In the lower level of Boston Cigar Club, in Charlestown, Julian ‘Juice’ Miller, took a short sip of his club soda, and let out a long exhale as he prepared to tell me what working with ex-cons, addicts, high performing legal teams and college universities all have in common. “Everyone, and I mean everyone, has been through some shit,” the larger than life motivational speaker said, as he sank into the black leather love seat, with plumes of cigar smoke rising above him.
The message Miller imparts seems simple: the way he tried to live life was wrong and if you want something you have never had before you have to do something you have never done. But if just hearing those words was that simple his calendar wouldn’t be booked solid with some of Boston’s most prominent companies, universities and sales teams. In our ever evolving post-COVID world, filled with political tension, conspiracy theories and everyday stress many leaders are finding it difficult to light the fire again; to motivate people to become the high performers they need to be to accomplish the tasks that lie ahead. That’s where Miller comes in.
Miller got his initiation into the world of public speaking in a very different setting. Far from the corporate law offices and private universities, his first speaking gigs were in the world of recovery. His audience, many of them at their lowest point in life, were dope sick, destitute, and many times just out of jail. It’s rock bottom for many. Julian knows that place well, he spent some time there. After getting clean in Riker’s Island Jail, with the help of a program that provided a combination of methadone and counseling to inmates, Miller set out on a different path. While he still owed the state and the federal government many more years of his life due to a string of bank robberies, he could finally see straight.
Another Day, Another Struggle
In the 1990s, Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood saw an explosion of crime, gang warfare and homicides with the introduction of crack cocaine. In 1990 alone Boston reached a record of 152 homicides. While Roxbury is only a five-minute car ride away from Boston’s Back Bay, it might as well have been on another planet. There were no farmers markets or galleries in Roxbury, but what it had in abundance was loss and devastation from the ravages of the crack epidemic.
“Man, it was definitely a rough time, said Miller. “Just, you know, seeing people get shot… I’m 10 years old, alone, looking out my window and I see this guy get shot. I didn’t eat for two days. My mother was like, what’s wrong with you? That’s what it was like, you know, at the time. It was tough man – just seeing things like that. Just that experience. You know that can leave you traumatized.”
Miller reminisced about his younger years. He was a happy kid, quick with a smile and quick with a joke. Even at a young age he was much bigger than the other kids and was a standout on the basketball court. His mother gave him the nickname ‘Juice’. At around the age of twelve his large size was betrayed only by his soft voice. His mother, a native of Costa Rica, gave him some advice. She told him he needed to go to a mountain top and yell at the top of his lungs to make his voice deeper. Soon his voice began to match his stature. The older people patted him on the head, everyone got a kick out of this happy go-lucky man-child. But it wasn’t long before the lure of fast money and high risk right outside his door caught his eye. New England may run on Dunks, but this neighborhood’s economy ran on the drug trade.
“I started thinking, I know my brother and them was selling drugs and I see everybody in front of my house selling drugs and getting money and stuff. And you know, I’m like, let me go get me a pack. So, I went and talked to one of the older guys and I was like, I want you to give me some consignment. When he gave it to me, that was all she wrote. I started selling drugs, I became my own role model. I didn’t have nobody at the time. I didn’t know about saving money, budgeting money, credit scores or anything like that. So, my role model was me and I’m going to take this 10-pack and get paid,” said Miller.
Miller’s first arrest happened at the age of fifteen. After a hand-to-hand sale of rock cocaine, he watched his customer walk away in the direction of Warren Gardens. There she was intercepted by police officers in an unmarked car. Miller was also arrested and booked at the station. As a minor, he was released under the supervision of his mother. The arrest unfortunately did nothing to dissuade him from dealing, if anything, the arrest had the opposite effect. “So now, I’m the man – I got locked up. That’s that poverty thinking – you know? You know, now I got street cred, right? This is the mindset,” he said. “That’s the frame of mind we had at that age, If I catch a case, if I shoot somebody – I get street cred for that, right? That was the foolishness at the time, you know. We just didn’t know anything else.”
Back on the block, Miller wasted no time setting up shop back in the crack game. He was still attending school, but mostly just to show off his gold chains and new sneakers. By the age of sixteen the school had enough of his spotty attendance and lack of work, he was kicked out, but that just gave him more time to make money. And make money he did, until his next arrest. This time though, there were real consequences, Miller was remanded to Department of Youth Services and placed in a detention facility for two months. “I didn’t sleep my first night. Even though I was a big kid, I was scared,” Miller recalled. “But even from a young age, I knew how to adjust to any environment. I’m social, so I figured the place out pretty quick. I did get into a few scrapes while I was in there, but it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t jail. They had beds and Nintendo. I was there for two months, and they sent me to a halfway house.”
