by Alyssa Yakey
Whether we know it at the time or not, the decisions we make set a path for our future. All it takes is one choice to change the course of a person’s life. Rochester College alumnus Amy Mitchell has experienced this herself and sees it in her line of work everyday.
All her life, Mitchell held an interest in law and dreamed of joining the police academy. That dream faded when she said “yes” to a seemingly small but unforgettable opportunity during her freshman year of college.
Before attending RC, Mitchell pursued her associate’s degree at Macomb Community College, where she was involved in both the track and basketball teams.
One day in 1999 after an exhausting basketball practice, Mitchell was conversing with her coach and teammates about her plans to attend the police academy, when her coach offered her a small opportunity.
“She asked if I wanted to volunteer at the Juvenile Justice Center to work with kids on probation, and without thinking, I agreed,” Mitchell said.
That minor decision changed her dream and sent her on a new career path.
Becoming a Probation Officer
“I couldn’t believe how much of an impact the kids in the juvenile system left on me,” Mitchell said. “Days after, I was still thinking about my experience and that’s when I knew I wanted to become a probation officer.”
Shortly after deciding on this career path, Mitchell excelled in her education. She received her associate’s degree from MCC and transferred to Rochester College, obtaining a degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in English and criminal justice.
“The bonds I was able to form with my teammates and relationships that developed with my professors at Rochester are still important to me today,” Mitchell said. “That experience alone is unique to RC because my professors were able to take the time to get to know me and my classmates.”
Fast-forward to today and Mitchell has been working at the Juvenile Justice Center as a probation officer for 12 years.
Working at the JJC
“This job takes a lot of dedication and time. You have to love what you do and be at work for the right reasons,” she said. “Not everything important happens between the scheduled 8 to 5. Being a probation officer you have to dedicate yourself to the kids and volunteer at events outside of work.”
I recently visited Mitchell at work and saw her dedication first-hand. Upon arriving, Mitchell greeted me at the doorway.
“She’s with me,” Mitchell says flashing a smile to security. “I don’t know why but she chose to shadow me today, must think I’m important,” Mitchell said jokingly.
Her office is centered in the middle of a long hallway that is constantly used by other employees. Mitchell was mid-explanation as to why she always has to work with her door closed when her coworker, Christopher Alston, popped in the doorway.
Alston, fellow probation officer, said Mitchell is a tremendous asset to the drug court program.
“Amy and I have worked together for a year and a half now and she has a superb ability to look for solutions outside of the box,” Alston said. “Amy is not afraid to fail, working hard to support her morals and leads by example.”
Even with years of experience under her belt, Mitchell continues her self-growth and turns to her coworkers and boss as a source of inspiration.
“My boss, Dave Joseph, is the person who inspires me the most. He is extremely intelligent and you can’t duplicate his life experience,” Mitchell said. “He experienced a lot of hardships growing up and from that he has developed an ability to see through chaos.”
Whenever a difficult decision has to be made on a case, Mitchell says she will often take a step back and think, “How would Dave handle this?”
Alston says Mitchell is thoroughly involved in every case she handles. She gets to know not only the child, but also the parents and families as well.
“I want to make sure the parents know that I am here for them, keeping an open line of communication between us,” Mitchell said. “I also want to make sure each kid is excelling in his or her program.”
Mitchell recalls a case that sticks out to her the most, pertaining to a boy named Sam.
Sam came from an estranged home and was going down an extremely dark path in his life. He resented everything that was thrown at him by the JJC and hated being in placement, but then something changed and he made a decision to accept it.
“Later on in his program Sam confessed to me that without placement, he knows he wouldn’t be alive today,” Mitchell said. “He is one of the reasons why I do my job.”
Mitchell’s dedication to the kids in her program is known throughout the office and Macomb County District Court. She provides a friendly face in an often dark and unhappy place.
While speaking to the parents and family of kids in the program, she makes sure to sit down with them personally and speaks with them eye-to-eye.
One of the referees at Macomb County District Court, Kristin Stone, is impressed by Mitchell’s line of work.
“You do great work Mitchell, these kids are lucky to have you in this program, they really are,” Stone said looking to Mitchell.
Mitchell’s eyes look to the floor and a small smile breaks, “Thank you, but they are the ones who make the decision to change their lives, I’m just here to guide them.”