Running Club Highlighted In Documentary Helps San Quentin Residents Regain A Sense Of Freedom
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Running isn’t typically seen as a good thing in prison. At San Quentin, however, it’s helping incarcerated men seek redemption and freedom.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg recently co-hosted an exclusive screening of the award-winning documentary “26.2 to Life,” at the Crest Theater. The film highlights the transformative power of the 1,000-mile running club at San Quentin State Prison. It follows several men, most serving life sentences, as they train for a grueling marathon that takes place annually on prison grounds. Training to complete the marathon – 26.2 miles, or 106 laps around the yard – becomes a personal race for the runners to be defined by more than their crimes.
The film opens with comments from Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a national nonprofit committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States that provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced or abused in state jails and prisons. Stevenson, an attorney, is portrayed by actor Michael B. Jordan in the 2019 movie “Just Mercy.”
“We can’t put crimes in jails and prisons, we can only put people in jails and prisons, and people are not crimes. They can commit crimes and we can hold them accountable, but if we forget they’re more than those crimes, [that people] make mistakes, we can do things that are harsh and extreme,” Stevenson said.
“This is a powerful film because you see a community of people, a group of men who are wrestling with this notion that they’re more than the crimes they’ve committed,” he continued. “It’s very easy when you’re incarcerated to give in to this idea that you’re just a number, that you’re just the offense that you’ve been labeled with. It’s so important that we help people understand that you are more than that. That’s where redemption comes. That’s where rehabilitation comes, that’s where restoration comes. That’s how we improve not only the lives of those individuals, but our communities, our nation.”
Following the screening, Steinberg joined former state Sen. Mark Leno in moderating a panel discussion with filmmaker Christine Yoo. Steinberg currently co-chairs Gov. Gavin Newsom’s San Quentin Transformation Advisory Council and Leno chaired the Assembly Committee on Public Safety while in the California legislature.
“It is truly one of the most impactful and truthful films in years that gives us some insight into achieving our goal of reducing incarceration by giving inmates the tools and the motivation to lead lives as productive citizens in the community,” Steinberg said.
“It also shows the promise for the future of one of our oldest institutions as it is being revamped into a modern, new purpose as the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center.”
Of the dozens of 1,000-mile club runners who have been released from the Bay Area prison, none have returned.
“That is an astounding recidivism rate of 0%, compared to the national average of 67%,” Steinberg said.
Several of the men featured in the film who have gained release were on hand for the local film screening. Among them were Markelle “The Gazelle” Taylor, who spoke on the panel, and Lee “Timbuktu” Goins, who watched from the audience.
In the film, Taylor shares that he was convicted in a 2001 domestic violence incident against his pregnant girlfriend that resulted in the death of their son. He doesn’t shy away from his guilt or claim innocence on camera.
Taylor got out of San Quentin in 2019 after serving nearly 18 years behind bars. The running coaches and volunteers have remained supportive.
“I don’t know where I would be without them,” Taylor said. “I don’t have much family out here, so like I said in the film, this is what I consider family.”
Running literally changed the course of Taylor’s life. On the outside, he has participated in both the Boston and New York marathons. He’s also celebrating 22 years of sobriety. He’d like to see running do the same for more people and is encouraging prisons across the country to adopt similar programs.
“It’s very therapeutic, very helpful to the mind and heart,” he said. “I joined the running club my last seven years inside San Quentin and that last four years, I was already free in my mind and my heart before even being released.”
“26.2 to Life” debuted in theaters nationwide Sept. 22 and is available for online viewing Sept. 29-Oct. 1. For more information, visit SanQuentinMarathon.com.