Dodging baby geese, mud and other people, members of the San Quentin 1000 Mile Club ran 105 laps around the yard for their yearly marathon. On Tuesday, a sold-out showing at Rialto Cinemas in Elmwood brought audiences to the new documentary about the club, “26.2 to Life.”
Christine Yoo started filming “26.2 to Life” in 2017, inspired by an article she read about the 1000 Mile Club after her friend was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 270 years in prison.
“I could see the benefits of how running could help people in prison or give a sense of freedom or mental clarity,” Yoo said.
Runners Tommy Lee Wickerd, Markelle “Gazelle” Taylor and Rahsaan “New York” Thomas are the focus of the film alongside Frank Ruona, their head running coach.
The film also highlights the daily life and background of the runners.
Thomas has a podcast called “Ear Hustle” and writes for the San Quentin News, and Wickerd teaches his fellow inmates American Sign Language, a skill that he explains can create job opportunities for them upon release.
“What people see in the film is a sliver, just a tiny peak of … the many stories of people trying to change and, as Tommy Wickerd always says, ‘do good even from a bad place,’ ” Yoo said.
The screening was followed by a Q&A session with Chesa Boudin, the executive director of UC Berkeley School of Law’s Criminal Law & Justice Center, and Jim Maloney, a volunteer running coach for the club.
Audience members engaged in conversation about what resources the club provides members and how more prisons across the country could create their own running clubs.
“This film has been showing continuously at San Quentin and now at all the prisons in California and we’re hoping there might be some interest in other prisons to start a club if they have a yard,” Maloney said during the session.
There has also been an “explosion” in the number of runners and volunteer coaches since the movie’s premiere in San Quentin and local theaters, according to Boudin. The film premieres on streaming platforms Sept. 29.
Boudin explained that many members get letters of support from their teammates and coaches that can help them get parole while in the club, noting that many long-time club members depend on this support.
For volunteer coaches, much of the club’s work brings about issues of reform work and abolition; Maloney and Boudin noted that coaches often have to grapple with their own roles and relationships to the U.S. carceral system.
“There are a lot of people who we work with every day who don’t need to be imprisoned and it’s a terrible waste of life and potential,” Boudin said during the Q&A.