Last night I went to see “At the Center,” a new play by Andrew Gallant and Tim Touhy that is lovingly based on the work of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. As an aside, it was a bit surreal to observe someone else’s conception of the CWC’s work played out before me onstage.
Oddly, the scene that most stayed with me was the press conference after the exoneration. The CWC attorney spoke from a podium and made the usual remarks about it being both a happy and a tragic day and about the need for systemic reforms. Smiling law students and the exoneree’s sister stood on either side. I could imagine cameras snapping and reporters scribbling in the audience. I have been through a few of these moments myself.
The person I couldn’t stop watching was the exoneree—or rather, the actor who played him. The portrayal was spot on. His half-smiling (only half!) expression included apprehension, self-consciousness, and deep loss. The body language was so powerful that I can’t even remember his words.
Behind lies pain. Ahead lies uncertainty. The fleeting moment between, in the spotlight of exoneration, contains elements of both, plus joy and a host of other emotions that vary from person to person. The moment does matter. It presents an opportunity to capture hearts, and capturing hearts drives change. It also validates the exoneree’s innocence and the injustice he or she has endured, which is tremendously affirming. But it is just a moment, and by no means the end of the story or even its most important chapter. That reminder is my takeaway from “At the Center.”