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Home Run Producers talk about faith, film, and finding freedom with CRI Newsletter

Editor’s note: Shortly before the national release of the movie Home Run, I got to sit with Associate Producer Micah Barnard and Co-Executive Producer Carol Mathews (Co-executive Producer Tom Newman was in England filming “The Christmas Candle”). Their faith in God and faith in what they do is evident in this interview, and evident as well in their vision for the film and for the message that Home Run seeks to bring to this world. DJ

CRIN: Let’s start with your experience of taking the film to Angola (Prison in Louisiana) and what that was like for you.

Micah: It was a surreal experience and very humbling. I had an impression in my mind of what it was going to be like, and it was completely not that impression at all. The inmates were very receptive to the film open, very appreciative that we brought it to them. Many admitted to fighting back tears and it was just a really, really great experience. I got to interview a few of the inmates and hear their thoughts on the film and overwhelmingly everyone was saying that they were just really impressed, not only by the quality of the acting but everything from the cinematography to the way it was directed. I didn’t expect to hear inmates talk that way, and so it was really interesting. They have seen a lot of films, these guys, and so they were really impressed with the film and very appreciative of it.

CRIN: You had spoken about interviewing some of them. What kind of a lasting impression did they have on you, or did the place (Angola) have on you?

Micah: True freedom, it doesn’t matter whether you’re incarcerated or not. True freedom is a heart thing, and there are men living inside a prison that will never get out that are living a fully fulfilled life with purpose and they are experiencing freedom like many people will never experience who are never in prison and are never incarcerated that way. So, it was just amazing to see guys who have purpose and know what they are called to do inside the prison.

CRIN: So well stated.And you kind of touched on the point that there are people who are not locked up who are in prisons of their own.

Micah: And they talk about all the different types of prisons that there are… the prison of bitterness, of anger and rage, the prison of whether it’s an actual addiction to some kind of emotional thing you are going through, something that has been done to you that you’re not willing to let go of. One of the inmates said, and this will stick with me forever, that “True freedom happens when we confess our stuff, whatever that might be, to someone else and begin to walk out the process of whether it is forgiveness or restoration, towards restoration; because that’s where true freedom happens”. That’s the best form of freedom that we could ever experience here on earth.

CRIN: Which, as it happens, is the message of Celebrate Recovery. In one of the first promos (for Home Run) that was put together, you are interviewed in that promo and you say that change is possible. In Celebrate Recovery we find that change is possible. I may be paraphrasing now, but I believe your exact words were “Home Run says change is possible”.

Carol: Yes, yes! And you know what is so funny is (that) we say change is possible for the people we like, and then for the people we don’t like, we say what? They’ll never change. And you know who we are the hardest on? Ourselves. And so we need to realize that change is possible not because we can do it by ourselves but because we let it go, we hit rock bottom, we cannot figure out which way to go, and we lean in to the only person who can help us, and that is Jesus.

CRIN: Scott Elrod’s character in the film is named Cory, and here we see in the film that he gets in trouble numerous times and then he gets in a car wreck, drinking, when his brother is in the car; but avoid prison time because he like many people, are in a better position or they are connected somehow. In the case of the film, his brother is a district attorney, so that kind of helps him out, keeps him from going to prison where in a lot of instances people in that same situation would do prison time.

Micah: Yeah, obviously, he could have been (put in prison) and he happened to have a brother who as a district attorney was able to help him out of a situation. It’s interesting, you know. Whether it’s wrong place or wrong time, ultimately at the end of the day we are all responsible for our actions; and whether we are responsible to a penal environment we are going to be responsible to God eventually. Just because you feel like you got away with something here on earth doesn’t mean that you necessarily get away with it eternally; that is something that Cory had to walk out and figure out and learn in the film as he had. Having a son and having to learn to understand that his actions are affecting other people around him, that became something real for him when he ended up back in his old hometown.

Carol: Well, I mean most definitely we tried to make it true to life…and I think all of us to some degree have people that excuse us in life, you know, we have our character defects and we tend to surround ourselves with people who put up with them, and so Cory most certainly has done that from fans to management to the organization. Now, when he made it public and his on-field antics became too hard for the organization to ignore, then they decided to take some action.

CRIN: You brought up the antics on the baseball field and perhaps that was leading towards his bottom but that really wasn’t his bottom; and so a lot of us think we have hit bottom and we have not hit bottom, right?

Carol: Yeah, even for us, you know, as long as we still think we are going to fix it or as long as we think that we are in control, we haven’t hit rock bottom yet. The minute we feel like we have lost it, we have lost control, we have lost our power, we have no idea which way is the way to move forward, that’s rock bottom, and clearly he is inconvenienced, he is put out, he is insulted, but he hasn’t gotten to the point where he doesn’t feel he can fix it.

