The last time I was at the Music Box theater was over a year ago, with Ryan. It’s a fun theater which shows quirky fare. Tonight they were screening several of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries. The second one we watched was titled “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.”
Over the forty-minute long film, we come to know Jack Hall, an 83-year-old World War 2 veteran who is serving a life sentence for murder. He has congestive heart failure, has been in the hospital wing for the past 10 years after multiple heart attacks, and is not doing well. We follow him around as he is wheeled out into the yard to visit with his friends, we follow him to worship services and doctor’s visits and eventually follow him into one of the two hospice rooms of the Iowa State Penitentiary.
It is a startling, intimate, humanizing look into the lives of several men who are incarcerated – and what it means to die with dignity in prison.
The most arresting moments we were invited into were the moments that Jack shared with his hospice care-givers – volunteers who spent 10-12 hours a day with him 5 days a week, in shifts so that he was never alone: bathing him, holding his hand, praying with him and for him, rubbing his back, shaving him, laughing and joking and simply being with him so that he would not die alone.
One of the volunteers was named Love – serving a life sentence for kidnapping. Love was with Jack as he faded into a coma, and became unresponsive. Love was with Jack as he stopped breathing.
And for someone who all too often tears up while listening to “This American Life,” I was gone.
Such a beautiful picture of what reconciliation can look like – life transformed and made new… Even the murderers and kidnappers and the embezzlers and the gossips and the liars and the racists and the selfish and the greedy and the prideful – Jack, and Love, and you, and me…
(for more on “Prison Terminal,” check out this piece on “Fresh Air.”)