on work detail. Dobbe has two DUI and several reckless driving convictions on his record.
"I don't understand that. If you're in jail or in prison or whatever, you have certain rules you have to abide by, you know, with lights out, time you eat, time you do this, time you do that," said Meeks's husband, Leonard. "He was given more freedom than a regular person."
Meeks says Dobbe stole his soul mate, and the dozen people she supported, including four grandchildren, must use her example of self-improvement to move on.
"There could be forgiveness, but at this time, you know, everything has been focused on the grandkids," said Leonard Meeks. "Her mother, her kids, I got to worry about their state of mind, trying to be there for them."
Joyce Meeks had recently undergone gastric bypass surgery and lost 120 pounds. She had adopted a healthier lifestyle and just two weeks ago was commended by her employer, who was paying for her to get her full-blown nursing certification.
Nebraska corrections says it is reviewing its inmate driving policies, and in the meantime, prison staff will take care of all official driving duties.
No charges have been filed in connection with the accident yet. Dobbe had been driving for the prison work-release program for two months. Meeks's family lawyer says the state and the inmate will be the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit that will be filed in Nebraska next week.