Beginning February 16 through March 18, 2017, the production team is running a 30-day fundraising campaign on the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter to raise capital for production. Click here for more information and to contribute.
San Quentin is a state prison located on the San Francisco Bay, in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. SAN QUENTIN MARATHON tells the story of the 1000 Mile Club [include hyper link: http://www.1000mileclub.com/about/], the running club inside the prison. The club members are inmates convicted of murder and manslaughter, robbery, as well as non-violent crimes. Many are serving life sentences. Through running, they say it’s a chance to feel freedom... or something like it.
The 1000 Mile Club club is coached and sponsored by the Tamalpa Running Club, a masters running club in Marin County. Since the club’s inception in 2005, Frank Ruona, a veteran of 78 marathons and 38 ultra-marathons, has been their volunteer head coach. For many of the inmates, running the annual marathon is their ultimate goal. To help them reach that goal, Frank and his team of dedicated assistant coaches, veteran marathoners Kevin Rumon and Diana Fitzpatrick, lead regular work-outs and hold monthly track events throughout the year.
The marathon “course” is a dirt and concrete quarter-mile path, with six ninety-degree turns, that loops the prison’s lower yard. To replicate the distance of a 26.2 mile marathon, it means running 105 times around that lower yard loop. Round and around. Hour after hour.
Just as important as building physical stamina, Frank believes it’s the mental work-out – developing “the marathon mindset” – the toughness, focus and determination that helps the men not just succeed running the loop, but in the marathon of life itself. Frank continues to run and mentor former inmates who are now released in the Bay Area as they readjust back to the outside and struggle to create a sustainable life after incarceration.
The film traces the origin story of the club, the first marathon and explores running’s impact towards rehabilitation and redemption. As much as running has transformed current and former inmates’ lives, Frank has been equally changed. A life-long registered Republican, Frank has become more attuned to the US prison system over the years coaching the 1,000 Mile Club. Frank embraces his role as coach and mentor and has evolved into an accidental advocate for prison reform.
November 17, 2017 marks the 8th Annual San Quentin Marathon. What does it take to become a marathon runner? Inside a maximum security prison? How has it transformed the lives of the runners – inside and outside prison? And the coaches?
I first read about the San Quentin marathon in a GQ Magazine article. Being a runner myself, I could imagine the therapeutic benefits running could have on inmates, and the image of a person running around in circles to find some kind of freedom inside a prison resonated with me profoundly and with cruel irony. As I began my research, I was moved to learn that for some, completing the marathon is their single greatest achievement in life. They say running teaches discipline, gives a space to visualize success, and offers a calm mental place to mend broken family relationships. What I found most inspiring was learning that, over the years, the impact of the 1000 Mile Club has expanded beyond the prison walls.
My main passion is telling stories of under-represented voices. This comes from my experience as a woman and as a person of color and the feeling of invisibility that comes from not seeing images that reflect and reinforce your place in the US mainstream. Most of my previous work has been in narrative storytelling and when I started this project, I approached it as such. But in my research, I began to feel limitations with the narrative format and felt the documentary medium would allow me to address directly the issues brought out organically by the subject matter.
There are those who believe that programs like the running club coddle inmates and that prisoners should not have access to them. A life-long registered Republican, Coach Frank Ruona has become more attuned to the US prison system over the years volunteering at San Quentin, and now finds himself questioning how we as a society treat those who are incarcerated. Punishment or rehabilitation?
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FRANK RUONA, central to the film, is the 1000 Mile Club’s volunteer head coach since the club’s 2005 inception. A veteran of 78 marathons and 38 ultra-marathons, including The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, he was recognized as the #1 road runner in the nation for ages 55-59 by USA Track & Field, the sport’s governing body. He believes that having the “Marathon Mindset,” the toughness, focus, and determination necessary to succeed as a runner is also what it takes to succeed in life. For 40 years, Frank was an executive for a highway construction firm. Now retired, he never imagined he’d be spending so much of his golden years inside a prison. “I’ve been told by a number of the inmates that setting a goal and achieving that goal means a lot to them. They, in their life, they didn’t often set goals. And what goals they did set, they didn’t often achieve them, and I think they get a lot of satisfaction from being able to achieve the goals they set for running.”
