“I tried to take it back, but it was too late.”
Prison guard, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) governs the inmates awaiting death row. The row, nicknamed the green mile for the floor’s drab green color, houses a strange sample of criminals. Eduard (Michael Jeter) befriends a mouse named Mr. Jingles; Wild Bill (Sam Rockwell) is a prankster; and John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) possesses magical powers. Once Paul becomes aware of John Coffey’s abilities, the mile will never be the same.
Paul has a bladder infection – or a urinary tract infection, or a kidney stone. Whatever is causing his problem, he can’t pee without a world of pain. Paul utilizes John’s special abilities to help himself, help his friends, and help further his career. Unbeknownst to Paul, this may turn out to have some serious consequences.
It does not help John’s case that he is a hulking black guy in the 1930s. To be real though, it wouldn’t help his case today either (please exit this post and read the one on 13th if you’re still not sold on Black Lives Matter). John isn’t the brightest guy, but it’s clear to everyone that bothers to chat with him for a second that John is harmless. Accused of murdering two little girls, it’s hard for Paul and the other guards to wrap their heads around the idea that John might be a hard-hearted killer.
Death Row Syndrome
Awaiting execution has to be about the worst line you could wait in, right? It’s got to be worse than the DMV. Due to its unique circumstance, death row actually causes symptoms in those waiting to walk their own green mile. It’s possible that John suffers from this rare disorder – rare only because so few people are ever exposed to the situation that creates it.
Prisoners are subjected to waiting for their death; some of them are innocent and spend the entire time fighting their cases. Back in the 30s, it was less common for inmates to spend years on death row. Now, with overcrowded prison systems (that are racially unjust, to say the least), it’s more common for prisoners to anticipate their demise for years, or even decades.
It’s hard to imagine what waiting to die might feel like; in the meantime, the implication to a prisoner is that their life is meaningless anyway. Many attempt suicide; many turn to drugs to ease the pain of knowing their death date. In addition to psychological pain, some prisoners face physical pains caused by insurmountable stress. In the Coffey case, John explains that he is too tired to stay alive when Paul offers to help him. One of Paul’s biggest errors is listening to John. Instead of saving an innocent man, Paul allows John Coffey’s death, and this in turn prevents Paul from dying. To a man who has made peace with his life choices, death is a big, well-deserved sleep.
In theory, the death penalty is a punishment for a poorly-lived life. In essence though, I have to argue against it. Killing someone that murdered a loved one yields two dead bodies. There is no resurrection for dead loved ones, and killing someone who caused pain only adds to the pain. That said, I’m not in a position of experience, so that might be a little easy for me to say. Logic dictates that more dead bodies do not cure grief, but emotions play a large role when it comes to our unjust justice system.