NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Richard Miles spent almost 15 years in a Texas prison before the state cleared him of a murder he did not commit.
The life-altering experience did not break him. Instead, it put Miles on a path to change other lives, for the better.
The mission of Miles of Freedom is to equip, empower and employ those who are impacted by incarceration.
Early Saturday morning, twice a month, families gather at a South Dallas YMCA to board a bus. They’re heading down to Anderson County to the state correctional facilities located just outside the city of Palestine.
For these mothers, grandmothers, and children, the bus ride is like a lifeline to loved ones locked up from the outside world.
Patrick McFail is behind the wheel.
“A letter says a lot, but a person’s face says a lot, too,” McFail says.
He is in this job helping others, because of Richard Miles.
“My family was one of my biggest sources of strength while I was incarcerated,” Miles says, reflecting on his own life.
In 1995, at age 20, Miles went to prison for murder. He maintained his innocence, and spent nearly 15 years trying to clear his name.
He was released from prison in 2009, but it took another two-plus years before his record would be cleared. Freedom finally came in 2012. Miles was fully exonerated. His case thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct.
Miles worked hard on his education and earned an associates’ degree while he was incarcerated, but emerged with a deep understanding of how hard it is for people to move forward.
“When you get out, a lot of pieces are missing. Not only interior, but exterior,” he says. “People really didn’t care if I was innocent. They were just, ‘You’ve been in prison?’ They could not get over that part.”
He pinpoints three things former inmates need to get on with their lives:
“The first thing they need is a place to stay. The second thing they need is humility or the ability to be humble and to accept advice. The third thing is resources,” he says.
That is how his non-profit, Miles of Freedom, serves: by focusing on the whole person, not the crime.
Miles says everybody coming out of prison needs jobs, but many employers will not look past a person’s record.
Last year, Miles of Freedom touched 400 people in need of assistance: from jobs, to education, identification and mental health.
One program is a lawn service, offering former inmates the chance to earn money as they transition back to the outside world.
Another program is the shuttle service, enabling loved ones to have the support of family members, through bi-monthly visits they may not be able to arrange on their own.
“There is nothing that Texas can do that would give me back the 15 years that was taken out of my life. But if I can come in here everyday and help somebody from going to prison, that’s better than any apology I could get from anybody,” Miles says.
That’s where Patrick McFail plays a role. He drives families on the long round trip visits, bettering himself along the way.
“Going through what I’ve gone through… I’m just happy I’m in a position right now to say I’m a productive member of society. If it wasn’t for people like Richard with Miles of Freedom, there would be nothing to give back to,” McFail says.
To this day, years after his exoneration, Miles remains a man firmly convicted to helping others.
“In these times when people feel like doing good is no good, I want people to know that regardless of what’s going on, good will prevail if we try,” Miles says.
Richard Miles has a long-term goal for Miles of Freedom: to use it as a model for other communities to duplicate and to address change in the justice system.
To learn more about the services offered through Miles of Freedom or to volunteer, click here.