DALLAS (CBSNewsTexas.com) — In honor of Wrongful Conviction Day, UNT Dallas hosted its inaugural event to highlight those who have their freedom but to also keep educating people on the work still needed to be done within the justice system.
On Monday, men who have been wrongfully convicted united at the Dallas campus, where they shared their feelings of pain and also inspiration. Together, they are working with the university's law department to recognize those who are still fighting.
"So, now I'm standing in front of the camera in the same space but in a different phase of life," one of the exonerated men in attendance, Richard Miles, said.
Miles was full of emotions while sharing his story and hopes to help others.
He went to prison at the age of 19 for a murder he did not commit in 1995.
"It was not a guarantee that you walk out, but you can maintain the one thing that makes you whole and that's innocence," Miles said.
He was released in 2009 but said he couldn't do much until speaking truth helped declare him innocent in 2012.
"I've enjoyed both releases and the obtaining of freedom and just after that, I think society should just understand what we go through," Miles said.
People listened as Miles and seven other men who were exonerated shared their stories along with the staff working some of these cases. These efforts are with the Joyce Ann Brown Innocence Program, where the university investigates claims of wrongful conviction by Texas inmates.
"We're hoping to spotlight the fact that we've got to get it right. Lawyers particularly, prosecutors and defense lawyers were the gatekeepers," said Cheryl Wattley, professor and director of the Joyce Ann Brown Innocence Clinic.
Wattley helped Miles after meeting him in 2007, when she was called to help with his case. Later, they were able to petition his release for actual innocence.
"We need to recognize that we've caused them harm and hold them up and lift them up," Wattley said.
There are currently an estimated 3,000 to 9,000 Texans serving sentences due to wrongful convictions, according to UNT Dallas. This team of people hopes to continue to help others.
"It's only so much that we as Dallas exonerees can do to amplify the message of wrongful incarcerations and exonerations," Miles said. "I'm emotionally excited."
Eight men who were wrongfully convicted, along with their relatives, joined the celebration of obtaining freedom and justice.
Following the program, they also took a moment to host a candlelight vigil to honor those who are still fighting to prove their innocence.
Meanwhile, Miles continues his work of 14 years since being released with his own program, Miles of Freedom, which helps others who are exonerated transition into life outside of jail.
"I went in at 19 and walked out of prison at 34—life had changed. And if I go through this here in the back of my mind, every person coming home from prison experiences the same thing," he said.
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