Walk a Green Mile in Their Shoes

  The writer Stephen King is famous for his spine-tingling horror stories, many of which Hollywood has turned into films. But King's latest contribution to the big screen is anything but horrific. In fact, The Green Mile is one of the new year's most critically acclaimed and moving films. It's particularly moving for those of us in prison ministry. The Green Mile paints a powerful picture of the dignity and worth of men on death row. It shows us that God's reach extends even to "the least of these," the ones the world would only too-happily forget. The Green Mile is the name given to the pea-green linoleum floor in the death row of a 1930's Louisiana prison. The film tells the story of prisoners and those who guard them. The head guard, played by Tom Hanks, is calm and compassionate, and treats prisoners with respect and kindness. He is their jailer, their friend, even their confessor. Early in the film, the jailer sits with a prisoner about to die. He confirms the possibility for repentance and reconciliation with the God who sits in judgment of us all. Then two new arrivals change things on the Green Mile. The first is an imposing giant named John Coffey who stands out as much for his sweet, gentle nature as for his enormous size. Coffey performs miracles of healing, leading the guards to believe he is sent from God. And before long, they realize he is innocent. The second is a truly evil man, who calls himself Wild Bill. Though he offends everyone on the Green Mile, his very presence pains John Coffey. While Coffey teaches forgiveness and love, Wild Bill confirms the reality of evil in a soul that rejects God. In the end, we discover that Coffey had been convicted of Wild Bill's crime. But the guards, who come to love Coffey, must do their duty and put him to death. Coffey is an innocent man, a classic Christ-figure, who in many ways, dies for the sins of others. And on the Green Mile, he heals the sick and points men to God. While the innocent man believes the death penalty to be just, his death and the deliberate mishandling of another execution remind us that capital punishment may be abused, and it must never be taken lightly. Just recently, Governor George Ryan of Illinois called a halt to the death penalty in that state when he discovered that more men on death row have been exonerated and set free than have been executed. It was a courageous decision, for which I applaud Gov. Ryan. As he put it, until we have "moral certainty" that no innocent man or woman is facing the death penalty, the practice must not continue. Now, The Green Mile is a serious and severe film with some strong language and a graphic execution scene. It is too intense for children. And be warned, many will find it offensive. But it is the kind of story Christians can use to talk to their neighbors, many of whom will have seen this film, about the innate value of human life. And it's a film that presents good and evil in stark contrast—not surprising, I suppose, for a story written by Stephen King, who is a professing Christian. But it's certainly a welcome and refreshing change for Hollywood.


Chuck Colson



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