MARKELLE TAYLOR, a former high school track star, is the club’s reigning champ. Frank feels that in the real world, trained on a real track and on trails, Markellecould be a competitive “master runner” in his age group. Serving a 15-to-life sentence for second-degree murder, Markelle started to run in prison 2 years ago when he saw the stress inmates experienced when facing parole boards and being denied. He thought running would help him stay on track and give himthe chance to be something more than his rap sheet. “It’s not about me anymore. It’s about all the victims,” Markelle has said. “People that I’ve caused harm to and everybody I’ve victimized and everybody who was victimized. I dedicate every run, every mile, every half-mile, every quarter, every inch to them.”
RAHSAAN THOMAS, has been incarcerated for 16 years and is serving a 35-to life sentence for second degree murder with firearms enhancement. He is a writer, a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has been published in the Missouri Review’s Literature on Lockdown, Life of the Law, The Marshall Project, and The Beat Within. He talks openly about what brought him to prison, “I’ve been accused of a lot of crimes, most of which I really did. To view my rap sheet – well, there’s a story behind all those charges, not to make an excuse. I became what I hated, I had that same lack of empathy towards others. Even if I have a right to justice, I don’t have a right to vengeance. You know if I can change, I haven’t had a fight in 13 years, then the world can too, it all starts with forgiveness.”
LARRY FORD, a former building inspector, is currently serving 2 life sentences. He’s the 1000 Mile Club’s secretary, a position he takes great pride and pleasure in, and has completed the San Quentin Marathon four times. Running helps Larry cope with the stress inside the prison and interrupts the endless thoughts about the crime that landed him there. "Everyday what you did goes through your mind. You think a thousand different scenarios how you would do something different or how you wish you did something different. How any little thing could have changed your life that day, but it didn't."
BILL PILLARS, one of the club’s earliest members and its first secretary, is now released. He ran his first marathon three weeks after undergoing hernia surgery, and, cheered on by other inmates and the coaches, finished it, coming in last place. Since then, he feels that running is “in my blood.” Sentenced to 25 to life under California’s “three strikes” law, Bill did 15 years until “three strikes” was reversed, his sentence was reduced to 8 years and he was immediately released. Bouncing from job to job and struggling to get hired because of his record, Bill finally landed a job at a highway construction company, Ghilotti Brothers, Inc. Frank’s former company, where he is now Stockyard Foreman. In 2015, Bill received the Employee of the Year Award. “I feel good with myself right now... As far as my job, running, enjoying company with good people, and you know, just being a person that I visualized on being when I was incarcerated.”
ANGEL LEMUS, incarcerated at Pelican Bay and San Quentin State Prison for 4 years, now released and currently working as an electrician in his native San Jose. Angel’s time behind bars taught him to bury his emotions for fear of seeming vulnerable and getting drawn into a fight that could land him in solitary, or doing more time. Running provided an outlet for physical and emotional release, and he attributes running and the approach of the running club to turning his attitude about life around. “Every day waking up and going out into the yard and seeing the big 40 foot concrete walls, there’s nothing beautiful about that. But if you can go out there and run, it frees your mind and it’s like you’re not even there.” Along with Bill, he has run The Dipsea, the oldest trail race in the country.
LAURA BOWMAN SALZSIEDER, Former Teacher and Community Partnerships Manager at San Quentin, Laura started the running program. Laura, a runner herself, understands the value of programs that give prisoners support and an outlet to deal with their issues in a healthy way. “I always told the guys from the beginning and throughout, I don't care how you get your 1,000 miles, you can walk, run, crawl, skip or dance your way to it. I just want you to come out and join us for the camaraderie, the health benefits, and the realization that you can do something you set your mind to that you never may have thought you could.”
KEVIN RUMON, engineer, veteran marathoner and volunteer assistant coach of the 1000 Mile Club. Kevin recently battled cancer and credits the strength and endurance he has from running with helping him get through the brutal treatment. Running is a centering force for him, a powerful experience he is eager to share with anyone, regardless of background. “We don’t know anyone’s crime. We don’t really think about it that way. And it’s not important to us. We just look from this point forward. How can we provide these guys the same value that running has provided us in life.”
