Thursday night in Virginia: The wind is chilly and hundreds of Prison Fellowship employees, moviegoers, and a handful of journalists huddle into the headquarters of Prison Fellowship Ministries. What could draw such a crowd during a random night in October? Two words: Hilary Swank.
The star of Conviction, a Fox Searchlight film about a man wrongfully convicted of murder, arrived in elegant dress, shortly before the private screening of her latest film ended. Reporters from the Washington Post, local media, and the Prison Fellowship staff were on hand to welcome her. Read the Post's writeup here.
Pat Nolan, Vice President of Justice Fellowship, received a call just days before the event saying that a star appearance from Swank for a private screening of Conviction, had been greenlighted by studio executives.
“I found out that the screening was a 'Go' at 10:30 Monday night,” Pat recalled in an email the next day. “56 hours later we had Crowley [the room where the screening took place] full to the gills, video crews in place and a night honoring to God. It was such a blessing to see how Prison Fellowship pulled together to make this happen.”
Betty Anne Waters, the real life hero played by Swank in the film, also attended the event. She brought along her close friend Abra Rice, a New Haven Public Defender, who served with Waters and Swank on a guest panel, for a brief discussion, following the film. Pat led the discussion along with Dr. Lee Earl, a local clergyman.
Topics discussed throughout the session included wrongful convictions, DNA testing, protecting the innocent, and the important role of families and churches in the lives of prisoners. The dire need for legislative reform to address egregious failures in the justice system was also outlined. “For every innocent person in prison, there is a dangerous criminal walking the streets,” Pat stated.
He later reflected, “It was definitely a night that we will all remember. God really loves this ministry. He provides opportunities for us that are totally unique, and I feel it is because PF is so faithful in serving prisoners and their families.”