Micah: Rock bottom is an interesting place, because you never know... I mean, for one person it can be one place, for someone else it’s 10 steps down the road, who knows, but what it eventually comes to is (that) someone has to come to the realization of “I’m out of control and there is nothing I can do to stop it”, but you could hit rock bottom and still be there. The situation with Cory in the film is he hits rock bottom and decides that he is going to turn to someone for help.He calls an accountability partner but ultimately he turns to Christ for help, understanding that he is out of control, and so whatever that might be for anyone we like to hang onto these things and think that we can just make a decision to change, and it doesn’t work that way.The true change happens when we surrender our life to Christ and surrender the things that we are going through or that have happened to us or that we are addicted to to Him and become willing to be open about those things and not hide them.

CRIN: I don’t know how pertinent this is, but I found it kind of ironic that there is a bit of a role reversal in the film in that Corey is the protagonist basically, the good guy but for a while he is the bad guy. And then the bad guy in the film, Pajerski, is really a police officer, usually portrayed as kind of a good guy, and so there is this role reversal that happens initially.

Micah: Cory is our hero. He is the one that we want to root for, and you have to have someone to play opposite of him, and you know Pajerski was one of those guys who, they most likely grew up together, and there is probably a whole lot of jealousy and envy coming from Pajerski because Corey made it out and he didn’t. So, it’s interesting.It wasn’t meant to portray our law enforcement in a negative light, but there are underlying issues between them from years of relationships that they grew up together and all of that.

Carol: But I think the important thing is labels don’t make us anything. Baseball players don’t make us a hero. Police officers don’t make us a hero. You know, being a police officer doesn’t make us anything.It is the man… it is the woman behind all of it, and its true, just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean you’re a good mom or a loving mom. Just because you work at a bank doesn’t mean you don’t steal. There are just things that are more complex than we tend to want to make them.

CRIN: Not to overanalyze the film, but I have found personally that just because of my own experience in Celebrate Recovery, and the insights I’ve gained into my own life has helped me to gain insights as I observe others, and what I wanted to tie that to, is how the film is spoken about as a baseball player with an alcohol problem, but as we gain insights we see that underneath that alcohol problem is an anger problem, and that anger problem has its genesis in childhood hurts. And all of those aspects are so well brought out in Home Run, and I am sure that a lot of people are going to be able to tie them together as well and then perhaps identify with those aspects.

Carol: And do you know why? Because they see themselves and they know that they drink because, or if they don’t know, this movie is going to help remind them. You know, we drink because we are anesthetizing pain. Or we use drugs because we are somehow or another not wanting to deal with something, and sometimes it started off to find courage, and then we used it to, you know, have a good time, I don’t know. But in the end we believed a lie somewhere down the road. The thing that I like about Home Run is when you view it, one of the little sub messages is things are not what they seem. You look at Cory and what do we do? We look at him from afar and we say “He drinks too much.If he would just stop drinking, then he’d be a nice guy and he wouldn’t get in so much trouble”, right? And we look at Karen, right, and we say, what did Corey say to her? “You’re just a sheltered Sunday school teacher.” And the fact is, things are not what they seem. We cannot look at a person and size them up and begin to know their life. We can’t begin to know what they have been though. We can’t begin to know all the reasons why they’ve chosen, even their poor choices, why they chose poorly. And there is where grace comes in. Why would I judge you? I have not known what pain you’ve been in, what choices were made that hurt you, and so I just love that things were not as they seemed; and people are usually doing bad things for other reasons, you know, not because they just want to be bad.

CRIN: Is that how you see it Micah?

Micah: Yeah, absolutely. One of my favorite lines in the film is in a step study situation where a character says, “In answering these questions, I found out why I use”. I love that line because at the end of the day, we’re using some sort of coping mechanism to cover a deeper lying issue, and so if we can uncover what that deeper underlying issue is, a lot of times, and heal that, and start there with our healing; these other things that we are using to cope become healed as well, so to speak, right? So I love that because the drinking isn’t the problem, it’s WHY is he drinking. What was the thing that was the underlying issue? His father was a drunk. His father’s father was a drunk, and there was a lot of emotional and psychological abuse that happened, and so it was a generational thing, and what Cory decided in the film is “This is where it stops”. He’s not going carry on and allow this to be carried on in his family, and it’s a very important thing to understand and realize in the film.

CRIN: Which brings us to what John Baker says about Celebration Station and the Landing. He says the goal of Celebration Station and the Landing is to make Celebrate Recovery obsolete, the multigenerational aspects. That’s great. One of my favorite lines in the film is “You’re in the right room, it just takes awhile to know it sometimes.”

CRIN: Carol, why do you feel it is important for people that are in prison to see this movie? Or why do you personally have a heart for those that are incarcerated because I know that you do...

