Searing Film Explores Jewish Obligations
In ‘Crime after Crime,’ an unexpected hero
“In Judaism we have this prayer, matir asurim: To free those who are bound,” Joshua Safran tells the camera. “If someone is wrongfully imprisoned, we have an obligation to fight to free them, to liberate them.” His passion ignites his words, though his face betrays dismay and exhaustion.
Crime after Crime, a new documentary by Yoav Potash, tells the harrowing story of a California woman sentenced to life in prison for her involvement in the murder of the man who abused her. The powerful film follows two land-use lawyers for the better part of a decade as they work pro bono to free Debbie Peagler, incarcerated for more than 20 years for a crime that should have carried a maximum sentence of six years in prison.
Joshua Safran, who began working with Nadia Costa on Debbie’s case when it was reopened in 2002, is an Orthodox Jew with curly hair that holds a dark yarmulke in place, and, as Peagler herself notes in the film, an unlikely ally for the deeply Christian prisoner. Peagler, an African-American mother continuously shoved aside by a justice system that comes across as disturbingly corrupt, was routinely beaten as a teenager and forced into prostitution by a boyfriend who controlled her life with violence and abused the daughter they had together.
As time passes and justice continues to elude the team, strong relationships develop between the rookie criminal lawyers and their unfailingly positive client. Safran, who at a young age witnessed his mother be physically abused by his stepfather, finds parallels of his own life in the suffering of Debbie and her children. Peagler’s unwavering faith, witnessed in moving scenes of her leading worship services and singing with the prison choir, seems matched by Safran’s religious devotion. Early in the film he is shown putting on tefillin and praying, and in a later instance learns he missed a major development in Peagler’s case while observing Shabbat. At the end of the film he observes, “God works in mysterious ways.” It seems as good an explanation as any.
Crime After Crime is open in Manhattan, opens tomorrow in Los Angeles, and in select cities later on. For a complete list, see here.
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at email@example.com. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.