REVIEW: Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall [2013]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 40 minutes | Release Date: 2013 (USA)
Studio: HBO Documentary Films
Director(s): Edgar Barens

“I’ll get out of here one of these days. In a box.”

Born George William, PFC “Jack” Hall served four years in the military during WWII, was a POW, and ultimately found his way back home. Unable to shake what he saw and did in war, the feeling to kill anyone who crossed him remained. So, when his youngest son hung himself after battling drug addiction since the age of fourteen, the chance for revenge was too much to ignore. Hall came across the dealer that hooked his son bragging about his occupational success and took it upon himself to ensure no one else’s children suffered the same fate as his. It earned him a life sentence at the age of sixty—in total 21 years behind bars with 12 permanently spent in the infirmary after a heart attack. These are his final moments.

Edgar Barens’ Oscar nominated documentary short Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall centers on inmate #801309, yet its true story is larger than just one man. Funded by private investors with prisoner assistance, Iowa State Penitentiary’s maximum-security establishment in Ft. Madison became one of the few prisons fitted with a Hospice program in 2005. Run by specially trained inmates, two of the infirmary cellblock’s rooms were re-designated for those on their deathbed without chance of recovery. Led by Herky (life sentence for murder) and his team of Glover (life sentence for murder) and Love (life sentence for kidnapping), the program makes it so no one has to die alone while also providing this trio the opportunity to be someone no one thought they could.

Shot with unfettered access—those squeamish about the sight of dead bodies no matter how peaceful be warned—we witness a love that transcends who these men were on the outside. It is a colorblind love that helps a hardened, segregationist drunk allow three burly black men to become his best friends and closest family. We see the care and dignity given by director of nursing Marilyn Sales, understand the power of human connection no matter your unforgiveable actions, and watch as a man takes his last breaths while someone sits at his bedside 24/7 despite resting in a place known for its isolation. You may say it’s undeserved or perhaps that a guy like Jack can receive a pass because he “cleaned the streets” so to speak, but you can’t make that call.

Prison Terminal is about mankind, compassion, and the ability to repent through action rather than words. Looking at Jack struggle to breathe with his other son Don Skinner by his side doesn’t conjure thoughts about killers or monsters—he’s simply a man again despite the government-sanctioned number replacing his name. The same goes for the eloquent grace of Herky as his deeds almost make you forget he committed his own crime of amoral horror too. Barens isn’t saying we should forgive them or free them; he’s simply showing us a poignant look at prisoners rallying around each other in a time of need much like we do in society. If you still believe they should die alone, well that says more about the hate in your heart than any irrefutable truth.

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall debuts on HBO, March 31st, 2014.

29 Responses to “REVIEW: Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall [2013]”
  1. JDF says:

    Barrens not Barnes
    A must see!

  2. bnr726 says:

    This documentary reaches out to souls no matter what color, race or creed. It teaches society that we all mess up in life, some get caught and some don’t; those that do, must learn a new life behind bars. All the “prisoners” in this documentary learn the meaning of compassion and love for another human being. No one should die alone, EVERYONE deserves a second chance and everyone should watch and learn from the men in this movie – that’s it’s not all about you.

  3. Maria says:

    Just finished watching this amazing, heart touching documentary.
    I am truly at a loss for words.
    God bless inmates Herky, Love and Glover.
    Know that you all have changed how we perceive those who are incarcerated.
    Marilyn Sales, as a nurse myself, you make our profession proud. The compassion, dignity and care you give, without judgment, are the exact epitome and ideal of a Nurse.
    Jared, thank you for a beautifully written review!

  4. Richard J Daniel says:

    Hi my name is Richard Daniel I’m a home health aid by private care and I totally relate to the story definitely not a job for the faint of heart you know I’ve had clients in the past I’ve made promises to to stay with them until the very end and God willing I have been able to do that it’s pretty tough not easy at all . For the people that were there for Jack hall my hats off to them and did a wonderful job watching documentary Brought back a lot of memories . Thank you for beautifully done documentary .

  5. karen says:

    I just watched this film for the first time and it underscores so much on so many levels. Through my tears, I realized it doesn’t get more real than this. These men showed what love is, can be and how it transends everything else. Life lessons learned by all in this life. God bless Mr. Hall for allowing all of us to experience his final grace.

