Fortunate to Fight for Justice
Pacing the halls of a jail isn’t something most people look forward to. It’s not an environment most people would feel comfortable in, but Marla Mitchell-Cichon is not most people.
The Ohio native knew in high school that she was interested in corrections.
“I remember talking to my sociology teacher after class,” Mitchell-Cichon said. I remember he hit me in the arm really hard. My arm hurt for a couple of days. He said if you’re interested in that, you’re going to have to be really tough.”
That was Mitchell-Cichon’s first look into the world she was about to enter.
As a criminal justice major in college, Mitchell-Citchon held internships at juvenile prisons and lived on the grounds for a semester at Scioto Village for Girls, a juvenile prison in Ohio.
She began traveling to reformatories and women’s prisons once or twice a month. She walked the same halls the prisoners did, but wasn’t scared – she was comfortable.
“I wasn’t ever afraid … it wasn’t a pleasant environment, yet I felt comfortable in it and I really enjoyed the work. I really enjoyed it and I still do,” she said.
“That’s sort of a joke I say, I’m very comfortable in the prisons,” she laughed. “I know that I’m supposed to be there, I know I’m supposed to be doing the work I’m doing. And I understand that it’s not what everybody would aspire to do.”
Mitchell-Cichon came to Lansing in 1995 when she was hired at Cooley Law School to teach an elder law clinic.
The Director of the Innocence Project since 2002, this criminal justice veteran is utilizing her years of experience in mentoring and assisting law students on a variety of legal issues in the Western Michigan University (WMU) Cooley Law School Innocence Project clinic.
Everything that is done in the clinic; interviewing clients, legal documents or court appearances, are all done by the students under a licensed attorney’s supervision.
Much like the popular Netflix series, “Making a Murderer,” the former public defender admits the real-life versions of cases done in her clinic are much less sexy or star-studded.
She and her team of clinical law students have been able to exonerate three innocent people who were in jail for crimes they did not commit.
Sometimes the process takes years, getting approval for DNA tests from the court can be a lengthy, arduous journey. Yet, the reward of tedious paperwork and creative thinking is something that Mitchell-Cichon is thankful for every day.
“I feel so fortunate,” she said. “I love the work I’m doing. I know not everyone can say they love their jobs. Without a doubt.”
There is no doubt that Mitchell-Cichon is good at what she does. She is being awarded the Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly 2016 Leaders in the Law — Top 30 Michigan Lawyer. She was also awarded the State Bar of Michigan, Champion of Justice award.
Photo By Erika Hodges