Note to Readers: Will return shortly. Had a long day working on a long-term project. (It’ll be worth it when I’m finished. I promise.)
Every year since 2007, cable news network, CNN, receives nominations for its “CNN Heroes” award. Ten nominees are chosen, each demonstrating that they have made “extraordinary contributions to humanitarian aid and [made] a difference in their communities,” Wikipedia writes.
In a special broadcast, the network details the stories of each of the ten who are honored and receive $50,000. The top recipient is chosen by an online poll and named CNN Hero of the Year and receives an additional $250,000 to continue their work.
Richard Miles was one hero with a background that began when he was sentenced to 60 years behind bars after being accused of murder. He was innocent.
This is his story, as first reported by CNN. An edited version follows.
“ ‘I oftentimes say, “May 15, 1994 is the day that Richard Ray Miles, Jr. died.” I became a number — 728716.’
“Miles spent the next 15 years in a Texas prison. He was 34 when he was released in 2009.
“ ‘I was overwhelmed. I was 34 years old in age, but I was 19 from society standpoints. I had not dealt with the world, and I was literally scared,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know about taxes and employment. The world was totally different.’
“For two years, Miles struggled to get back on his feet. Ultimately, he found a job, a home, and today is married with a child.
“His own struggles and seeing other formerly incarcerated individuals in the same situation were the impetus to start what is now Miles of Freedom, a nonprofit in Dallas that aims to help people transition and stay out of prison.
“ ‘I saw firsthand these points of despair for people coming home from prison. Yes, they committed a crime, but a lot of them wanted to do better, and they were just not in a space to do better,’ said Miles, now 44.”
After being fully exonerated of the crime, Miles used a portion of the compensation money he received to help other families affected by incarceration.
“Operating in South Dallas, the nonprofit assists individuals returning home from prison by helping them obtain identification, enroll in college and secure housing. The group also provides computer and career training, financial literacy programs and job placement.
“The Miles of Freedom Lawn Care Service provides temporary employment for men and women in the program. Miles also offers a shuttle service that takes family members to see their loved ones who are incarcerated.
CNN’s Allie Torgan spoke with Miles about his work.
CNN: What got you through the years that you were wrongfully convicted and locked up?
Richard Miles: The first thing is my faith. Because when the judge said I was guilty, everything let me down at that point in time. I felt the system let me down, the system is supposed to protect, it’s supposed to do justice. I went to church every day of my life. When I went to prison, I sure needed something, and so it was double-time trying to take it from more of a mental idea to something that I could stand on.
I oftentimes tell people that there is a peace in being innocent. I was able to find that peace. I wasn’t an inmate. I was an innocent man in prison, and I could not let that slip from my mind.
CNN: In addition to the support and job training programs, what else do you offer?
Miles: We take a deep dive into financial literacy, which is taught by Frost Bank. We also have a nine-lesson curriculum that deals with the soft skills, diversity and change in the workplace, sexual harassment—and all this stuff gets our participants ready for employment, which is very key. Because they’re coming from an institution that did not provide these skill sets to maintain employment.
We also have a youth program. We have high schools across the street where we go in and talk about going to prison, challenges, making the right choices. We host different community events, back to school events, where we’re able to talk with kids and family members about incarceration, staying out of incarceration and needs for education.
CNN: You also go back into prisons to offer encouragement.
Miles: Going back to prison to me is probably one of the best things that I’m doing right now because I feel like the people in prison are the ones that really, really need to know that it’s possible. Coming home is possible. Being successful is possible. So, when I’m able to go back in the prison and they hear that I’ve been there, that’s one thing that gives them encouragement.
“ ‘There are so many people making this happen,’ Miles said. ‘One of my prayers is always to be humble; I very rarely want to be in the picture by myself. … At the age of 19, all I had was 60 years and a bunk. And God has given me so much at the age of 44.’ ”
Civic virtue asks each of us to help in our own way in our community and, if possible, beyond.
Psst, How am I doing? Am I keeping my promise to keep the commentaries focused on positive stories and avoid mentioning anything about Washington or you-know-who? I know, I know, this is only my second week, but you know withdrawing from covering what’s-his-name is like withdrawing from crack-cocaine.