  6. This man should have recieved a Medal for removing a scub bag drug dealers and protecting our children.

  7. Jean says:

    I work in a state prison so decided to watch this with preconceived ideas because I see the real scums of the world. Yes, this man took a life but he didn’t just randomly take that life because he was a bad person. He was a father in a great deal of pain. How many of you can honestly say if someone hurt or killed your child, no matter their age, that you wouldn’t do the same? He served our country and went through enough. This was touching. This was also about inmates, killers themselves, giving back and helping this man die with love and dignity.

    • Sean says:

      I am struggling with the sentence Mr. Hall received for the crime considering he could not be at a normal emotional state at a time like that. I am a veteran with a 13 year old daughter and a wonderful wife. If they were harmed or worse, I am going for the source and will take any punishment. People may think this is obtuse and stupid. Doesn’t matter as at least I could look at myself in my scratch proof prison mirror.
      That aside, I am truly touched by what the staff, inmates and administration was able to create. Thank you for a beautiful presentation. Mr. Barens.

  8. JC says:

    I only caught the end of this documentary but I was touced be the compassion and love these caregivers/ inmates give this man. These men all came from awful places and had done unspeakable things, yet when given the chance they have blosomed into something that transcends race, religion, gender, backgrounds, etc. These men could be role models for so many people in our society. I used to believe pretty firmly that “life sentence” is a drain on our society, this opens my mind a little to think that this type of Hospice program run by fellow inmates could effect such a change. More facilities should incorporate the same program. I still believe “life sentece” is a financial drain but if in the end programs like this can bring healing, peace and self forgiveness as well as bridge the gap across race, religion, backgrounds at least these men who are involved can show that many criminals, given the right circumstances could have been and can be better men. Showing that if our society focused on the “treat others how you would like to be treated” this change could be effected much earlier-possibly/probably before the crime is commited to bring these men to prison in the first place. If this depth of love and compassion these men show is inside them now then it has allways been-it should be our goal in society to draw these feelings to the surface and nurture and promote them early on. We should all care for each other in such a way.

  9. Wayne says:

    I caught the tail end of this film and was moved. I grasped with but is it deserved the whole time since the life’s taken never had this chance to die peacefully, but then I struggled with they are still human. Tough call. I don’t know where I fall on this issue but it truly is a though provoking documentary.

  10. colin says:

    Great review until the last sentence which leads one to believe the entire review was written about the self appointed humanity of the author in vanity, rather than a gripping documentary about the disposition of mankind.

  11. Michael Skidmore says:

    This was an absolutely touching story. Even those these men committed murders doesn’t mean they deserve to die alone. I feel that The Lord has a special place in heaven for Herky and his guys.

    • Christine says:

      It was hard to remind myself that I am a staunch CAPITAL PUNISHMENT advocate…..but I do agree with the gentlemen’s post prior to mine….”no man should die alone…..” Being married to a cop, that is in a major metro city and is in the CSI unit…..this documentary really hit home. It makes you think…” This drugs dealer that Jack murdered….did Jack do America a FAVOR?” I believe in the Constitution and “an eye for an eye” but this great documentary really gives you reason to believe these individuals deserve some sort of dignity in their last days…cause ONLY God knows what lies ahead after death for them. Society in itself needs to become more COMPASSIONATE and STOP THE RACIAL BAITING…..we are all human beings REGARDLESS OF THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN and should we need to treat each other AS THAT…with RESPECT. I truly pray that Jack did make it to Heaven with God. Murder is wrong BUT mess with MY child and I might have done the SAME!!! Life is not black or white….. It’s GRAY and lastly GOD BLESS THOSE HEAVENLY (regardless of their crimes) HOSPICE MEMBERS!! They are truly doing the Lord’s work in the walls of the prison!! I wish we could start more do these SELF PROVIDED FOR (non tax payer funded) PROGRAMS!! God bless your soul Jack, your son and the family of your victims.

  12. Bill Cord says:

    It would have been interesting to know a little more of the back story that put Jack Hall in prison. It is also hard to imagine that a son would turn his father in for a crime that avenged the death of a brother or perhaps half-brother.

