Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
This film opens on an interview with 82 year-old George (“Jack”) William Hall. Twenty-one years ago, his son—hooked on drugs as a teenager—“finally hanged himself.” Jack explains: “One day this dope dealer was bragging about how he made his money. He didn’t make no more. I stopped him.” Jack was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison at the Iowa State Pennitentary. Seriously ill with chronic pulmonary disease, Jack ponders his foreshortened future: “I’ll get out of here one of these days . . . in a box.” With quietly powerful and moving effect, videographer Edgar Barens captures Jack’s rapidly approaching final days in the prison’s hospice. Contrary to often fixed notions of “cons” hardened by “total institutions” designed for punishment rather than rehabilitation, the film portrays the surprisingly deep compassion, commitment, and support shown by the medical staff and a half dozen fellow prisoners serving as hospice volunteers. We are aware going into the film that hospice is designed to allow one to die with dignity, embraced by friends and family when possible. But Jack’s journey to death is conducted with such care, grace, and integrity as to seem almost enviable.