From street urchin to high school dropout to M-16 slinging truck driver to abused wife to single mother to Stanford Law School, CEO and policy maker, this is my story.
All pure, unexpurgated me.
I was born in the spring many years ago, in what was then a rough part of New York City affectionately known as “Hell’s Kitchen”.
I was born on an April morning, and so my mother wanted to name me “April Dawn”. My father nixed that idea, saying that with a name like that I could only grow up to be a stripper or a hooker. I suspect that he may have regretted that intervention when I instead became a lawyer.
Also, I was born at Bellevue hospital, which was probably a great portent of things to come.
My mother abandoned me at the age of 3 – by which I mean she dropped me off for a visit one day and never came back for me. I then went to live with my father, who did a spectacular job of caring for me, but had some issues of his own. And so I struck out on my own at the age of 11, finding places for myself to live until I got my first apartment on my own at the age of 16.
Along the way I had been emancipated by the state of Massachusetts, and it drove the principal of my small-town high school – one of four which I attended over the years – absolutely crazy because if I missed a day of school, I would just write myself a note, and they had to accept it.
“Please excuse Anne for having missed school yesterday. She wasn’t feeling well. Signed, Anne”
Half way through my senior year of high school I got rather sick. I was at that time supporting myself by working full-time nights in a nursing home, going straight to school in the morning, and then going straight to another part-time job after school. Maybe I wasn’t so much sick, as just very, very tired. Something had to go, and as I was supporting myself, it couldn’t be my jobs. So I dropped out of high school half-way through my senior year, and took my high school equivalency.
And, oh yes, I also joined the Army.
Now, my primary reason for joining the Army was to get the GI Bill, which we still had back then. I figured it was the only way that I had a prayer of paying for college.
While I was in the army, I met my first husband. We got married, and 10 months later our daughter was born.
My daughter is a wonderful person. Unfortunately, my then-husband had a terrible temper, and no problem with turning that anger outwards, to us.
So I left.
This, by the way, is why I have little sympathy for battered women who stay. That’s just bullshit. Yeah, I know, I’m going to piss off a lot of people by saying that, but if I could do it, so can they.
My motto has always been “you do what you gotta do”, and you know what? It works.
I single-parented my daughter, and pulled us both up by my bootstraps working as, among other things, a pharmaceutical sales rep, and an office manager for a dental office. I had enrolled in college, and so was single-parenting, working full-time days, and going to college full-time at night. Thank goodness for that GI bill!
During that time, I became heavily involved in fathers’ rights. How and why that happened is another story for another time, but I ended up founding a national fathers’ rights organization on top of everything else that I was doing, testifying at legislative hearings and holding support meetings for disenfranchised fathers.
It was also around this time that I discovered the Internet. Oh, it wasn’t the Internet as most of you think of it today. There was no worldwide web, there was no DSL. Commercial email services had only just started, and people connected to them with 300 baud modems.
But it was wonderful, and I became active on the new Internet services, ran forums, and set up a fathers’ rights BBS.
While I had not originally intended to go to law school, I was hooked from the moment I took my first law class in undergrad. So I declared a legal studies major, worked my ass off, made Phi Beta Kappa, and applied to law school.
In 1989 my daughter and I moved out to California so that I could attend law school at Stanford.
I’m probably Stanford Law School’s only high school drop out.
When I arrived at Stanford, one of the first things I did was to set up my fathers’ rights BBS, in my student housing, on my Commodore 128.
Once I had graduated and took the bar, I became one of only a handful of fathers’ rights attorneys in the country.
I represented single fathers (only) in private practice – reconnecting them with their children and putting them back in their lives – until 1998.
At that time two things happened – the first was that I hit the wall – I had completely burned out. Always representing the underdog – particulary single fathers – is a constant uphill battle, and is soul-destroying.
The second was having a son with one of the only men on the planet brave enough to make sure that one of the only fathers’ rights attorneys on the planet would never be able to represent them, by, you know, marrying them.
[Editor’s note: Since the original writing of this piece, we moved to Boulder, Colorado, and then subsequently divorced. Turns out that marrying a fathers’ rights advocate was a pretty shrewd thing for a father to do. We parted amicably, and co-parent cooperatively. I got custody of Boulder in the divorce.]
So I was really ready for a change. And I was on the phone one day with my friend Paul Vixie, who had at that time founded the first anti-spam organization, MAPS, and was crying on his shoulder about how I was closing my practice, and didn’t know what I was going to do next, and he said “Well, we’re about to get sued, and you are one of the few attorneys I know who really understands the Internet, so why don’t you come in-house for me?”