  13. Mea says:

    I was deeply moved while watching this. Being the daughter of a vet, our family has gone through the ups and downs of PTSD and the toll it takes on everyone in the family. If something ever happened to me, my father would have to be restrained from taking matters in to his own hands. When someone is trained to take the most extreme measures and then returns to “normal” society how do they just shut those learned behaviors and instincts off? We have never given our soldiers and vets the proper physical and mental health care they so desperately need and DESERVE.

    God bless these men who have taken their time in prison and used it to better themselves and others. Hopefully others incarcerated in the system will hear about it and will be impacted to make a change in their own lives, life sentence or not. It’s never too late.

  14. Terry Newton says:

    I have worked with men from the criminal justice system for most of my career. I spent 36 years working with drug addicts and alcoholics, mostly men.

    We are all human and if we all got what we deserved, there would not be enough jails or prisons to house us all. Most of us have broken the law and did not get caught. I sure did enough in my younger years which I never got caught for. May we be as merciful to our fellow person, as we would want for ourselves.

    I sure fell for Jack here. He reminded me of what PTSD is all about. Being a veteran myself and working with Nam vets for several years, I know what many of these men went through. Trauma affects us all differently and our justice system is not very compassionate towards the experiences these men went through.

    It’s great to see these men working hard to care for each other and demonstrating humanity at its finest. God bless all of these men and I pray that they are rewarded in heaven.

    This was truly a touching piece. I lived in Ft. Madison, Iowa for a short period of my life and remember that prison well. God bless the film maker for a truly fine documentary.

  15. A Yates says:

    In my opinion, the jury that put him away should be the ones imprisoned! Jack Hall did society a BIG favor by doing away with the scumbag drug lord! I am a female but can still imagine what horrific emotional feelings he must have gone through from fighting in a war to losing his son by hanging and drugs.

    • Ben J. says:

      It would be the same as killing a Mc Donald’s restaurant owner because someone’s child died from heart disease eating there everyday. I believe in punishment, but not life in prison.

  16. Joe says:

    What jury in found this guy guilty ?

  17. joe says:

    How come not one person on the jury could not convict this man and send it to a mistrial ?

  18. M DEAN says:


  19. Lewaa says:

    May ALLAH mercy your soul mr. Jack Hall

  20. Ben J. says:

    So Jack got life in prison for eradicating a drug pusher who got Jack’s son addicted and who eventually died due to the addiction. That’s a crime of reason. Like a husband who also received life in prison after killing his wife who not only requested he kill her, but her cancer was making her suffer. What is the jury thinking? These crimes are not first degree murders. I still back the law where these types of crimes come with a form of punishment but NOT life in prison. Prisons are refered to as departments of corrections. What’s being corrected in crimes for reason?

  21. Andrea says:

    I am glad I read this review here because it was not clear in the film exactly what happened and who he killed as he was hard to understand since he was struggling to breathe. I wish someone would have reiterated it after he said it so the point came across.

  22. Patty says:

    Extremely touching and powerful story! God Bless Jack his family and the Hospice support from the 3 inmates. What impressed me so was the ability for Herky, Love and Glover to become so dead on and skillfully trained in the Hospice process. This is proof that rehabilitation while incarcerated deserves more attention innovative outlets for the inmates humanity to resurface and be discovered. This is the only way that they can rejoin society with less resentment and hopefully prosper. Thank you Jack for allowing me to see that you deserve love and forgiveness just as much as I do!

  23. tricollie says:

    Just saw this documentary, though I commend Mr. Hall for his loyalty to his family (even though his son Don was a rat) for ridding the world of a worthless scumbag whom should only be credited for sharing our air and taking up valuable space. However, I also believe in the law and that they should apply to everyone or consequences mean absolutely nothing. With that said, I do not concur with the life sentence imposed to a man who fought for this country to secure its freedom to which his own was taken, how utterly pathetic, he survived one prison only to be sent to his death in another. I understand the purpose of this film was to let us see what he faces now in prison/hospice. However, would loved to have seen more background of his post-war return. Which would have given the average civilian more insight on his actions to avenge his deceased son. Over all superb film.

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