Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank paid a visit to a Lansdowne, Va.-based Christian ministry on Thursday to discuss her new movie "Conviction" and the role faith can play in fighting injustice.
"I've met 12 other exonerees since the movie has come out," she told The Washington Post ahead of a panel discussion at the headquarters of Prison Fellowship. "And all of them talk about having found faith in prison, that it was what got them through their ordeal and the circumstances."
Swank has been spreading the film's message to faith and other communities to make them aware of the injustice in the judicial system.
"I have seen how important faith can be in helping prisoners through difficult times. I wanted to share the movie with churches to remind them of the important role they play in reforming our justice system and helping prisoners and their families," she said.
Swank executive produced and stars in "Conviction," which was widely released in theaters Friday. The film is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters and the case of her brother, Kenneth Waters, who was convicted and sentenced to life in 1983 in the murder of a Massachusetts woman. In the fight to restore her brother's name and prove his innocence, Betty Anne dedicated more that 18 years of her life obtaining the credentials to be a lawyer. Not having a high school diploma, this meant starting from scratch. Her brother's murder conviction was eventually overturned based on DNA evidence.
"Conviction" exposes the flaws in the criminal justice system and the love between siblings.
Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship, who hosted Thursday's panel discussion with Swank commented, "The issue of wrongful convictions needs the urgent attention of our communities, churches, government and policy makers."
"For every person who has been falsely convicted," he added, "there is a guilty person who is walking the streets of our communities as a free citizen – that is a serious threat to all of us.
"We are delighted that Ms. Swank used her talents to interpret this poignant story that so brilliantly underscores the devastation that wrongful convictions cause."
During the panel discussion, Swank said the movie was a reminder of "how quick we are to judge."
Meanwhile, Nolan highlighted Prison Fellowship's mission of transforming prisoners' lives through faith and its passion to advocate for reforms in the prison system. "Dr. King said to change someone you must first love them and they must know that you love them. And that's what this ministry's about – loving these people that the rest of the country would rather forget," he said.
In agreement, Swank said, the film is an "unshakeable love story."
"First of all, to me, when I read this script, I thought this is such a story of faith. Faith in this other person, the faith that Kenny had in his sister that made her feel loved, to continue on," she told The Washington Post. "It was this beautiful circle that they gave each other, this unshakable love. And you know, that faith can be compared in myriad ways: to having faith in a higher power, faith in trusting your future, having hope."
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2.3 million prisoners occupy U.S. prisons and jails. Kenneth Waters was released in 2001. Prison Fellowship says there are likely more stories of wrongful convictions among the prisoners.
"Conviction" opened in limited theaters Oct. 15 and opened more widely Friday.
Prison Fellowship, founded by Chuck Colson, reaches out to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Its mission is to seek the transformation of prisoners and their reconciliation to God, family, and community through the power and truth of Jesus Christ.