Highberger's story takes center stage in premiere of "Pardoned by Grace"

·5 min read

Sep. 21—Scott Highberger has been a lot of things in his life— a criminal, drug addict, prison inmate, pastor, husband and a founder of a prison ministry and prison transition facility. This Sunday he gets to be something else, the center of attention as his story is brought to life on the big screen.

The Indiana Theater will be the site of a world premier for the movie "Pardoned by Grace" Sunday. The film is based on Highberger's life.

"It is pretty exciting. It's surreal that God, that all of this had come around, the transformation from a life of a career criminal until now, a pastor and founder of a prison organization and transitional housing for men that are coming out of prison here in Loogootee, Indiana. It is pretty amazing," said Highberger. "Most of the movie depicts what my life was like before and I began a relationship with God. The first two-thirds are about how my life was a mess. The last third of the movie is about how my life turned around and the accomplishments. It is a story of transformation."

The film had originally been set to premiere in Nashville, Tennessee, the home of the production company, Graham Family Films, which is run by Ben Graham, a minister in Nashville and the son of the late Billy Graham. But Indiana Theater owner Dusty Davis heard about the film and asked that the premiere come to Washington.

"Dusty approached me and explained how this could be a great opportunity for the community. I thought it was a good idea. It is really going to be a cool thing. It is going to be unique and special," said Highberger.

"I became aware of it about a month ago and heard it was getting ready to come out. It had some big-name actors in it. As the owner of the theater, I reached out to Scott to see if there would be a way where we could help him and bring awareness of recovery to the community," said Davis. "I opened it up to him and he brought in Ben Graham. We have been in talks about what we could do, and they decided to do the red-carpet premiere night here for the movie before they release it."

The film stars Joey Lawrence as Highberger and Michael W. Smith as Highberger's pastor.

"I think it is pretty cool having Joey Lawrence playing me. I grew up watching some of shows he was on. I was on the set when they shot some of the scenes and got to watch him," said Highberger. "They shot part of this in my hometown and there are about 100 extras from where I grew up that I know that are friends and family that are in the movie. My wife and I even do a cameo and have a line."

Even though he had to order a red carpet, Davis says they hope to give the premiere the full red-carpet treatment.

"The writers and producers will be here to roll out the movie and some of the cast," said Davis. "We have sold out the first showing on Sunday. We have nearly sold out the second. It should be fun. We are going to have five or six of the actors and producers up on stage after each of the showings and they are going to do about a half hour of question and answers after the showings. Just talk about their experiences with the movie."

Davis, who has been trying to build and improve the Main Street area, says the movie premiere is a great way for the community to celebrate downtown.

"It's pretty awesome. We are excited. Our hearts are to bring opportunities to downtown and really celebrate what we have," said Davis. "We want to celebrate our recovery community and bring awareness to the large recovery community we have. I think this brings all of that together in a cool event."

Davis and Highberger both say the story of recovery and redemption is one of the reasons they felt the movie should have a premiere in Washington. It is a way to celebrate those who work on recovery efforts, those who have succeeded and those whose lives are impacted by people caught in the cycle of crime, alcohol and addiction.

"This is more than a movie showing," said Davis. "This is a celebration of a lot of things that are going on in our community, the various recovery projects that people pour their hearts into. We just want to celebrate that. We have a number of recovery groups that are very successful locally, in combating addiction in various forms. We want to celebrate those groups and the people who have been through those groups and been successful in dealing with their addictions and their own journeys. We want to celebrate the heart behind the movie that sometimes addiction is bigger than ourselves and it can take Christ to combat that."

"This speaks to that circle of people, but there is a broader perspective as well," said Highberger. "Not only is it focused on the person in the destructive lifestyle, whether it is drugs, alcohol, whatever, but it is aimed at the people impacted by those who have the destructive life-style. Every drug addict, alcoholic, career criminal, they all have family. They all have people they know and care about them and are affected by this. A lot of the people that are in this cycle don't think they will be able to break free. And then the people around them feel the same way. This movie can bring hope to those people as well."

The Sunday showings of "Pardoned by Grace" are set for 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. After that, the film is scheduled to play at the Indiana Theater for the remainder of the week.

"This is a great opportunity for people to come together, for those struggling in the cycle and those who have friends and family in the cycle to get some hope," said Highberger. "They are going to see how bad I was and how my life got turned around and how successful it has become, and if it can happen to me it could happen to anyone."