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Montgomery honors Oscar-nominated resident : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Montgomery honors Oscar-nominated resident
Board proclaims March 31 as 'Edgar Barens Day' in the village

by John Etheredge


The Montgomery Village Board took time this past week to honor of one of the village's residents.

A proclamation honoring Edgar Barens was read by Village President Matt Brolley and then adopted by the board in a unanimous ballot during a meeting March 10.

The proclamation designates Monday, March 31 as Edgar A. Barens Day in Montgomery in recognition of Barens' recent nomination for an Academy Award for his documentary film, "Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall."

The film was nominated for the award in the documentary short stories category. It will premiere on HBO on March 31.

The resolution notes that after graduating from Oswego High School in 1979, Barens went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in cinematography at Southern Illinois University.

Over the years, Barens has made documentary films, experimental shorts, music videos and public service announcements that have been screened at film fests and broadcast nationally and internationally, according to the resolution.

The resolution also noted that Barens has spent the past decade working on films that have explored "the many issues that plague the American criminal justice system."

Prison Terminal centers around the elderly Jack Hall, a World War II veteran and former prisoner of war, who was serving a life sentence in Iowa State Penitentiary for murdering an alleged drug dealer in the 1980s.

As his health worsened, Hall was moved into one of two hospice beds at the prison - rooms that were furnished and equipped by donors and volunteers. The hospice care volunteers are inmates themselves - those convicted of murder, kidnapping and other charges.

In researching the "Prison Terminal" film, Barens told the Ledger-Sentinel last month that he took "field trips" to prisons in Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Kentucky. He proposed the idea to the leadership of the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Iowa.

"I get there (Iowa) and it turns out they were using my earlier (Angola) film as a teaching tool in their hospice program," he said. "So they knew me, they knew my work. So just with that notoriety, the prison said, for the first time ever, you can come here 24-7 for up to a year."

Barens ended up filming for six months at the prison.

"The access was perfect - I was there with the guys all the time," he said. "They got to know me, I got to know them."

Barens said he didn't even take out his camera for the first month, so the prisoners could get to know him. He had no film crew - it was just him and his camera.

One of those prisoners he got to know was Hall, who had been in the prison's infirmary on a long-term basis after having a heart attack a decade earlier. Hall had been an Army Ranger during World War II, a prisoner of war for 14 months, and was given the key to the city of his hometown of Keokuk, Iowa, when he returned home in 1946.

In 1984, Hall was convicted of a murder he committed in 1977, and given a life sentence at the age of 62. At the time of his death at age 83, he was considered the oldest prisoner in the Iowa correction system.

Barens acknowledged that the documentary hits on a variety of issues: the treatment of veterans, treatment of the elderly, as well as treatment of prisoners.

"He came back from World War II, he was trained to kill," he said of Hall. "This isn't in the film, but he was given some cigarettes and $50 by the Army and told to forget what he did in the last three years. He was a war hero; he marched down the streets of Keokuk. Eventually, it caught up with him, and he got into alcohol, and his life pretty much spiraled after that."

In the film, Hall talks about his son who became addicted to drugs and eventually killed himself. Eventually, Hall murdered an alleged drug dealer, but it's unclear whether the person had supplied his son with drugs.

"In Jack's head, the chronology is very loose," Barens said. "He killed an alleged drug dealer because at one point his son was a drug addict and eventually killed himself. So I think Jack, being who he was and how he was trained and how he was thinking, I think he thought getting rid of any drug dealer would do society good."

The inmate caretakers in the hospice are also orderlies in the prison's infirmary, Barens said.

"These guys, this is the first time they've ever had a program that could offer some kind of redemption for what they did," he said. "They all realize they're in there for life."

Ledger-Sentinel reporter Tony Scott contributed to this story.

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