Review: 26.2 to Life


“26.2 to Life” opens with a black screen and these words in white: “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu

The inmates featured in “26.2 to Life” are in for murder. They own it. But now what? “If you’re going to be locked up for the rest of your life, you’ve got to have ways to cope.” One way is by joining the 1000 Miles Club. The first perk is that members, while they are running, get to wear their own clothes, but their running shoes belong to the state.

“We all make mistakes and we hopefully learn from them and go forward.” This is said at San Quentin State Prison, a maximum-security facility for men near San Francisco. We hear a heartbeat and then a crash. An inmate explains that his dad said, “God helps those who help others.” Then we see guys doing push-ups.

As the annual November marathon goes on, the camera inserts the stories of three of the runners and the murder crimes that got them here. Their volunteer coach, Frank Ruona, age 72, was a competitive runner until age 60. He explains that as the year goes on, the inmates train at greater and greater distances until they come to the marathon each November.

What got me was how being in a running group, being in a group with a purpose, affected the runners. We all know there is an adrenaline rush that can come with running, but how that energy channels into transformative behavior is the miracle captured in this intimate film by Christine Yoo, an accomplished filmmaker but first-time documentarian.

Yoo was inspired to shoot a prison film because a childhood friend with a background similar to hers had been sentenced. But she ended up making it into a documentary when she witnessed what was happening at San Quentin. Full of programs supported by a liberal San Francisco/Marin County population, surprisingly good things are happening. She notes that “the cruel irony is the fact that many people have much better access to educational opportunities and programs inside than they ever did on the streets.”

What Yoo says she learned through making her film, and what the audience takes away from viewing it, is that “it’s possible to change lives, to make a lasting impact, that with support, rehabilitation is a realistic goal, and it can change the prison system as we know it.


Director: Christine Yoo
Producers: Jennifer M. Kroot, Carolyn Mao, Sara Jane Sluke, and Hella Winston
Executive Producers: Dexter Braff, Jennifer M. Kroot, Andrew Bishop, Robert Holgate, and Crispy
Director of Photography: Cliff Traiman
Editor: Marcos Moro
Music Composer: Antwan “Banks” Williams
Official website and how to see film:

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