Phoenix group empowers incarcerated youth

A non-profit organization closes in on its second decade of helping children overcome violence

Francisco Dominguez, Reporter

“I believe there is no such thing as a bad kid,” Release the Fear CEO Robert Miley declared. “I believe they haven’t found their gift.”

Miley is the founder, heart and soul of Release the Fear, a non-profit organization founded in 1996 to reverse the effects of mental and physical violence to empower children.

According to, there are over 60,000 youth incarcerated in the United States. Release the Fear tries to combat these numbers with their program.

Release the Fear is a unique program in that it uses art and critical thinking to help children.

When children walk into a Release the Fear workshop, they walk into a judgment-free zone where the only thing that matters is improving their lives.

Release the Fear workshop facilitators encourage children to think outside the box in order to realize their potential.

One activity that children do in these workshops is imagining themselves as the role model of a younger sibling.

Some of those children had complex thoughts and emotions about being role models. One tall, tattooed adolescent boy said he did not want to be his little brother’s role model because he had done a lot of bad stuff. He may tough on the outside, but deep within himself judges the life he lives as a poor example for others.

Aeimee Diaz is a volunteer at Release the Fear and she believes the program helps to change many lives.

“On the first day they’re quiet,” Diaz said. “A lot them are. The introverts all a little bit more quiet. There’s a lot of kids who are unsure of themselves.”

But that often changes.

One day, there was a boy who was shy, scared and did not look happy to be there. From that mood, he evolved – raising his hand to answer questions and eventually leading a group.  At the end of the workshop, facilitators give the children certificates of participation. When it was this boy’s turn to get his, he stood up and walked toward the facilitator, got his certificate, and was asked “What did you learn today?”

His answer was simple, but had a resounding effect on everyone.

When he took his certificate, this boy said: “I matter.”