April 17, 2019

Why a California judge launched a running club in LA’s infamous Skid Row

Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell launched the Skid Row Running Club to help residents of the distressed Los Angeles neighborhood with drug and alcohol abuse recovery.

A Los Angeles running club helps members build strong bonds and a healthier lifestyle. Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images.

A 62-year-old Los Angeles Superior Court judge starts each day at 3:30 a.m. in the morning to help inspire former addicts and felons through group running sessions.

Judge Craig Mitchell formed a running program in 2012 after a man he sentenced to prison came back to thank Mitchell “for treating [him] like a human being.” The man, who has since been released from prison, invited Mitchell to visit him where he lived—at a social service’s organization, the Midnight Mansion. Since then, Mitchell has worked with the president of The Midnight Mission to come up with a way for the community of Skid Row, which has the largest homeless population in Los Angeles, to pursue positive life goals. Thus the Skid Row Running Club was born.

What started with two to three participants has expanded to 30 to 40 runners who use this program as a way to overcome drug and alcohol abuse. “The Judge,” as all the runners refer to him, gathers the Skid Row Running Club for runs three days a week as well as for longer runs on the weekends. Mitchell ran for 15 years before starting the club. Between 300 and 500 people have ran since joined him since the group started seven years ago.

Mitchell uses the running club to empower individuals who are homeless or in recovery to live a positive and healthy lifestyle, as well as develop a commitment to give back to others in need.

“Running is a mechanism for the participants to build relationships,” Mitchell said in an interview with CNN.

Each year, Mitchell and the running club participate in the Los Angeles marathon, but the Judge also takes his dedicated runners on a free trip to participate in an international marathon. Mitchell supplies the runners with sneakers and other necessities that they cannot afford but need to run a marathon.

Mitchell told CNN that he sees significant changes in the members’ lives once they commit to the running program. Past participants have attended college, secured full-time employment, and maintained sobriety. Mitchell encourages anyone to join the Skid Row Running Club.

“Everybody is welcome. We affirm. We listen. We support.”

Danielle Moskowitz

Danielle Moskowitz

Dani Moskowitz is a contributor to The Renewal Project.