In 2000, in the small Texas town of Hearne, Regina Kelly was arrested for selling drugs. A poor single mom with four young children, Kelly was one of many arrested that day who were innocent. But her innocence was inconsequential to the local district attorney, an official bent on carrying out the war on drugs with little regard for collateral damage.
Kelly faced intense pressure to plead guilty, but instead chose to fight the charges at great risk to her own well-being. American Violet, which opens in limited release this week, tells a harrowing story based on Kelly's experience and that of others in her community. CT Movies recently talked with Kelly and the film's writer, Bill Haney, about her decision to fight the charges, the sustaining power of faith, the legal changes her case sparked, and the ongoing war on drugs.
Regina, when you were arrested, the odds were stacked against you. You couldn't afford an attorney and everyone—including your mom—advised it was in your best interest to plead guilty. Why did you choose to fight those charges?
Regina Kelly: The [drug task force] raids on our community had been going on for most of my life, and finally I got swept up in it. I just felt like I had to fight this because I knew I was innocent. And I had to prove to my kids that your freedom is worth standing up for.
While the movie focuses on my story, I'm not the only one who stood up. A lot of people stood up and said we're not going to go through this anymore; we're not going to take this. My mom only wanted me to plead because she knew the challenges I would be facing if I tried to go up against the DA. She was only trying to look out for my best interests. But after I explained what I'm going to do, she was ...