Meet Richard Miles, president/CEO of Miles of Freedom, a group that helps convicts being released make a successful transition from prison to living life beyond the walls of lockup. Miles started Miles of Freedom with his own money and estimates it has helped dozens of inmates find jobs, gain an education and assist with ministry to those still behind bars.
It is a mission with profound meaning to Miles, who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Despite little evidence and poor eyewitness testimony, Miles was convicted in Dallas County of murder and attempted murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Miles had an alibi and people to corroborate his story, but it didn't help his case. Even after his release from prison in 2009, it took another two years to receive an official exoneration. Miles is one of the few exonerees in Dallas County to go free without the help of DNA evidence.
Last year, Miles achieved what he considers his biggest accomplishment. He married his life partner, Latoya.
We wanted to know more about Miles and his inspirational journey from cell block to charity founder and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:
Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Miles of Freedom.
Richard Miles: Miles of Freedom is a faith based 501c3 nonprofit organization. Our mission is to provide a productive bridge of transition for individuals, families and communities impacted by incarceration. This is accomplished by implementing the following programs: Prison Ministry – (Men/Women of Faith Program) Miles of Freedom seeks to begin pre-release classes 6 to 9 months of a person’s release. We will incorporate a curriculum based workshop. Our workshops will cover spiritual education, practical living skill and job readiness skills. I am a volunteer chaplain on the Sanders Estes Unit and go in every 4th Sunday, our services bring our approximately 130 men. Reentry Services – (Men/Women of Family Program) Miles of Freedom partners with numerous organization, individuals and businesses to provide resources/support for men/women released from prison that seek to be successful citizens. We provide our members with financial training (Chase Bank), medical assistance (Martin Luther King Center), GED/ college enrollment assistance and practical living skills. We 6+require our members also to give back to the community, through different projects implemented by Miles of Freedom. The ultimate goal is employment of each member, so Miles of Freedom seeks employers that will hire our members based on their commitment not only to Miles of Freedom, but their families and communities as well. To date we have assisted over 60 men/women with employment and 5 higher education. Youth Mentorship – (Men/Women of Future) Miles of Freedom conducts school assemblies to discuss life choices and consequences. Our goal within the schools is prison prevention by promoting higher education. We were blessed to give our first scholarship to a graduating senior of Skyline High School, Ms. Sharif. Commercial Lawn Service – To provide “transitional income” for men/women within Miles of Freedom, we have created a lawn service. Our lawn service shows how entrepreneurial skill if cultivated and presented with opportunity can deter crime. Our members learn marketing, horticulture, work ethics and more. We currently have 4 contracts, our biggest being The Park South YMCA, and Minyard (in negotiation now) in South Dallas. We are seeking to expand to provide more jobs and services to the community. Shuttle Service – Visitation is vital for a productive reentry, because it allows the person incarcerated to know someone is still loving them, regardless. Miles of Freedom provides transportation for families that loved ones incarcerated. We cater to the Tennessee Colony area units, 5 total. We run every two weeks. It is our mission to Bridge the Gap between Prison and Promise.
DT: What are your duties at Miles of Freedom?
RM: I am the President/CEO of Miles of Freedom. My responsibilites have graciously thinned down to creating a visibility for Miles of Freedom. We are a 501c3 nonprofit and facilitate 100% on donation and grants. I initially funded Miles of Freedom myself, in 2012, it is my duty to create awareness for the cause. I am also involved in implementing the programs, as well as attracting donors and sponsors. I also supervise everyday functions of Miles of Freedom, overseeing workshops, cutting lawns, and paper filing. So my duties are very broad.
DT: You started the organization after being exonerated of a crime you didn't commit. How did you find the inner strength to endure those years?
RM: I have often wondered how I survived 15 years in prison at such a young and impressionable age. I can only thank God for the perseverance. I have to also credit my parents, the late Bishop William and Thelma Lloyd, for instilling the proper morals and values that ultimately gave me the strength to continue my fight for my innocence. After being incarcerated and experiencing life in prison, being released without automatic exoneration and walking the walk of a person convicted of a felony, I wanted to form an organization that catered to the particular areas impacted by incarceration.
DT: Many people would walk away bitter, but you have chosen to focus on positive change for all inmates. Why?
RM: There is no point in holding on to bitterness when you have overcome so much. I find that most people only “exist” and never get a chance to “live”. Miles of Freedom gives me an opportunity to have purpose, and that enables me to channel any negative feelings, anger and emotion in a positive direction.
DT: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat?
RM: I initially started Miles of Freedom with $150,000. This gave us the opportunity to produce work first, in the field of reentry and in the community. At this point and time with the creation of the lawn service and shuttle service, we are able to create a small revenue stream, but building relationships with sponsors and donors is key to our survival as well.
DT: How can the people of Dallas-Fort Worth and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?
RM: There are many ways the people of Dallas/Fort Worth can assist Miles of Freedom. We are always looking for employers who will give our members a chance at employment based upon their performance with us. Individuals can donate office supplies, ranging from copy paper, pens, and pencils to copier machines. We also seek sponsors who embraces our mission and cause, see the work we have accomplished in the last 2 years and are willing to help further our cause.
DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at Miles of Freedom?
RM: I have a lot of memorable experiences with Miles of Freedom. Most recently, one of our members Mr. Mustafa Ashanta age 19, came by the office and informed us the job lead we sent him to hired him. Mr. Ashanta reminded me of myself before I went to prison, 19 and trying to find his way/identity in life. He attended our workshops as well. The same week Mr. David Shelby, age 55, received employment with our assistance as well. We try to provide more than a job. We provide support. Mr. Ricky Maloy after completing 36 flat, came to us in February of 2013 and has been employed and just recently moved into his own apartment. There are so many joyous memories.
DT: What is the first thing you do when you walk into work each day?
RM: The first thing I do when I walk into Miles of Freedom, is thank God for my Freedom – he has allowed me to now assist, mentor and encourage others whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. There is no greater gift, than giving back.
If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.
Writers Note: As a TV Reporter, I had the great pleasure to interview Richard Miles many times. He is one of the most admirable, remarkable people I have had the chance to meet in my 25 years of TV News. Many of us can only stop and imagine with great horror what it would be like to sit in a dark prison cell, knowing we are innocent of a crime and left to wonder if the truth will ever be known. In Richard's case there was no DNA waiting to help prove his innocence. I can only imagine the helplessness and hopelessness he must have felt at times, but still he managed to overcome with the great support and love of family. When you speak with Richard, there is no deep-seated bitterness or anger, just a great aspiration to move forward with joy and help others. If Richard's outlook and attitude on life was contagious, this world would be a better place.