Conviction is the film based on the true life story of Betty Anne Waters and her quest to get her wrongly convicted brother out of jail.
Betty Anne answered some questions about her life and the film.
Women and Hollywood: What does it mean to see your story up on the big screen?
Betty Anne Waters: It’s hard to explain. Surreal is not the right word.
WaH: What’s the most important lesson that you can share with people about your experience?
BAW: I think to just keep doing something. What got me through this is that I was never idle. Except for a little depression now and then. But keep going in the direction you want to go. That’s what kept Kenny going and me going and eventually I ended up where I was supposed to be so that when things happened I was ready.
WaH: My impression is that Kenny would not have gotten out of jail had you not become a lawyer.
BAW: I don’t think so. I don’t know.
WaH: How did you persevere for so many years? You got a GED, went to college, got into law school, passed the bar. These are things that are hard when you don’t have such high stakes.
BAW: It was Kenny. If I failed what would have happened to Kenny. I had a lot at stake.
WaH: People say throughout the movie that you gave up your life to do this for Kenny. Do you feel that way?
BAW: Not at all. I don’t think I gave up anything. I didn’t. Even with my kids. I went to all their games, but I had books with me. I had an agenda. That was my life.
WaH: How did you handle the academics? You had 2 kids and job.
BAW: There were hard times. I remember one time when I was getting my undergrad degree from Rhode Island College. First of all my undergrad degree in economics. I’m like why did I do that? I didn’t know. I took an economics class and said I like that so I majored in it. That was really hard. Also, I remember that my son Ben was in I think first grade and he was sick and I had to do a paper and it was due that next day. I remember my little boy with his head in my lap being sick and I am trying to hold him and type this paper at the same time. That was one of the worst times. Other than that – you just do it.
WaH: What about the moviemaking experience surprised you the most?
BAW: Hollywood is nothing like I expected. I thought it would be all these divas. It was nothing like that. Every single person without exception that I have met in Hollywood I love them and they are fabulous and they are real people. And they care about this movie and they care about what happened. They weren’t just making a movie. Honestly, I feel like they care so much about my family. That’s what I am so amazed about.
WaH: What do you think the message of this film is for other women?
BAW: It might sound ridiculous but you can do whatever you want to do. Just put one foot in front of the other and go in the direction you want to be in. Always have that in mind. My direction was always the same. Every hurdle was just a hurdle. I went one step at a time. I didn’t often look at the big picture. I looked at all the small pictures.
WaH: Are you still friends with Abra?
BAW: Oh my gosh she’s my best friend. I love her so much. I can call her at any given time and if I have a problem she will always help me.
WaH: You do not practice law?
BAW: No. Abra does. She is a public defender in New Haven, CT.
WaH: You have no desire to do that?
BAW: No, I love helping the Innocence Project. I will always be a part of them because they are such a part of me. I help with the New England Innocence Project and the NY one with Barry Scheck. We try and change policies and speak against the death penalty and for preserving evidence and having the right DNA statutes. A lot of states have them but they are not worth what they are written on.
WaH: Based on your experience with the Innocence Project, what’s the most important thing that needs to change?
BAW: First you have to look at the people who have been exonerated now there are 259. You have to look at why they were wrongfully conviceted to begin with. And if they look at that they will see the changes that need to be made. There are some that are easy like the way lineups are conducted. Also, everything should be videotaped. And interrogations should be audio and videotaped. Why not show everything that happened? People are interrogated for 20 hours and they only record the last five minutes. Why not record the whole thing? Why can’t we see all of it.
Also with lineups, when you see photo lineups they show you 6 photos and people are more likely to pick the person who looks most like the perpetrator. Why not show one photo at a time? There is a lot of police misconduct like in my case. And they are not accountable. Why aren’t they? The president has checks and balances but police officers don’t. It’s a long story. They have so much power over another person’s life.
Conviction starring Hilary Swank opens today.