By Christina Cantero
A crisp winter air had spread throughout the city as four friends ventured out on the streets of Kalamazoo’s Eastside neighborhood. Three of them were on a hunt for money, the fourth went along to prove himself.
The victim in sight was randomly selected, and was beaten, threatened and robbed by the group. Seconds later, the four friends were swallowed by the dark of the night.
Quinton Mitchell, who was 16 years at the time, was later found guilty in the robbery and received a six-month sentence in the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home.
“I was trying to fit in with my friends,” Mitchell said three years after the incident. “I needed money at the time, but I didn’t need it that bad. It was just to fit in.”
Mitchell is now dipping, rolling and garnishing chocolates at Confections with Convictions, a gourmet food store located on 116 W. Parkway in Kalamazoo. His focus has shifted from street-hustling and “fitting in” to planning for a future for himself.
“I want to make something positive out of myself,” said Mitchell, who is uncertain of what he wants to be, but said he has considered a future in the dessert-making business. “I used to live on a day-by-day [basis], but now I look a lot different on life.”
Confections with Convictions owner Dale Anderson said he is happy to expose Mitchell to new opportunities.
“He is super-dedicated to the craft of making chocolate, and produces quality work,” said Anderson, but added there is a future for Mitchell in other fields of work, as well. “I hope that [Mitchell] has the chance — through college or some other route — to get a larger perspective of what is possible for him to do in his life.”
Before he enrolls in college, Mitchell has to earn his General Education Degree (GED), as he dropped out during his junior year at Kalamazoo Central High School.
Mitchell was first offered a position at Confections with Convictions through Anderson’s cooperation with the Youth Opportunities Unlimited program, and was introduced to a “family-like vibe” that allowed him to bond with 21-year -old Livia Worley.
“She’s like a little-old sister,” said Mitchell, adding that the two are both full-time employees of the store and have worked side-by-side in the back for those two years.
Worley and Mitchell share the duties of preparing over 60 different types of gourmet chocolates, and communicate in a playful, familial manner.
“You’re good for nothin’, gooo-ood for nothing,” said Worley, as she maneuvered her way around Mitchell, reaching for paper to line her fresh batch of truffles.
Worley has worked at Confections with Convictions for three years, and was employed through the YOU program due to her criminal records of assault and larceny.
“Without this job I couldn’t do anything — pay bills, care for my son, or afford my truck,” said Worley, who was living at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission when she first started working at the shop, and is now enrolled part-time at the Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Worley is studying management, and said she wants to be a leader. Worley added that Anderson has served as an example of effective management skills, and a mentor for both herself and Mitchell.
“We’re pretty close,” said Mitchell about his relationship with Anderson.
Mitchell also has a close relationship with Anderson’s mother, Amy, who works in the store as well.
“I’m sorry to hear you’re sick,” said Amy Anderson as she greeted Mitchell with a hug at the beginning of the work shift.
Anderson said he and his mother serve as “informal mentors” for the both Worley and Mitchell.
“We all mentor each other, it’s not a one-way street,” said Anderson. “I learn about their lives, and what it’s like to grow up in their situations.”
Looking back on the days he spent in his jail cell, Mitchell added that jail wasn’t all it is “cooked up to be.” He now wants to forward that message to the younger generation in his Eastside neighborhood.
“I run into younger kids and I see what they be on, I pull them aside and talk with them,” said Mitchell. “A role model is important so they don’t take the wrong roads.”
Working at the shop “totally changed my life. It turned it around,” said Mitchell. “Now I can see and do fun stuff. This is my second chance.”