By age seventeen, Miller was back home, but this time he was not just dealing, he was carrying a gun. Gang rivalries ran deep in the 90s in Boston. “They called us the Copeland Street Boys. Anytime you have two or three people hanging around, dealing drugs, doing dirt, they call you a gang. We had a pretty good name for a side street,” he said.
Violence and drugs were an everyday reality for Miller. Stepping into the hallway in his building it was routine to see people using heroin. Julian made a lot of mistakes in his life, but perhaps the biggest mistake was made three feet from his front door; the door that separated his family life from the streets. “The old heads were hanging out, doing their thing and I was like, hey let me get a one-on-one,” said Miller. “A one-on-one is when you take a corner of a bag of heroin and sniff it in each nostril. Afterwards, I didn’t feel nothing. Until, I took a deep sniff… and once I did – it was a feeling like I had never felt before. That’s exactly how you get hooked. Once you get that feeling you start chasing it. You will never get that feeling again, but that doesn’t stop you from chasing it for the rest of your life.”
Six months went by and now Julian’s daily routine was dealing crack, smoking weed and sniffing heroin. One day, he woke up and decided he was done using. “I was like, I ain’t messing with that shit,” he said. “The next thing I’m sick – terribly sick. I got the runs. I’m throwing up. My homie’s like, you had any dope today? I was like nah, I don’t fuck with that no more. He was like, you gotta have it. He said you need it right now. He gave me a bag. I sniffed that bag and all my symptoms cleared within two minutes. No more runny eyes. No more diarrhea. No more stomachache. No more chills. Just straight like a new man. So yeah, that’s how that’s how that went.”
From Juvie to State Time
By 2001, Miller was an ex-con and back on the street after serving a three-year stint in Concord State Prison for selling drugs. A year later, he earned another title: Dad. He was on the straight and narrow now, working two jobs, doing the best he could to take care of his daughter. But soon the streets came calling. “I’m back on the streets again. You know, thinking I could go around my old hood and thinking I was cool, but that’s what pulled me in,” he said. I didn’t have a change of mind; my state of mind was still in the streets. I was locked up for three years, so I need those years back. I’m making up for lost time. I started getting high again. You know, like in the streets, sleeping in hallways. Like, pulling all-nighters, sleeping in backyards and on park benches. I just took it to another level.”
Let’s Hit a Bank
Miller’s first bank robbery was a spur of the moment thing. There was no deep thought on the plan or the consequences, just a lack of clarity and short-term thinking. “One of my homies was like, ‘you want to hit a bank’. I sat there and thought about, then said, let’s go make that happen,” said Miller. “We rolled up to the bank and I went in and passed the note. It said: ‘give me all the bills, no die packs’. The teller starts giving me rolls of dimes and shit. I said bills, no coins, but I still took the dimes.”
Making their getaway, Miller’s friend pressed hard on the gas as they left the bank and headed to his brother’s house in Dorchester. Every block seemed to have a police car or a cop in the street working a detail. Miller told his friend to ease up and slow down. “So, he’s driving and all of a sudden, I feel my pocket start to get hot. Now my leg is burning. They put a dye pack in there. Now the car is filled with smoke. I showed up at my brother’s place covered in paint. There was $1,500.00 but most of it was covered in paint. I ended up with $600.00. First thing I did was call the dope man and get right,” he said. “I told my brother, man, I love you, but I’m about to go on a spree.
Miller’s spree consisted of nine bank robberies in Massachusetts. Flush with cash, Miller called his baby’s mother. “She was braiding my daughter’s hair, said Miller. “She said she saw my face on the news. The police kept rolling into the hood looking for me. They had my name and everything. I needed to get out of there, so I figured I’d head to New York and eventually make my way to California.”
The Big Apple
On the run Miller went to Times Square. He had a couple thousand dollars in cash, but for an addict, that money wouldn’t last long. Soon out of money and away from home, things took a bad turn. He began panhandling and sleeping on park benches. “I woke up and I had no money, nothing. I’m dope sick like crazy. I’m just walking around New York City. Walking around Manhattan – just aimless, without a care in the world, just don’t know what I’m gonna do. Now I’m checking out banks,” said Miller.
