As a superior court judge, Craig Mitchell has the power to make a difference in people’s lives. But not in the way he wants to.
That desire, along with a fateful reunion with a parolee, is what motivated him to do more. In his 17 years as a high school teacher, Judge Mitchell saw firsthand the toll gang violence takes on the people he cares about. He lost a number of his beloved students to such crimes, which is what inspired him to become a prosecutor and then a judge.
But rather than just lock offenders up, Mitchell has always been searching for a way to turn their lives around. And he finally found his answer in 2012, after reconnecting with a man he’d once sentenced to prison. Mitchell visited him at a social services organization in Downtown Los Angeles’s notoriously dangerous Skid Row.
He was paroled to The Midnight Mission and decided to come back and say, ‘Thank you, Judge Mitchell, for treating me like a human being,'” Mitchell explained. The president of the mission at the time asked me if there was something that I could do to contribute to the mission’s program, and I thought of starting a running club. That was the inception.
The 62-year-old believes helping addicts, convicted criminals, and homeless individuals train for marathons will benefit their physical and mental health, which then, in turn, will put them on a better path. He’s right. Since its inception, the Skid Row Running Club, now an official non-profit organization, has helped several at-risk members completely change their lives.
Hundreds of people have run alongside the group, which meets twice weekly in the early hours of the morning to jog through downtown Los Angeles. Mitchell keeps them honest and sober by promising free trips for dedicated members to run in international marathons. He pays for running shoes, too. So far, the club has participated in marathons in Ghana, Rome, Vietnam, and Jerusalem.
And not all members are the same. Some are lawyers, social workers, businessmen, off-duty officers, or students. Some are fitter and faster than others.
Running is a mechanism for the participants to build relationships.You can be a horrible runner and benefit the same as our fast runners, because at the end of the day you’re going to be surrounded by people who really care about you and want to spend time with you.
Above all else, Mitchell says the group exists to help its members regain their dignity — and find a purpose in life. From surviving on Skid Row to completing marathons in different countries, the runners who’ve stuck around have come so far. The documentary “Skid Row Marathon,” which debuted at the 2017 LA Film Festival, features their inspiring story.
Hear a few members’ personal stories in the documentary’s preview below, and share to spread awareness.
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