Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed
Skid Row Marathon (Mark Hayes, 2017) 4 out of 4 stars.
One person really can make a difference. Judge Craig J. Mitchell, of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, California, is one such person. A man unafraid to mete out harsh sentences when the law calls for them, he nevertheless takes no pleasure in sending convicted offenders to prison for 71 years, as we see him do in an opening scene. Brought up to believe in the power of second chances and redemption, he has long cultivated friendships with those who have been to jail and are now struggling towards rehabilitation. Many of them are addicts, in and out of recovery, homeless denizens of Los Angeles’ downtown Skid Row or, if they stay sober, perhaps able to secure space in the nearby Midnight Mission. “One horrendous act does not define a person,” says Mitchell. Indeed.
Words are cheap, however, and Mitchell is, instead, a true man of action, always on the move. An avid runner, even as he approaches 60, he has formed the “Skid Row Running Club,” a group of willing souls who train with Mitchell for various marathons. To the judge, it is especially important that these marathons be in other countries, with the lure of travel and new experiences as an added motivation for the members to stay clean and train well. This requires money, however, so another task Mitchell takes on is fundraising. And all this on top of his busy court job and family life. Director Mark Hayes (Soviet Jews in the City of Angels) follows the club, and Mitchell, in close quarters, choosing a few special characters to highlight as (mostly) success stories. It’s a beautiful, inspiring documentary with lessons on how we can all be better humans.
We meet David, a talented painter; Ben, an equally talented musician; Rafael, who spent 29 years in jail for murder and now spends his time ministering to youth so they don’t repeat his mistakes; Rebecca, mother of a son, studying to become a medical technician; and Mody, who owns a furniture store. All struggle with addiction, though all but one makes it through the film without relapse. Though only David and Ben travel with Mitchell to Ghana for the first marathon, a far larger group travels to the next marathon, in Rome. Closing credits tell us that Jerusalem will be next. Given the evidence of the power of Mitchell’s athletic ministry, I have no doubt there will be more marathons after that, as well. Good deeds may be their own reward, but the benefits here are felt by all.