Sitting before a concrete prison wall, Debbie Peagler, recalls how she was only 15 when she met and fell in love with a charming young man — only to then be horribly abused by him, beaten with a bullwhip and forced into prostitution. Today, she is in prison for his murder. In her decades behind bars, she teaches illiterate inmates to read and write, leads the gospel choir, and earns two college degrees from behind bars. While participating in a battered women’s support group, she discovers that she is not alone; the majority of women in prison today are survivors of domestic violence. Still, she doesn’t dare allow herself to believe that a court or parole board will ever reopen her case and allow her to be free – until she meets Joshua Safran and Nadia Costa.
As a nine year-old boy, Joshua saw his mother beaten too many times to count. He felt powerless to stop the abuse, and after one particularly bloody night, young Joshua and his mother narrowly escaped her batterer. Flash-forward two decades: Joshua is now a lawyer and he finds that in working for his client Debbie Peagler he now has a chance to help a victim of domestic violence where he could not help his own mother. Over time, Joshua’s identity as an orthodox Jew also fuels his work on the case, as he connects with prayers that specifically address the injustice of wrongful incarceration.
In addition to being a successful lawyer and mom, Nadia is an ultra-marathon runner who rises before dawn to train for hundred-mile races. The stamina that she has developed through this daily practice is a great asset in her work on Debbie’s case, as the battle for Debbie’s freedom itself becomes a legal marathon, stretching on for years and covering the terrain of both civil and criminal law. Nadia’s personal mantra of “constant forward momentum,” becomes the only way that Debbie and her legal team can persevere through the difficult challenges and setbacks they encounter. In addition, Nadia’s background as a former social worker for Children’s Protective Services in Los Angeles helps her research, investigate, and prove Debbie’s claims of abuse.