On L.A.'s Skid Row, a judge leads pack on run to recovery

Sat May 23, 2015 9:49am EDT
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The five-mile run at dawn ends on a dystopian stretch, a street in Los Angeles' Skid Row lined with homeless men and women waiting for a free breakfast.

The runners, in contrast, give off a healthy glow as they chat about the run and the challenges ahead. The squalor of Crocker Street is a stark reminder of how far they have come.

A year ago, Oscar Knight, 53, couldn't stop drinking and lost everything. He moved into The Midnight Mission on Skid Row, embarked on its recovery program, joined its running club, ran with the group in the Rome Marathon and got "very close" to Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square.

The dozens of recovering and homeless addicts who have taken up running to help stay sober say they owe much to an unlikely benefactor - in Knight's words, "the glue of the group."

Craig Mitchell, dressed in running gear, peels away from the group on Crocker and heads to his chambers where he will don the black robe of a Superior Court judge.

Mitchell, 59, often has no choice but to sentence people to prison for life. A man he had put in prison was on parole and in recovery at the Mission, leading him to Skid Row four years ago.

Mitchell has run 50 marathons over 20 years and knew that running in a group is good therapy.

Up at 3:45 a.m. twice a week, Mitchell arrives at the Mission on foot. At 6 a.m., the runners wade through a chaotic courtyard packed with people and carts, and take the first strides into the fetid, trash-strewn streets.   Continued...

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell, 58, (L) leads Oscar Knight, 53, and other runners from the Midnight Mission Running Club on a sunrise run through Skid Row in Los Angeles, California April 20, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson