'Skid Row Marathon,' Doc on Remarkable Judge Who Started Running Club for LA's Down and Out, To Play in Theaters One Night Only
Award-winning film by Mark Hayes will screen at more than 500 locations Monday, October 14
When I met Judge Craig Mitchell a couple of years ago at the Midnight Mission on LA's Skid Row, he was nursing an injury that had cost him a tooth.
"I ended up trying to break up a fight in front of the Mission," he told me on that occasion, "and got punched in the mouth."
It's hard to avoid incidents of that sort when you spend as much time as Mitchell does on Skid Row, the zone in downtown where tens of thousands of homeless people live in shelters or on the streets. The jurist who serves on the LA County Superior Court founded a running club on Skid Row in 2012 as a way to help individuals dealing with substance abuse overcome addiction and achieve "positive life goals," as the club's website puts it.
Putting somebody on a pedestal, calling me extraordinary, I disagree.
Mitchell's remarkable running club and the impact it's had on many members is told in the documentary Skid Row Marathon, directed by Mark Hayes and produced by Gabrielle Hayes and Doug Blush. It will play for one night only at more than 500 theaters across the country on Monday, October 14, organized by Fathom Events (all screenings start at 7pm local time; details here).
"[Judge Mitchell] came up with this idea to start a running cluband to train anyone who is willing, anyone who would show up," Mark Hayes tells me, "if they would stay clean, off of drugs, off of alcohol or whatever was keeping them from becoming productive members of society, if they would do that he would train them to run marathons. And if they stuck with the training he would then take them around the world to run marathons."
Along with Mitchell, the film focuses on a handful of subjects.
"We follow about five runners from all backgrounds," Hayes explains, "a heavy metal guitarist, an aspiring artist, a woman who was homeless, living on the street with her kid, who wants to work at a hospital. Someone who is on parole for a serious crime, and a guy who had an accounting degree. He was from Senegal. He was trying to operate a luggage business and living at the Mission. Sadly, he relapsed and he's back living on the street. We don't know where he is... It just shows the stakes."
Mitchell runs every step of the way with club members.
"He gets up at 4:30 [in the morning] and then he goes down to Skid Row and runs and then goes to the bench and runs at lunchtime again," Gabrielle Hayes notes, adding Mitchell got her and her husband Mark Hayes into the act. "When we met with the judge [initially] he said, 'Come on down to Skid Row and run with us and get to know all these people.'"
Mitchell dismisses any talk of him being a hero, deflecting attention back on Skid Row residents who have made the most of the running club experience.
"Putting somebody on a pedestal, calling me extraordinary, I disagree," he insists. "I look at Rafael [Cabrera], I look at so many people in our program, I aspire to emulate them. And I really am sincere about that... In terms of my own spiritual life I got so much from Rafael. What distinguishes me from someone else, perhaps, is that I am willing to show up on Mondays and Thursdays and Saturdays--that, I'm willing to do. That I am validating the worth of every human being that comes in contact with me, yes, I think I can do that."
Watch the Skid Row Marathon trailer below:
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.