Story by Tori Broussard. Photos provided by Miles of Freedom.
Richard was walking home near a Texaco gas station on Northwest Highway in the Bachman Lake area when an African American man shot two men in a parked car. A bystander in-line nearby called 911 and reported seeing the suspect run away with a gun. An off-duty cop saw Richard walking down the street and arrested him instead, saying he matched the suspect’s description.
Richard was not told of the charges of his arrest until later into the night when he was introduced to the detective on the case. Approximately six hours after meeting the detective, his story was confirmed, all 10 alibies verified his location, but one witness stated they saw him kill one person and shoot another.
It was then that Richard knew he was arraigned with murder and attempted murder. His bond was set at $350,000. His parents could not afford an attorney. He spent 17 months in a county jail before he received a court-appointed attorney. Richard only saw his attorney five times during his stay in the county jail because his attorney truly believed he would win the trial.
“There was literally no evidence,” Richard says. “No gun was found; I did not fit the description of the shooter and the gunshot residue test was negative.”
After seven days and an eight-hour jury deliberation, Richard Miles was found guilty on both charges.
“On the left side I heard sounds of a family relieved because they felt justice had been served,” Richard shares sadly. “But on the right side I heard my family overwhelmed with grief and sadness because they knew justice had not been served.”
Richard was sentenced to 60 years in Coffield, a unit inside the largest prison in Texas. He served 15 years before he was released. His time behind bars ultimately prepared him to be the leader he is today, but it was not without trial and tribulation.
“Prison is not just a physical place,” Richard explains. You are mentally submerged into a culture that is so different from society that you have to assimilate into a system. That’s how you get caught up in institutionalism, not because you want to, but because the outcome was enviable.”
Richard describes prison in four phases: fear, anger, depression and evolve. He said he was fearful because he didn’t have any knowledge of what to expect. After five years, he learned which officers and inmates were racist and which were not racist. As Richard transitioned from a person to a commodity– 728616, his TDC number, an identifying number assigned to inmates– he said it was God divined to meet his friend Ben Spencer. Ben is a former barber who was also serving time for a crime he did not commit. This showed Richard that he was not the only one dealing with this injustice.
Texas is one of five states that does not pay inmates for their work. He started working in the fields cutting grass, picking watermelon and corn. To get out of working in the fields, Richard had to show the boss (the man on the horse) that he was a hard worker. That’s exactly what Richard did and eventually he made his way to work in the kitchen. Richard believes that prison embodies the slavery concept. Between disassociation from family, lack of education, improper medical assistance and non-nutritious foods, freedom and existence were out of his hands.
In 2001, Richard’s dad had become a bishop and encouraged him to start a bible study in the unit. He started teaching a Sunday school lesson and soon noticed he was of assistance to people in prison.
Richard would sit on his bunk with Aubrey Jones, another inmate that was wrongfully convicted. They would drink coffee and share their thoughts with each other about their environment. Eventually, Aubrey became the co-founder of Miles of Freedom. They knew they wanted to start an organization that would help people being released from prison, as they believed they could be an asset to people who have been incarcerated.
“Nine times out of ten, someone who says they are innocent are innocent,” Richard says. “I was not guilty, so I wasn’t supposed to be there. I experienced how people were being treated and I was like man this isn’t right.”
Richard explains that his eyes were open to the system itself, not just the incarceration, but the treatment of individuals once they were incarcerated.
“Someone who was punished and didn’t do anything wrong can explain some stuff and you can say oh my gosh that’s inhumane,” Richard says. “Is it inhumane because I was innocent, or was it just inhumane?”
The people incarcerated became more of his real family than his actual family because he was only able to speak to his parents for two hours each month.
“When my dad passed my family was not around, so the same men that I grew up with, these same men told me to hold one. Be strong. So, it was impossible to walk out of the system and say I’m only going to help the innocent. It was impossible for me to walk out of the system and say, ‘Man, forget y’all.’”
While in Coffield, Richard did not know Miles of Freedom (MOF), his organization that helps those formerly incarcerated transition to a productive life in society, was in his future. His only goal was to get out.
“When I got out my mom was still living in South Dallas, but South Dallas looked like it had been locked up,” Richard shares. “Liquor stores still booming, grocery stores going down, people walking around aimlessly. People come home energized, but they see the systems have incarcerated the communities that they have to return to. I was empowered by my position to do something.”
Richard’s experience in prison and transitioning back into his community is what ultimately led him to start Miles of Freedom. He says that the average person reaches redemption before they reach rehabilitation, internally. The tools to be reintroduced to society are not in the system, so the need for assistance is tremendous.
To achieve that assistance, Richard started MOF by making cold calls. He called various employers to advocate on behalf of individuals that needed work. Richard learned and understood tax incentives. He understood the competitive advantage that needed to be had if he wanted to help those coming back into the community, get ahead.
With that awareness, he started a lawn service within MOF. Richard noticed multiple properties that were not being maintained. He applied for a small grant, and he was able to use that money to pay the men involved with MOF to cut grass. South Dallas did not have a lawn service that catered to their demographic. He received calls from companies such as Minyards and the YMCA, for his lawn services.
Today, Richard has a grant-supported food panty service, in addition to his lawn service. No longer cold calling, Richard says the best way people are made aware of MOF is through word of mouth, however, Richard also has advertisements on his shuttle vehicles, a member of his team goes to transitional homes and engages with 40 people a week and he has appeared on multiple talk shows, radio shows and news outlets.
When one becomes a part of the MOF organization, individuals are trained through workshops in the Reentry Assistance Program. Here, they learn about financial literacy, resume building, interview training, dress, and life skills. Once the workshops are completed, individuals will receive assistance in obtaining necessities, job searching and job application assistance, interview coaching, direct job referrals, and employment retention support. This portion of MOF is known as Case Management. Every individual must complete Case Management, and once completed, individuals will have a “tailor-made experience” as the specific needs for each person is different.
“A person can really pick what they need and it’s our job to make sure we provide them with the tools they feel they need,” Richard said. “At the end of the day it is not about what I feel, it’s success for you. It’s what do you feel is going to make you successful and how can we get you to that point in your life.”
Employment is just a step on the path of the journey. MOF’s tagline “bridging the gap from prison to promise” speaks for itself. Richard says everybody coming out of prison has made a promise to themselves. MOF is the bridge to get you to that promise. Whether that’s full-time employment, reconnecting with family, higher education, MOF wants to be a continued resource.
Today, there are two very tangible resources to help understand the depth of Richard Miles’ story. Richard’s case is now shared in law books, The Ex Parte of Richard Ray Miles, Jr. and in 2021, The Richard Miles Act was passed that now requires all evidence to be turned over to the DA and trial counsels. This allows for identification of other suspects and perpetrators.
“Oh you’re Richard Miles,” Richard says police officers ask him. “You’re the guy whose name is at the bottom of all our paperwork.”
Richard says these moments really do make him smile, but also says “if people only knew how much it took to get here…to be able to hold police officers accountable.”
To learn more about Richard and MOF or donate to the cause, visit the MOF website. On November 18, MOF will be celebrating 11 years of service. The event will be held at the Arts District Mansion and is themed, New Beginnings.