My first exposure to the US prison system was on my first professional screenwriting job a few years after graduating film school. I was hired to write a story about a man who was sentenced to 271 years in California State Prison. Meeting my subject at Pelican Bay put a human face on the effects of mandatory sentencing and conditions of incarceration.
I think we have a tendency to view people in prison as either criminal and unredeemable or as victims of circumstance. What I learned is that it’s not either. People can make terrible mistakes and do terrible things, and yet be deeply human at the same time.
I first read about the 1000 Mile Club and the marathon at San Quentin in a magazine article. Being a runner myself, I could imagine the therapeutic benefits running could have on inmates. Further, the image of a person running around in circles to experience some kind of freedom inside a prison resonated with me as both a powerful image and a kind of cruel irony.
To begin researching, I went to San Quentin to observe the Half Marathon event in August 2016. I was moved to learn for some of the inmates, completing the marathon is their single greatest achievement in life. Others told me running teaches them discipline, gives them a space to visualize success and renewed self-confidence that has led to mending broken family relationships. I was also surprised how forthright many were about what put them behind bars. Equally inspiring is Frank Ruona’s dedication as a volunteer coach.
In the US media, we are accustomed to hearing and seeing the negative stories inside prison, but that is not this story. I’m eager to share with the world a positive and uplifting story going on inside our prison system. I hope the film can put a human face on and create a connection with a few of the 2.2 million who are living behind bars in this country and perhaps even suggest that these men may not be that much different than you and me. Lastly, I hope the film empowers the audience to believe that change is possible, that it is happening and that what you do matters.