DIANA FITZPATRICK, attorney, veteran marathon runner and volunteer assistant coach of the 1000 Mile Club. An accomplished athlete, she qualified for the Olympic marathon trials in 1992, 1996, and 2000. Diana had been aware of the San Quentin running club and was eager to volunteer when opportunity arose. “I think it’s really true that as a society, how we treat people who are the most vulnerable people -- the poor, the forgotten, the invisible – it’s a reflection of who we are as a society. I think we owe it to ourselves and to that population to pay attention and to think about it.”
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.
Christine Yoo (Director, Producer, Writer)
Christine’s feature debut, Wedding Palace is an award-winning independent film, which she directed, produced and co-wrote. Shot on location in Los Angeles and Seoul, Korea, the film starred Brian Tee (Chicago Med), Bobby Lee, Margaret Cho and S. Korean award-winning actress Kang Hye-jung (Oldboy) in her English language debut. The film screened in festivals nationwide and had a 14-week U.S. theatrical run in 6 major markets and was distributed in N. America by Warner and Gravitas and can currently be seen on Amazon and numerous SVOD/VOD platforms. The film was also distributed internationally with theatrical openings throughout Asia. Yoo also co-wrote the anime series Afro Samurai starring Samuel L. Jackson for Spike/Fuji TV and co-wrote the original feature screenplay For Steppers Only, optioned by Lionsgate. She is represented by 3 Arts Entertainment.
Sara Jane Sluke - Writer
Sara Jane Sluke is a television writer and producer of non-fiction and reality programming. Her work has appeared on ABC, Fox, CW, National Geographic, History Channel, MTV, Spike, Bio and Lifetime. Highlights include Cellblock 6: Female Lockup, a docuseries for TLC that followed the stories of incarcerated women in a Cincinnati jail, and Escape to Chimp Eden, a docuseries for Animal Planet that tracked the rescue and rehabilitation of chimpanzees at a Jane Goodall Institute sanctuary. Previously, she was a writer of children’s television. She is also the co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dealing With Stress for Teens and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Surviving Peer Pressure for Teens, both published by Alpha Books.
Hella Winston (Consulting Producer, Researcher, Writer)
Hella Winston is a sociologist and investigative journalist. She has held post-doctoral research fellowships at Johns Hopkins, Princeton and UMass Amherst and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Among other subjects, she has reported extensively on prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions. She is the author of Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels (Beacon: 2005) and the co-author, with Katherine Newman, of Reskilling America: Learning to Labor in the 21st Century (Metropolitan 2016).
CAROLYN MAO (PRODUCER)
As a line producer, Carolyn Mao has worked for Scott Free, MTV, Sony, and Indiewire. Prior to independent producing, Carolyn worked for several years in development for NY based Jane Startz Productions. Mao is a Film Independent Producing Fellow, Fast Track participant, and Tribeca All Access grant recipient for her second feature, You And Me Both, in development with writer/director Jennifer Suhr and producer/actress Constance Wu (Fresh Off The Boat). Mao is a OneFifty Artist, Time Warner’s incubator committed to discovering and investing in upcoming talent.
Stephanie M. Wei (Executive Producer)
Stephanie M. Wei is a Managing Director at Wells Fargo Securities in San Francisco. She serves as the Treasurer for the Center for Asian American Media and is a member of the Financial Women’s Association, and the CFA Society of San Francisco.
Michael Fonteboa Chavez (Graphics)
Michael Chavez earned his BA in Media Art and Animation at The Art Institute of Hollywood. In addition to doing graphic design (including designing all our cool Kickstarter campaign merchandise) for San Quentin Marathon, he currently interns as a graphic designer for a public relations firm (Pipkins Communications - PRrchitect) while continuing his education in Marketing and Promotions through the Promo Pathway Program at Santa Monica College. Michael has worked on different projects ranging from animating phonemes and assets on a full length feature animation: Yamasong: March of the Hollows (Dark Dunes Productions, 2016) and graphic design work for The Griffith Observatory of Los Angeles.