Mitch and I go back to the early 1980s when he was coming to Morrow County, Ohio, in his capacity as a Legal Aid attorney and I was the director of the addiction treatment center. But the real adventure with Mitch began after Judge Ballinger kicked off the Bridges movement in Marion, Ohio, and Mitch became a Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World facilitator.

Michelle Wood, a restored citizen, was in one of the first groups Mitch facilitated. That was a game changer. Michelle and Mitch decided that I should develop a version of Getting Ahead for returning citizens. It began with this: “Hey, do you have a minute?” It resulted in the book Getting Ahead While Getting Out.

Two years later, and after many trips between Mitch’s home and mine (and countless bologna sandwiches from the G&R Cafe in Waldo), we had Getting Out and the accompanying facilitator notes. It is important to mention that while developing the new workbook, Mitch and Michelle were running groups in a prison in Marion with the full endorsement the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. And, just as importantly, the inmates of the early groups helped with the design and content of the new workbook.

When training new facilitators, Mitch would tell stories about his faux pas and lessons learned as a facilitator working in a prison. For example, there was the time he reached into his briefcase for a soda and pulled out a beer. We love how he would laugh at himself while sharing his hard-earned lessons.

Now there are more than 500 certified Getting Out facilitators in 42 states and Ontario. The Getting Out workbook has been used in prisons in many states. Prior to COVID, it was used in all the prisons in New Mexico and all women’s prisons in Alabama. The men’s prisons in Alabama were to begin facilitator training the week that the country closed down. And all 28 prisons in Ohio were scheduled to introduce the workbook.  Most recently, Mitch was involved in introducing Getting Out in Mississippi at the state level.

Mitch had a huge impact at the county level. He was the master at engaging city and county decision makers from many sectors in his efforts to help returning citizens overcome barriers that were beyond their personal control. By his own telling, it would start with the question, “Hey, do you have a minute?”

For example, when there was the need to “ban the box,” Mitch stepped up. The “box” was on employment applications and was used to identify people who had a criminal offense on their record, which would often close the door on a job. Mitch went to the mayor with the question.

Through his relationships with community leaders, he was able to help ban the box, address the fee structure imposed on inmates of the county jail, engage mental health and substance abuse providers, and secure immediate employment for many restored citizens. Here is a video that Mitch produced that tells the story.

Mitch made himself available to restored citizens as a mentor, staying in touch, processing the problems, and helping to find solutions. Mitch, along with Marion Matters, made Marion a leader in the Getting Ahead While Getting Out learning community and the larger Bridges movement in the U.S.

So, Mitch’s story comes down to this: first, a personal commitment to people who are in unstable, under-resourced situations, and second, deep and rich social capital in the Marion community. His example teaches us how he built those relationships. He served on several boards, including Marion Housing Authority, Turning Point, Marion County Children Services, and the Boys and Girls Club. He coached Little League and built lawyers’ softball and basketball teams. All of these gave him access to many leaders in the community. And, very importantly, he played bridge and poker with community leaders.

In short Mitch was the embodiment of the Bridges and Getting Ahead approach: bring people together from all classes, races, sectors, and political persuasions to address the problems posed by poverty at the individual, institutional, community, and poverty levels.

I think Mitch’s approach is best summed up in this quote from Lao Tzu, the fourth century B.C. philosopher. Think of Mitch as the “sage”:

The Sage acts without action
and teaches without talking
All things flourish around him
and he does not refuse any one of them
He gives but not to receive
He works but not for reward
He completes but not for results
He does nothing for himself in this passing world
so nothing he does ever passes.

May Mitch’s work go on with those who have been changed by it.

–Phil DeVol

Mitchell A. “Mitch” Libster, December 29, 1950 – January 15, 2022

Learn more about Mitch and share a memory here.


More remembrances of Mitch

Getting Ahead Family,
It has recently been brought to my attention that Mitch has been removed from life support as he has not been able to recover from the stroke he suffered. Though I have never actually met Mitch, I do know how much he means to the success of the Getting Ahead While Getting Out program and to the people that he knew best. I know that because of the work that Mitch has done to further the mission of Getting Ahead, his legacy for being a change agent in his, and other communities around the world, will forever be remembered. Because of the work that Mitch has done with the Getting Ahead program, my life has been forever changed. I will forever be indebted for the inspiration and successes of those that once walked in my shoes and experienced what I have. It is with great sadness that I convey my condolences to Mitch’s family, friends, and closest confidants. I will continue to work with the Getting Ahead family to further develop and engrain the work that Mitch and his colleagues have started.

Tomás B. Vargas


Mitch’s fervor for his work was deep and passionate, and readily apparent in his contributions in the publishing of Getting Ahead while Getting Out. We were so fortunate to have his voice.
–Peggy Conrad