We watched “Shelter in Solitude.” Here’s what we thought.

Shelter In Solitude is a 2023 movie that tells the story of an unlikely friendship formed between a country singer turned prison guard and a man on death row.

In a matter of days, Jackson is going to be executed. 

At first, we don’t know why he’s on death row. But we do know that Val, the prison warden’s sister, will be his guard — a new position for her as the United States enters what it thought would be a two-week lockdown at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and her gig as a singer and bar owner is put on pause.

Her approach to this newfound role of prison guard is unconventional. She brings life into death row with homemade cookies, cell-side picnics, and casual conversation. At one point Val says to a friend, “I told him, I said, ‘I cannot sit here all day in silence.’”

Val couldn’t sit in silence because she refused to believe that Jackson was the monster he was made out to be. Val saw his humanity, something we are all called to do, and she invited him to celebrate that humanity through simple pleasures — even as his death was imminent.

Although this movie was not based on a true story, it seemed to us a clear depiction of art imitating life. How often do we hear that the death penalty is reserved for “the worst of the worst”? How frequently do we see people put to death even while critical components of their case go unconsidered by a judge or jury, never presented in trial?

In flashbacks throughout the movie we eventually get a glimpse of Jackson’s life, and the crime that put him on death row. It offers a more complete picture than we often even see as people following real life executions today. He has a story to tell, but that story fails to penetrate through the cold metal bars which restrain him.

Our criminal legal system’s default approach seems to be crime, punishment, “justice is served.”

This one-dimensional model fails to prioritize the healing of all people who are impacted by harm. Jackson’s broken relationship with his daughter was just one manifestation of this.

(Warning: movie spoiler ahead)

We don’t want to spoil the movie, but if you’ve read this far, it might not come as a surprise to you that the story ends with Jackson’s execution. He’s sat in an electric chair, the power is turned on, and the screen turns to black. The End.

We wished that wasn’t the case. We had hoped that by some miracle, Jackson’s execution would be called off.

But the death penalty is an irreversible injustice. Once a person is executed, there is no going back. And that’s why we are called to go forward, to pursue a vision of justice that is rooted in healing and wholeness, mercy and compassion. A justice that values the dignity of life, even in the face of grave harm.

This movie provides several takeaways that help direct us in our next steps:

  1. We have to see people as human beings first. Learn about people facing executions, read their stories, talk with others about the death penalty as a life issue.
  2. We have to name injustice when we see it.
  3. We have to look critically at the impact of the death penalty on all people who are involved: prison staff, family members, and the community.
  4. We have to be advocates for those who can’t advocate for themselves.

Screening Events

There are two film screening events coming soon. If you’re in the DC or NYC area, consider attending!

Fordham University

Wednesday, April 3 | 6-8:30 p.m.

Fordham University | Howard Gilman Theater
144 W. 65th St.
New York, NY 10023

Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, Men in Black) is a longtime comedian, actor, and writer for film and stage—and a Catholic mom. She draws on all those vocations for her latest feature film, Shelter in Solitude.

Hogan will join us after the screening for a conversation on making movies, making people laugh, and making it in Hollywood as a woman—and a person of faith.

Register here. (Space is limited)


The Catholic University of America

Tuesday, April 16 | 5:30-8:30 p.m.

The Catholic University of America | Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center
The Nest, Suite 300
601 Thea Bowman Drive, NE
Washington, DC 20064

Join the Catholic University community on Tuesday, April 16, for an exclusive screening of “Shelter in Solitude”, a new film written by and starring Siobhan Fallon Hogan, M.F.A 1985.

Attendees will have the opportunity to meet and hear from Siobhan Fallon Hogan in order to get an insider’s look at the film’s creation. There will also be a question-and-answer session after the screening.

Register here.