It’s early in the morning, barely light. A lone man jogs through Skid Row. He’s alone. He jogs around the rubbish, the tents, who is he? What’s he doing?
He is Judge Mitchell, a criminal judge who, by day, sends the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles to jail, very often for life sentences.
By night, or early morning at least, Judge Mitchell jogs. He’s not always alone, in fact, he’s very rarely alone. For these days Judge Mitchell runs with people from the homeless shelters of LA’s infamous Skid Row.
It would be easy to dismiss his venture as a rich white man giving something small back to a community. But when you see the Judge with these people, you quickly realise it’s so much more than that.
Whilst the running program only helps a few hundred of the estimated 57,000 people who live on the streets and in the shelters of Los Angeles, at least it helps.
In the documentary we are introduced to a number of the current running program as they start on their journey, not just building up to run the requisite 26.219 miles that make-up a marathon, but the journey of getting their lives back together.
One man was a bass guitarist in a metal band, signed to a label, he couldn’t control his drinking and wound up getting arrested multiple times before finally ending up homeless and winding up at the Midnight Mission, where all our party are currently living.
Another is a convicted murderer, there’s a single mother who was introduced to hard drugs at a young age and became addicted. They are stories you will have read about or heard about a thousand times, but these are people doing something about it.
The Judge takes them under his wing, along with others in the running club. They provide a friendly ear, they even raise money to enable some of the more committed runners to run in marathons around the world, from Ghana to Rome!
Writer and Director Mark Hayes (Soviet Jews In The City Of Angels, Das Wendemuseum) passes no judgement on his subjects, nor does the Judge. Hayes allows the people themselves to tell you who they are, why they are where they are and what they’re doing about it.
Whilst Skid Row Marathon isn’t the quickest in terms of pace, you could say it jogs along nicely, it is incredibly inspiring. By the end of it, having listen to Judge Mitchel speak so passionately about helping our fellow man, I did feel inspired to do something myself.
At times I did feel like there was more behind the reasons Judge Mitchell was doing what he was doing, reasons which seemed to go unexplored (although could quite easily have not been there).
It was good for Hayes to include a runner whose live didn’t turn out as rosy as the others. Most, by the end, are turning their life around in amazing ways, but one doesn’t quite make it, relapsing into drink and violating the zero tolerance policy of the Midnight Mission.
Skid Row Marathon is a wonderful story of humans being nice to other humans, providing them a means of escape, of turning their life around. The running is almost secondary to the friendly ear the Judge and his compatriots provide. It’s something we should all do a little more of.