Carol: “I think one of the things that comes out in this movie is it is never too late. What I love about Cory is, in this story of Home Run is, I think the message is no matter what, no matter how much hurt has happened, either to you or from you, no matter how many decisions you regret, no matter how much of your life you want to make a do-over; it is not too late to turn, find healing, and make your life a beacon of hope to people who need to make changes for themselves and live the life the best life you can in the circumstances you’re in. Certainly there are plenty of inmates who made these turns in their life and are doing a world of good while still being incarcerated; I think the idea is most people want to do good and they have somehow or another become their own judge and jury and said it’s too late for me to do good, that it’s never gonna change, this is where I am. It’s just not true, and it’s not too late, God is still with them and God still loves them and God still finds them acceptable, and if there is a message to anybody that were to hear the movie or see it or even read this article is that it is never too late; God still wants to use your life, your individual single life, you still are important, and I think the devil whispers in our ears all those things, it’s too late, you’ll never change, and even if you did, who cares, and it’s a lie, it’s a lie! God cares.”

Micah: You can always find purpose. You’re not where you are by accident.God has a plan for your life, and you can be used no matter where you are. My platform isn’t necessarily in a prison. I really probably don’t have much to relate to someone who is incarcerated, but someone who has been incarcerated that can look at someone else on the inside and say, hey, I’ve been there, I know what that’s like, me too, those are probably two of the most powerful words in the English language when put together is “me too”. What that does is provide a personal connection between you and the other person that says “I understand”; and a lot of times we isolate ourselves because we think we are the only ones going through what we are going through, and that’s just not the case.It’s a lie, and we buy into that lie, so when you can look at someone, whether you’re inside or outside, and say “me too”, you’re making a connection with someone and can relate with someone and can help them along in their journey, because you have hope… I have hope. I can say “me too” to someone because I have found hope and freedom from my pain and my addictions or whatever that might be because of Christ.

CRIN: Let me just ask you personally, Micah, why do you have a heart for the incarcerated? Why do you even care if they get to see the film or not?

Micah: The opportunity presented itself, and what we found that was really important for us as film makers and just people who have a heart for ministry is people on the inside are always looking for ways to connect and share an experience with someone on the outside, and so we thought that if we could provide the opportunity for someone on the inside to see a film that meant something to them that they could turn around and share with their loved ones on the outside and share an experience and say, “hey, this is important to me. This meant something to me. I want to share this with you. ”It becomes a great ministry opportunity for them from inside out, instead of someone coming in and ministering to them, they can use the film and write to their family members and say, “hey, I saw this and this meant a lot and it touched me here, it touched me there” whatever it might be for them, they have a point of contact to reach out and say “this was a big deal for me, it meant a lot to me, I really think you need to see it because it will mean a lot for our family and it touches on some issues that we really need to address as a family” because they are on the inside, they’re still parents, they’re still husbands, they’re still wives, whatever they might be, and they are looking for ways to connect with their loved ones on the outside and we just felt like, you know what, it is an underserved population of people that sometimes don’t get to hear the message and the good news of Christ in different forms of media, and we just felt like this would be a great opportunity to share that with them.

CRIN: What would you like to say to the incarcerated personally, and what would you like them to hear from the film, and I think you have already covered some of it.

Carol: I hope and pray that what they hear from the film is it’s not too late to make a change, that your life is important and precious to God. He knew you would be here and He still desperately desires to know you, to walk with you, to be with you, and to turn your life into something that glorifies Him; and there is joy and fulfillment in waiting for that and pursuing that with the Lord.Change is possible. Change is possible no matter where you are, what you’ve done. For me personally, it’s wrapped up in the same. I feel so passionate about the message of the movie. I don’t have a personal separation. I feel that way personally. I want to encourage people to live the lives they were supposed to lead, and to not believe the lies that say it’s over for you, ‘cause it’s not.

Micah: I think we all have issues, whether it is something that lands us in a penitentiary or we’re in a prison outside ourselves, we all have prisons, and it’s how we handle those and how we handle ourselves that’s important, and so when we can turn to our Creator, our Heavenly Father, and our Savior Jesus Christ, and turn to others who are going through similar situations and be able to lean on others, that is when we really find freedom, and whether you’re incarcerated or not, freedom is possible. You can live a purpose-filled life when you have Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. So, if that means you are ministering on the inside to those who might not ever get out, or maybe they do get out but you were able to plant seeds and minister to them as an inmate, that when they get out they are able to change, they are able to find help, they are able to do something different that changes their course and sets them on a different path then you’ve done something for the kingdom and there is purpose in that.

CRIN: ....This is going to be a tremendous tool to recruit inmates into the program.

Micah: And that’s what we’re hoping too, is that when inmates get to see this, whether it’s before the theatrical release of the film or after, that when inmates see this they are able to see that change is possible and that there is a ministry out there that is for them that understands them and that is open for them to come and be themselves and go through their stuff, as dirty as it might be, but with an understanding that they are going to be loved, they are not going to be shunned, they are not going to be pushed away, but they are going to be accepted, and that true change is possible.

Carol: That’s right. None of us have walked this earth that doesn’t have regrets. None of us walk this earth that doesn’t have things happen to us that are hurtful and heartbreaking, and all of us have hope, and God is not stingy. He is gracious and generous with His grace and His mercy and it is for all of us.