For Judge Mitchell, One Cannot Be Defined by One Horrendous Act
By Nick Antonicello
Discipline and commitment is at the heart of long distance running as well as recovery from drugs and alcohol and LA County Judge Craig Mitchell is changing lives down at Skid Row each and every day.
For Judge Mitchell, one cannot be defined by one horrendous act as he applies empathy and second chances for those in his world renowned running club that has become a model of self-help and getting back on your feet and moving forward in this marathon called life.
A former teacher who taught high school in South-Central Los Angeles for 17 years, Mitchell changed careers as he attended Southwestern Law School at night and continued his public service for 11 years as a deputy district attorney and handles the toughest of assignments prosecuting murder and sexual assault cases. In 2004 he unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Superior Court but was appointed to the bench in 2005 by then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger where he currently presides over a felony trial court in downtown LA.
He is married with three adult children, one a teacher, another a marriage and family therapist and another a lawyer.
So how does one who is putting people away in his day job reaching out to those seeking recovery and a better life in the evening?
For at the foundation of Craig Mitchell is that everyone deserves a second chance, but they need to holdup their part of the bargain as well.
So in 2012 he founded the Skid Row Running Club by concentrating on marathon running to those seeking to break the cycle of prison, addiction and homelessness . The club has traveled the world to marathon in places like Ghana and Rome, Italy to incentivize these individuals that things can improve and change for themselves, as well as their families and loved ones based on commitment to changing one’s life.
These dedicated athletes run three times a week, and average three marathons a year. In the last decade, hundreds of runners have maintained sobriety, got off the streets, secured employment and a place to live while becoming the pride of Skid Row.
This community of runners has become in a sense a family, as they demand accountability and responsibility from each other.
In many ways, they in the strictest sense of the word have become their brother’s keeper.
It is this valiant and sobering process that became the subject of the documentary, “Skid Row Marathon” that delves into the lives of several club members in their search for recovery and becoming a responsible and productive members of society and Craig Mitchell is that guide on the side, not a sage on the proverbial stage.
For Judge Mitchell is an incredibly modest role model that understands who he is, and how this at the end of the day has nothing to do with him, but everything to do with changing lives be it a teacher, prosecutor or judge.
For his life is about helping and guiding while learning himself from those ironically who seek the help and guidance of others.
While impacting lives as a judge is defined by the law, raising the necessary funds to keep the group intact and successful is another responsibility of this marathon man.
For his mentorship and guidance is at the core of his being.
He knows who he truly is.
When viewing the film you get an insight of who he emulates as photos of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln and JFK grace his office walls. He is a man of true compassion and strength and tempers both in this healing process known as recovery.
For Mitchell, it is not winning, but finishing and competing.
Like life, the competition is at the core of the values learned by all.
In the tradition of his Catholic faith, Mitchell offers opportunity to see the proverbial ocean. To grasp at a “new dignity” in the same manner as Pope Francis teaches every day.
For the process of the runners is to gain strength and after three months of training have the stamina and ability to run multiple, twenty-two mile distances. Mitchell like to run to work where in many cases he is imposing harsh sentences that fit the crime while in the evening he is trying to create paths of dignity for those seeking that lifting hand. It is indeed ironic but logical all at the same time.
His wife, who is African-American describes her husband as having the “heart of a priest,” and realizing that many along the way will relapse and not recover.
For the trips abroad prove to be incentives to strive for and Mitchell says marathoning “is a test, and never gets easier.”
For this network of runners and it’s foundation is similar to the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a group that is based on a strong word of mouth that becomes in a sense its testimony and testimonial for others to consider.
For writing letters of reference and doing all he can do beyond the running club is typical of Judge Mitchell’s own extended family. His non-judgmental approach in this journey is just another example of teaching and hopefully learning from his clan of long distance runners.
For the learning moment for Mitchell is understanding the pitfalls of addiction and homelessness that in many ways are grounded in financial hardship, while understanding things can turn around by restructuring one’s life.
Currently, there are roughly 120 active members and about 50 members make the trek each evening. The range of age participation is broad from 12 to 66, and many of the donors to the cause are lawyers, physicians and other professionals including full-time students who are also establishing themselves in sobriety, which represents about 70% of the participants.
For Mitchell, his passion for running and recovery have made him a better judge. He freely admits his understanding of addiction have made him a better jurist.
“I don’t spend my weekends on the golf course,” offered this transformational individual.
For Mitchell believes He has “an informed worldview,” and his new sense of patience has been improved due to this commitment to what he sees as a lifetime commitment no matter what the future holds.
While Mitchell is a practicing Catholic, he is proud of the fact his wife is not and attends services at her church of choice on Sundays. For the message of Christ in his view is not about eternal life, but it is about the service, and in his case he was drafted in a sense for this vocation.
A life-long Democrat who is a father, husband and grandfather, some are hopeful he will challenge the controversial incumbent LA County District Attorney George Gascon, viewed by many as out-of-step and out-of-touch with most voters as he has survived two attempted recalls and begins to mount a potential reelection campaign where many political observers believe he is woefully at-risk and ripe for defeat.
It is unclear if Judge Mitchell will mount a campaign against this flawed incumbent as others are already laying the groundwork for a potential primary challenge.
Mitchell says he is “mulling it over,” and it seems to be something he will address moving forward.
But for Mitchell, the running is not about public office, but for true and demanding public service as he pounds the pavement of LA each and everyday doing the heavy lifting of helping his fellow man in more ways than one.
For Judge Craig Mitchell is what all strive for and that is to be known as a good man.