Life Crime

: Documentary
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


Criminal Injustice as seen through the eyes of a brilliant musician and convicted murderer.


After 35 years in San Quentin, murderer and musician Reggie Austin had all but given up, when the serendipitous chance to play with an all-star jazz band leads to success at his thirteenth parole hearting.  Freed, he constructs a fragile new normal on the outside, restoring family ties, playing music, and recycling with his buddy and fellow ex-con Ricky Hayes.   Then Ricky is murdered.


It is not often one has a profound effect on someone else’s life. But this is what happened when I took an all-star jazz band into San Quentin to do the first live concert they’d hosted in over a decade, and inmate #B57661, Reggie Austin, had the guts to get up and play with them.  From that moment on, we were linked.

For the past five years, I have been mining the subject of prisoners, prisons, crime, musicians (I’m a musician myself), musicians who are prisoners, justice, drug addiction, and the theme of redemption.  My last film, Sound of Redemption, told the story of a junkie salvaging a damaged and damaging life, spent mostly in prison, through his peerless musical artistry. 

But Reggie Austin is a man who exemplifies redemption on a whole other level. Music is critical to his story, but it is his clarity in expressing how he rebuilt himself from a drug-addled murderer to someone who could contribute positively to society, that is gripping, and frankly, astonishing.  Moreover, he is able to analyze prison issues from the inside out.  He opens the door to a multi-leveled investigation into the interlacing problems of poverty, crime, racism, injustice, rehabilitation and recidivism.  Rarely have prisoners, remote and abstract to the public, had such an eloquent voice.

Not only does Reggie’s story provide a compelling vehicle for important prison issues, but his terrible crime has forced me to confront the searing question of how to punish such violence, as well as examine how the perpetrator lives with what he has done.  I hope to take the audience on the same emotional and thought-provoking journey of rejection and compassion that I have experienced.  After seeing Life Crime, I believe viewers will never think of prisoners in the same way, and that this in turn will galvanize criminal justice reform. 


NC Heikin - director
NC Heikin began her career at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York and went on to work on and off Broadway as an actress, singer, dancer, writer and director with such luminaries as Wilford Leach, Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, Wally Shawn and Andrei Serban. She has written screenplays for Disney and Paramount as well as French TV networks. In 2004, she made her directing debut with her prize-winning short, mañana, available on Indiepix. Her first documentary, Kimjongilia, about North Korean refugees, premiered at Sundance, won the One World Human Rights Best Film 2010, and has been seen by millions of people around the world, including on The Documentary Channel and Netflix. Her most recent film, Sound of Redemption, The Frank Morgan Story, about a troubled jazz musician, was produced by bestselling author Michael Connelly and premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2014 and in NYC at Lincoln Center on August 2, 2015. It has a “100% Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and recently won the Best Biographical Documentary at the Sound on Screen Festival, South Africa. NC is a Sundance Fellow.


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