A Skid Row Running Club Empowered This Incarcerated Ex-Gang Member To Restart His Life

A Skid Row Running Club Empowered This Incarcerated Ex-Gang Member To Restart His Life


– In downtown Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell spends his working hours
handing down criminal sentences. But in his free time he’s
helping to give second chances to some of the very men and
women he sends to prison through the simple act of running. His incredible journey is featured in the
powerful new documentary, Skid Row Marathon. Y’all take a look. (gentle music) – My involvement with the
running club gives me the ability to impact lives in a way
that I cannot as a judge. – This is what I use to call home. Climbing in and out of a
hole on a regular basis likes it’s perfectly normal. – Got arrested, I got out of jail and then I just drank as much
as I could, hoping to die. – One horrendous act
does not define a person in his or her entirety. Not everybody succeeds. – I knew I had felt about the
passion when I was running. Get ready to rock and roll. Here we go the midnight crunch. – Do I believe in a second chance? Sure I do. (audience cheering) – Please welcome founder of
the Skid Row running club Judge Craig Mitchell. (cheering and clapping) So take us back, before you were a judge what were you a teacher,
is that what you did? – I was a teacher for 17 years in south central Los Angeles. – So that’s where the patience comes in. You have to have patience as a teacher. – You do and it really taught
me to appreciate everybody. So many people look at people
with certain stereotypical assumptions that they make. But when you are with young
people for six, seven, eight, ten hours a day, you understand that every human being
has tremendous potential and as a teacher the wonderful
thing about teaching, I didn’t plan on staying
in teaching for 17 years, but I found it to be so meaningful that I couldn’t pull myself away. To be able to advance the
potential of human beings, there’s no more worthy enterprise. – I’m sure where that’s where
this all started for you in your heart, with this whole concept of just advocating for
second chances for people for convicts, so people that really society might lose hope in and you don’t. – And there’s some people
that come into my court house or in my courtroom, you know okay, they may be a
of a certain racial identity certain socio-economic background. I can look at a piece
of paper that tells me their criminal record, but there’s more. And it is my obligation to figure out, who is this person and can
I do something of benefit to this person rather than
simply sending them to prison because that’s too easy. – How did you come up with
the idea of the running club? And why did you think
running would aid them in getting better? – Well drawing on my own experience I’d run for many years. – [Madeleine] Thank you. – I’d run for many years before I ended up on Skid Row at the Midnight Mission and I understood how vital it
was for my own mental health, far more than my physical health, okay? And for my mental health and so when I went to Skid Row and I saw people who were attempting to
maintain their sobriety deal with serious addiction,
deal with homelessness, what do you need to be
successful in that endeavor? You need some mental fortitude, okay? And you need a sense of community and if anybody has been around runners, they’re really nice people. – Yeah all those endorphins. – Okay but they are, they’re
content, they’re happy, okay? And so to bring that running experience both for the mental health
and the sense of community I knew it would be a good fit. – It’s beautiful. Are you guys runners? Do you all run? – I love running, and I’m with you and a
big part of my sobriety was always what working
out did for me mentally and it’s not about how it
makes me look or any of it. Legitimately it’s just a
mood elevator for sure. – And I’ve done some research. There have been a lot of academic studies that indicate that the
dopamine that is released when you run okay, is
critical in suppressing an individuals desire to take drugs. – Let me ask you a quick question. At what point in a run do you think that dopamine starts hitting ya? – Or do you think it’s
different for every chemist– like all your body? – When I do it, there’s that barrier where you’re exhausted,
exhausted, exhausted then you get that kind of breakthrough and you feel fine.
– I would say the first mile or two. – Yeah? Interesting. – Pretty quick. – So you’re saying I just
have to get past the mile. Okay – [Craig] Just one mile come on. – That’s what I filtered out. Just get past the mile girl. – There you go. There you go. – So the producer of the
documentary Skid Row Marathon Gabby Hayes is actually
in our audience, hi. – Hi guys. – So what drew you to this story? – I’m a runner myself and
I live downtown Los Angeles for five, six years and I couldn’t believe how many homeless people
were in the streets in along the sidewalks, in boxes, you see it.
– It’s alarming, yeah. – It’s really so bad and I felt really helpless. I didn’t know what can you do? You give them water or
maybe give them food. But then I read an article
about Judge Mitchell who started the running club on Skid Row and I thought, maybe that’s a good idea, maybe I can do something, and we just started running with them for like four, six weeks
and slowly but surely they warmed up and we gained their trust and four years later, the
documentary is finished. – Oh my gosh, thank you so much Gabby. The documentary is wonderful. He’s all about helping
addicts the homeless and criminals turn their lives around. That includes people like our next guests Rebecca and Raphael. Just listen to their stories. – We are all hopeless, die
hard alcoholic drug addicts and we are the least person that you would think would
be running or doing anything with their lives. – I had a weapon and I started shooting at them and I seen them both fall
right there in the driveway. – I have created so much wreckage because of my drinking and drug use. – I’ve lived more than half
of my life in places like this where they tell you when you can eat. When you can use the restroom. I’m an alien to your world. This is all a turnaround
for me in my life. I took somebody’s life. I feel that as long as I’m breathing there’s not enough that I could
do for the life that I took. – We can stop this cycle now you know and it’s such a big deal being here. (dramatic music) – So Rebecca and Raphael are joining us. Give it up for them. So Rebecca you were an addict for years. How did you get clean,
what was the final thing that helped you do you think? – Such a long story. I started drinking and smoking