So I went in-house for MAPS as their director of Legal and Public Affairs, and that’s how I ended up in the anti-spam, email delivery industry.
I stayed at MAPS for a couple of years, and was then recruited to be the CEO of a new anti-spam, email delivery start-up which we eventually called Habeas.
I left Habeas when I was summarily relieved of my duties by the primary VC due to our religious differences.
He believed he was God, and I didn’t.
From Habeas I went on to be the CEO of the Institute for Social Internet Public Policy (ISIPP) (formerly known as the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy), where I am today.
In the course of my professional life I have had many amazing moments, and many great honours. For example:
I have been asked to consult with the California legislature regarding child support and spousal support.
I have been asked to speak to the California judges association about bias against fathers in the judicial system.
I have been personally invited by then Governer Pete Wilson to speak at his specially convened Focus on Fathers Summit.
I have been invited to teach at a law school, which I did for many years before moving out of state, to Colorado.
I have been asked by Senator McCain’s office to help them architect and author legislation which goes after affiliate spammers.
And I count among my business friends many amazing people for whom I have a great deal of respect, and about whom I still think to myself “You like me! You really like me!”, among them, in addition to Paul, being Warren Farrell, Tom Campbell, and Guy Kawasaki (the latter two whom I am lucky enough to have counted as my mentors – one of whom kept me sane during my theological questioning and subsequent excommunication from Habeas).
The list goes on and on, and so could I, but I won’t.
Because my point – and I do have one – is this:
Not bad for a kid from Hell’s Kitchen who struck out on her own at the age of 11, eh?
So to those very few people who actually believed that the whole of me was greater than the sum of the parts of my life: thank you. Your faith in me helped instill in me one of the most important ingredient in this life: the knowledge that I could do anything, if I set my mind to it.
And to those of you who thought that a girl with my background and history could never amount to anything – like my professor at university who upon hearing that I had applied to Stanford and Yale, when I asked him for a letter of recommendation for law school, snidely said “don’t get your hopes up”, well… the name of that potty-mouthed site says it all.
Anne P. Mitchell, Attorney at Law
Dean of Cybersecurity & Cyberlaw, Lincoln Law School of San Jose
CEO/President, Institute for Social Internet Public Policy
P.S. People often ask me what the Esq. means. In the U.S. it designates an attorney who has been admitted to the bar, and is licensed to practice law. A J.D. next to someone’s name means that they have graduated from law school, but are not admitted to the bar and licensed to practice law (or that they feel the Esq. is too pretentious because they are unaware of the different meanings). In Great Britain, the term Esq. designates nobility, typically one level below that of Knight, which is probably why some folks think that using it as an attorney is pretentious. Hey, the U.S. got its system of common law *from* England, so if you want to call me Lady Anne, feel free.
P.P.S. Along the way, I have picked up a couple of other mottos, to go with “You do what you gotta do.” In fact, I have three simple mottos – or rules, really – for life:
– You do what you gotta do.
– It is what it is.
– Make a difference.
The first two will get you through any situation. Really.
The third, well, I’m a big fan of Gandhi’s saying that you must be the change you wish to see in the world.
I try to make a difference in both small, and not-so-small, ways. Most recently I’ve been doing that by making donations to the fund-raising efforts of individuals whose efforts are verified as legitimate, so to someone needing funds for breast cancer surgery, to another needing tuition to take a certification course, to a dog who needed urgent life-saving surgery after being attacked by another, much larger dog, and to the fund-raiser for a young man who desperately wanted to go to college, and who was accepted to college, but could not quite raise the initial entry fees.
The most recent large-ish thing I’ve done is raise over $14,000 for the relief effort for the city of Dushanbe, in Tajikistan, back during their historically harsh winter in 2008 (you can read about that winter here). I promise that I’ll write that up some day, but the basics of it were that I had just interviewed someone with a connection to the World Food Programme, I heard someone from the WFP on the radio talking about how dire things were in Tajikistan, and I live in Boulder, Dushanbe’s sister city (Dushanbe is the capitol of Tajikistan), and so I thought “Hey, I know someone with the connection to the WFP, I live in Boulder, I have to think that the people of Boulder would want to help their sister city,” and so I started making phone calls. The result was this: DushanbeRelief.com. It’s not pretty (it was thrown together quickly, as it had an short end date), but it got the job done!