People in this space should feel: I was treated with respect. I was treated like an adult. I was treated like a human being, he adds. The main question we face is how to ensure they dont go back out into the community and hurt more people.

This idea lies at the heart of an audacious campaign Mitchell launched months earlier for a pivotal seat as justice on the states highest court, an election that Mandela Barnes, the one-time Democratic senatorial candidate calls one of the most consequential elections in Wisconsin, if not the country. Up for grabs in this technically nonpartisan race is the ideological makeup of the court. Thats no small thing in a battleground state where the government is divided between Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republicans in the legislature. Supreme Court justices hold the balance of power and conservatives have controlled the majority of the court for the last decade.

The first round of voting, scheduled for Tuesday, will be followed by a run-off April 4. Whoever wins will tip the scale on far-reaching decisions about issues like abortion access, voting rights, redistricting and even the role Wisconsin courts will play in the next presidential election. Mitchells candidacy places the judge up against three older and better funded white candidates in a state where 80 percent of the population is white and where party organizations and outside advocacy groups have spent millions in an attempt to sway the election. By the weekend before the first round of voting, $6 million had already been expended, much of it on TV attack ads.


Mitchell doesnt seem daunted by his long odds. People have been writing me off all my life, he says.

That life so far has been studded with seemingly miraculous turns.

By the time he reached his teens, Mitchell felt lost, invisible, mostly muted, intensely dour. He could not read properly; he trusted none of the adults closest to him; he felt gutted by the fact that he had failed to protect his younger sister from sexual predation by their stepfather. By the time he entered high school Mitchell no longer dreamed of going to college. I was so angry in ninth grade. I was drinking Mad Dogs, skipping classes, hanging out, he remembers. His highest ambition at the time was to play basketball or become a rap artist.

But events intervened, altering his life trajectory.

The first radical pivot in life happened shortly after he turned 15. One night when Mitchell was in his bedroom at home trying out new phrases for a rap song, he heard a voice calling: Everett. This voice wasnt like any hed heard before; it was clear, loud, out of the blue. There was nothing subtle in it, he emphasizes, perhaps noting my skeptical expression. He challenged the voice to do something ridiculous, like light a fire inside of me, and felt a burning sensation in his chest right then. It was like an instantaneous passion. Ive been on fire ever since. I could feel it. I feel it still, he recalls.

Mitchell started preaching the gospel right away, a transformation that arrived like a thunderclap for his younger sister, Shuntol Mitchell. He stopped running the streets. Never much of a talker before, her brother suddenly held forth at great length in pulpits across town. Some people are just born with it. And he just had it, Shuntol Mitchell recalls. She figured that his quick turn to preaching offered Everett a sense of purpose, not to mention relief from ongoing trouble at home.

Their stepfathers sexual abuse began when she was 5 and Everett was 6, she says. Her brother was the only one who had tried to protect her. Thats why hes the only man I trust, she says. The only one.

Mitchell poses with his sister, Shuntol, then four and three years old respectively.


Courtesy of Everett Mitchell

The second big pivot in their lives came thanks to one of his teachers. One morning at school Everett arrived feeling particularly morose. Taking note of his despondency, the teacher took him aside and pressed him to tell her what was wrong. She reported what Everett told her to Child Protective Services.

Within a few days their stepfather was forced out of the house. The sudden change felt like a miracle. Finally, the siblings thought, an adult stepped in to protect them.

A third pivot followed that transformative event. When he graduated high school, the only job Mitchell had on offer was as a bagger at the local grocery. But instead, Mitchell took a chance. He enrolled at Jarvis Christian College, an historically Black college in east Texas, without having to apply, thanks to the intervention of a guidance counselor who recommended him as a good student.

How had he managed to graduate high school let alone preach without being able to read even passages from the Bible? He had the ability to recognize phrases and copy them out, he explains. I was also verbal. I had a good memory. And I had become a great listener. At Jarvis, though, his educational deficiencies caught up with him. Two professors, noticing his difficulties with his first assignments, interceded. Nearly every day after classes, from 5 oclock until about 10 p.m., they tutored him, line by line and page by painful page until he was fluent.

Three teachers, then, delivered Mitchell into the possibility of a new life. In conversations he often names all three women: Amy Love, Margaret Bell and Mrs. Daisy Wilson.

Without their interventions, he notes, there would have been no high-flown career. No transfer to Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he studied mathematics and theology; no advanced study in divinity, theology and ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary; no law degree from the University of Wisconsin; no stint as manager of a re-entry program for people being released from prison, no role as director of community relations for the university, and no service as a prosecutor and judge in charge of juvenile justice in Dane County.

The memory of their intercessions reminds him every day, Mitchell says, of the outsize influence a person in authority could play in saving a life or in crushing a spirit. He sums up that essential lesson in two words: To protect. Their influence led him, from pastoring to study to lots of therapy, he adds, on to a legal career as a prosecutor and judge.

That practice might be called trauma-informed jurisprudence. I dont talk about how many people I locked up, he notes. I talk about how many lives I worked to save.

That is the message he hopes to take into the chambers of Wisconsins Supreme Court.

In his campaign announcement, Mitchell is shown sitting in his chambers, dressed in his judicial robe, with shelves of law books from floor to ceiling angled into a V behind him. Im a father, Im a husband, Im a judge, Im a pastor, Im a community leader, he says. That fourth entry community leader still matters to him deeply. As he says those words a photo flashes on the screen of Mitchell protesting in the streets, dressed in his bright red pastoral gown at a march organized by religious leaders after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

He began his current campaign in June of 2022 against three older and more experienced judges, one progressive and two conservatives. His hope: to use the race for what he considered a higher purpose, educating voters about the need for systemic judicial reform from bottom to top. After he was elected as a circuit court judge in 2016, for example, he allowed juvenile defendants to appear in his courtroom unshackled. Bailiffs who initially felt skeptical about the change later reported that young people were less agitated and hearings more productive once they entered court unbound. Years later, justices in the Wisconsin Supreme Court instituted the reform statewide.

But Mitchells quest for the highest court has run up against quite formidable challenges.