pot when I was a teenager and when I was 20 I was dating someone who was a heroin addict. – Wow.
– Yeah, I was curious. Not to place any blame
on him but I was curious and I started using heroin and cocaine. Immediately I lost everything. I lost everything and I
ended up on the streets and I lived like that
for a number of years. I entered a 12 step
program in July of 2011, I’ve been sober ever since. – Man. That’s great.
– Thank you. – So how did you find
out about the program? You’re living on the
streets, I’m just curious to get the word out on that, that’s cool. – I found out about the running program through the program I was in. I was in the Midnight Mission
which a homeless shelter in downtown LA and they
were supporting a five K for the Midnight Mission and
I wanted to be a part of that. – And that’s when the thing
that really helped you change. – Yeah running has
definitely helped me change. – I think the science has been proven okay that you’re right. So Raphael you spent
almost 30 years in prison. How did you meet Judge Mitchell? How did that come about? – In 2004 I went to a
parole board hearing, my second parole board hearing and he was the deputy
district attorney there so normally we would
expect a district attorney to go in there and say, “This
guy should never go home” They usually just go in there and say “Hey nah, don’t let this guy go home. “He doesn’t deserve it. “He did this this” But Craig said at first,
“I read this guy’s file “and at first I thought
he should never go home “but after seeing him here
today, seeing the change “he’s done in prison and
how he’s turned the corner” he said “I’m not opposing, “I’m leaving it up to the parole board” He encouraged parole. – Wow. He believed in you. – I remember my exact words
at that parole hearing. The district attorneys office does not oppose Raphael’s parole, okay? – That’s a big moment for you. – Three months later I just said “Man it takes a lot of gall
for somebody to do that “to go out of their, to
go against the grain” – Believe in you. – And have faith so I
sent him a thank you card and I didn’t think he
was going to write back and he wrote. I didn’t get parole and I went to seven parole board hearings and seven years later, we were corresponding for seven years. – Raphael would write me
letters that were probably 15 to 20 pages long, okay? And we talked about politics
about religion, everything and he and I wouldn’t agree
on everything, we still don’t, okay? – Which is okay America. – Which is okay. – It’s okay. – And what was great is that Raphael would seriously ponder my point of view. I would ponder his and as you say, we found common ground. – Yeah it’s possible, possible.
– [Craig] It is. Do I believe in a second chance? Sure I do and Raphael has
just brought that message home to me. – Welcome judge Mitchell,
Raphael, Mrs Crabrerra. Raphael I would like to present you with your discharge card from parole. Congratulations on successfully
completing your parole. – Thank you it’s an honor. – You’re officially a free man. (laughing) Good job, okay? – Thank you. – I’m back with Rob
Lowe and Madeleine Paige along with the founder of
the Skid Row Running Club Judge Craig Mitchell and
two of the club members Raphael and Rebecca. So after 29 years in prison
and nearly five years on parole that was the moment
Raphael was finally free. A moment for which judge
Mitchell was sure to be by Raphael’s side, you’re like an angel. In fact judge Mitchel is
often by the side of Raphael, Rebecca and the other
members of his running club so how do you think Raphael and Rebecca the running club has
kind of changed your life or helped you on a better path? – Well for me, becoming a heroin addict I didn’t feel beautiful anymore. I had crossed every line possible so I had very low self esteem and what running did was empower me and it made me feel fierce and it made me feel beautiful. – Raphael what about you? – For me the running club
was like a second family. You’re running and all you know is everyone’s wearing
tennis shoes and short pants and everybody’s just
trying to get to a goal. No ones asking for your resume. No ones asking about your history. No ones asking about what job do you have, who do you know, where you’re from. No one cares. Everybody just cares about one thing and that’s reaching the goal. I have one friend and I’m going, oh my God you work for Homeland Security? Oh you’re a cop and I was like, I used to run from cops and now
I’m running with these guys. Yeah, and I didn’t know, that’s the thing, I didn’t know you know? – That’s what I think is so
powerful about this story because this country
is so divide right now and especially that y’all talking about you don’t agree on everything. We don’t have to agree on everything but it is nice to at least
let someone’s opinion be validated and heard and
find some common ground. – We’re such opposite poles, he and I. Here’s a judge. A criminal court that
sends people to prison and here’s an ex-gang member and here I am and I’m going to his house. – Yeah. – And we’re having
barbecues or fourth of July and I know his family
and he knows my family. I’ve said it a million times this man is somebody special. – Totally, agree. So would you all like I mean an opportunity. I know you’re usually
in your work out clothes running with them but
you’re all dazzled up you want to say anything to him? I want to say stuff to
him and I’ve just met you. I just think you’re a remarkable man and I was wondering if y’all
wanted to say any words or.. – Craig knows, I’ve
said it a million times. I see him like a father figure. I’ve gone to him with personal problems, medical issues, whenever I go to him, he always has an answer. If we have more fathers like him we would have less people incarcerated, more people graduating from college and more people being caring and there’d be more love in the world. He’s everything and you guys
have just touched the iceberg. And I love you. (audience clapping) – Anything you want to say Rebecca? – Well what you see here is what you get. He’s like this 24 seven and
what I want to say to you and I’ve told you this personally, never once have I felt separated from you. Never once have I felt
there was a barrier. You’ve always believed in me
and you’ve always made me feel like I can accomplish the miraculous and you’re always there rooting me on and I don’t know how to
say thank you to that. – You don’t have to. – But I love you. – You have lived your life in a way that is so affirming to me. God bless you. – Well all y’all can
catch Skid Row Marathon streaming on Amazon and Apple TV. It’s amazing. We have to have you all back
or seriously run for president.

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