submitted by Ellsworth Brown; photo by Neil Fauerbach
Imagine the combined power of a preacher and the authority of a judge, connected by an unrelenting mission to lift up children who stand alone. Now imagine the twenty-minute Rotary program this produced in reflection of and response to the career challenge that Judge Everett Mitchell was given via the question above, by the day’s Manfred E. Swarsensky award winner Ms. Milele Chikasa Anana, on the occasion of his installation as Circuit Court Judge in 2016.
But we didn’t have to imagine this. It came to life with driven speed, intensity and the best desperation to help us understand how incapable the child welfare system, often following inevitably into the juvenile justice system and ultimately the criminal justice system, are to the task of repairing damaged lives, providing help and hope to those who enter these systems with no experience, no point of reference, no one to hear, no hand to hold, no ability to move beyond a closed loop.
Using poignant examples, Judge Mitchell spoke movingly of the power of restorative justice. His source of language and guidance in court is Trauma and Healing Guide Resource, which speaks directly to the need for courts and the public to speak to a child’s future more than the past. The absence of and critical need for mental health treatment was a frequent theme, as was the need to keep dreams alive as a replacement for the damages done to children, giving them voices.
The Judge spoke of the Court in partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District, to open an Office of Youth Engagement. He spoke of the need to raise the bar of the justice system’s practices, which are not yet equal to the focus on trauma.
The best expression of Judge Mitchell’s commitment to the power of his vision and the role of the Court was his closing word: “I am not just their judge, I am their reflection.” His life, once his nightmare, turned into his dream: power of a preacher and the authority of a judge, bent to a consuming mission.