At 4:45 p.m., fifteen minutes before closing time, he found the right bank. There was no Plexiglas® and no security. As he approached the counter, he noticed the teller was pushing a cart from station to station. He approached the counter and handed the teller the note. The teller handed him 7 stacks of bills with $2000.00 in each stack. Miller struggled to get the money into his backpack – he fumbled with the zipper. He had been in and out of that backpack all day, but now with his heart rate racing and hands shaking he struggled. He finally managed to stuff the money in, zip the zipper and disappear into the busy street outside. Jumping in a cab, he went straight to footlocker to get some new clothing. Like a modern-day Robin Hood, he tipped every store employee a hundred dollars on his way out.
With his brand new Jordans, a sweat suit, and a backpack with just shy of $14,000.00 in cash, he met a girl. Nicole was a native New Yorker of Jamaican descent. They hung out and partied together for a few days. Nicole had no idea why he had so much cash and she didn’t press him on it. The two had a whirlwind romance. After meeting her parents, they headed to Disney World. Miller had a friend from Boston fly down, and the trio spent weeks, eating, partying, and spending. When money started running low, his friend headed back to Boston and Julian and Nicole headed back to New York. Miller hopped from hotel to hotel. To support his habit and his lifestyle, he robbed three more banks.
While hanging out in his motel room one afternoon, he heard a knock on the door. “I was just chilling when they came to the door. There was a knock and they said, ‘room service’. Now, this wasn’t the type of place to have room service,” he said. “I opened the door and it was the cops. I tried to give them a bogus name, but they knew. When we got to the station there was a wanted poster for me on the wall. The cop pulled it down and was like, we won’t need this anymore.”
At Miller’s court appearance he admitted to fourteen bank robberies. Later that day, sitting in a holding tank with 40 cellmates, that old feeling kicked in – he was dope sick. As luck would have it, Rikers Island has one of the few opioid treatment programs for prisoners. A proven program that has assisted tens of thousands of inmates in getting clean. “So, this officer is walking by and he says, ‘is anyone sick?’ He wrote my name down and they brought me to the infirmary. They started me on 60mg of Methadone. It was a blessing – it changed my life. I got clean and I never went back,” said Miller.
Miller went on to serve a total of eight and a half years in various state and federal prisons. He wrapped up his final stretch at a Federal Correctional Institute in New Jersey. Upon his release, he was handed a bus ticket to Philadelphia and from there onto Boston. He knew he couldn’t stay in Boston long, it would just end up the way it did every other time. “Now, I cannot go back to the hood, I’m vulnerable,” he said. “The only thing the boys are going to do for me there is give me a package, maybe a couple of dollars and I don’t want that. I gotta move out of the hood.”
Recognizing the rates of recidivism, Miller moved out of the city. As a condition of his parole he had to find work. With options limited he took whatever jobs he could to support himself. He washed dishes, worked as a short-order cook and worked for a temp agency. He had to catch the bus every morning at 4:45 a.m. Realizing that this was temporary and he wanted more, he reached out to Mass Rehab. It took two months to get an appointment. “I got this counselor and she’s like, you can do whatever you want to do. I told her I want to get off my feet and drive,” said Miller. His counselor suggested he get his CDL License. Miller passed the driving test on the first try, but failed the air brake portion. Not one to be deterred, he went back and studied some more until he was able to pass that section. Now armed with his CDL, Miller got a job driving a cement truck. “Getting a CDL was life changing for me. I basically doubled my pay. It was a lesson for me, I had to see it through to get what I wanted,” he said.
Today Miller spends his days driving the truck, but his nights are reserved for his passion: helping others. At a recent speech at a local college, Miller started off by playing Michael Jackson’s “Rock with you.” He paced through the classroom, singing and clapping his hands, with a big smile. Some students jumped right in with him, singing and bobbing their heads. Others hesitated. Miller encouraged them and eventually everyone joined him. What looks like a fun way to kick off a speech, is actually something much deeper. Miller strategically uses music to reach groups. To really effect change in someone you must change their state. Changing their state makes them receptive to the message, it also teaches people that they have the power to change their moods and self-motivate. “My hopes are that I can share my experiences and knowledge with people, especially the youth. I don’t want them to make the mistakes I made,” he said. “My dream is to leave an impact on people. I want to show them how to be kind, loving, and to act with integrity. I want them to be committed to what they say and be consistent. Lastly, I want to leave a legacy for my daughter.”