"Directed by Mira Costa junior Ethan Nahlinder, the short film “A Night in Jail” powerfully depicts a compelling story about the dangers of teen drug abuse.
Screened on Aug. 18 in the Hermosa Beach 2nd Story Theatre, “A Night in Jail” is based on the novella of the same name by Hermosa Beach resident Heidi Swan. Inspired by true events, Swan wrote the story drawing from the experiences of her brother, Kirk Anderson, whose experiences with addiction and mental illness make up the basis of both the book and film.
“A Night in Jail” tells the story of a high school student Danny, played by junior Travers Tobis, who is arrested for smoking marijuana and forced to spend a night in his local jail. His cellmate, a homeless and mentally ill man named Captain, played by Charlie Scola, showcases to Danny the dangers that this seemingly harmless choice to smoke can have on his life. At the film’s screening, Swan and Nahlinder explained that one of the story’s primary objectives is to showcase the connection between marijuana use and mental illness, which is often overlooked and underestimated.
The film’s cinematography only allows for the story to grow even more, as the symbolism behind shots throughout the film illustrated the power struggle between Captain and Danny. At the beginning, the camera reveals Danny through the legs of Captain, showing Captain as a looming figure over Danny’s life. As the film progresses, however, these roles shift, showing Danny’s struggles to take control back of his life and his future. These details, which were highlighted by Nahlinder at the film’s screening, reveal the careful thought that the crew poured into every shot of the film.
“A Night in Jail” is especially effective in conveying its messages concerning teens. Nahlinder is able to share his unique perspective as a teen filmmaker with a film that is first and foremost about teens and the effects of the decisions they make. His choice to educate others through his film about an issue that can impact both him and his peers makes the film remarkably more meaningful to audience members as they recognize its relevance, both in his and their own lives.
Tobis’ acting is one of the film’s great strengths and another reason why the film resonates so deeply with its audience. The adaption of Swan’s novel into the medium of the film only serves to further illustrate the negative effects marijuana abuse can have on people’s lives, which is made possible through Tobis’ talent in conveying Danny’s emotions. His ability to showcase his own inner turmoil makes it difficult at times for viewers to remember that they are watching a film.
“A Night in Jail” similarly boasts an impeccable set design through its jail cell, where Danny and Captain spend their night. The cell appears to be completely authentic, although it was constructed inside of Swan’s basement, showing the attention to detail and care with which this project was treated, as well as its dedication to preserving the novella’s subject matter and creating a realistic viewing experience for audience members.
Calling the film impressive for a teen filmmaker would diminish Nahlinder’s accomplishments; his work cannot be examined solely through the lens of a high school student. As a filmmaker, he has taken a poignant work and further strengthened its emotional resonance in a way that can only be described as professional."
— By Madeleine Powell, Editor-in-Chief
“I believe that everyone should see this film…it really opened my eyes and made me think.”
— High School Student from Redondo Beach
"As a high schooler, drugs are not scarce. Peer pressure and other stressors push the thought of using drugs to be a more common action than an idea. A Night In Jail was a powerful reminder about drugs and their negative outcomes. I loved the surprise twist at the end…This concept was very riveting and new."
— Ona S.
"Wow, this is pretty relevant.' I feel the message is pretty important that people understand their actions have consequences even if they're just in high school."
— High School Student from Manhattan Beach
“This is an extremely well-written and riveting play that presents a real life story of mental illness and addiction. The character development, dialogue, and raw emotion are powerfully created. This play is perfect for a presentation in your community or school.”
— Greenmountain Cat (review on Amazon)
"I was privileged to attend a staged reading by four phenomenal actors in LA. Without any stage props and without any physical action, the tightly crafted dialogue between the cast was timed so perfectly that it brought frequent laughs, the occasional gasp, and a standing ovation at the end. The play version is a must see if it runs as a full production near you. Even if performed by a high school theater troupe it would be hard to miss the mark."
— Chris (review on Amazon)
On behalf of the entire Youth Advisory Council, thank you for your inspiring and informative presentation at last month's meeting. Your expertise and passion for the subject matter truly impacted our young participants, providing them with valuable insights and guidance.
We have recently compiled the reflection forms from our members, and I am delighted to share some of the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received about your presentation:
"What resonated with me the most has to be when Heidi was talking about cannabis. Since I know many people who are addicted to it and believe that it does no harm, but in reality, them going a day without [cannabis], they get impatient and crave it."
"I resonated the most with Heidi Swan’s presentation on how cannabis affects mental health because cannabis is a big problem within schools, specifically public schools, but more in Los Angeles as a whole. Learning this information was really helpful, but I think too we were lucky to have the opportunity of this resource. This presentation needs to be shared with public schools all over."
Your dedication to empowering and educating the next generation of leaders is commendable. We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from you, and we hope to continue collaborating in the future.
Once again, thank you for your time and invaluable contribution to our Youth Advisory Council meeting. We wish you continued success and look forward to staying connected.
— Chhandasi (Pamina) Bagchi (MPH, Positive Youth Development Initiative, Maternal, Child & Adolescent Health, LA County Department of Public Health)
Evaluation of Stanford REACH Lab's "Teaching Cannabis Awareness and Prevention Conference" (Presentations in 2021, 2022, 2023)
"Steps on keeping and lobbying for a ban was insightful."
"This workshop is a call to action for me in finding out where my city council stands in terms of bringing dispensaries into my community."
"A workshop like this helps you believe you can help your communities do the same!"
"Great information about the power of local control."
"Heidi did an amazing job of catching the audience with her content. had a great flow- had an impactful story- and provided with super informative toolkit. AMAZING workshop. would attend again."
"I love the great presentation."
"I think there was time to show more of the video. Still, I liked that Ms. Anderson-Swan was able to have a discussion with the audience over the questions they asked."
"Incredibly engaging. Great resource."
"LOVE THIS! Thank you for sharing your story, I definitely want this."
"Super informative! There was a lot of relevant material on here that could be used with teens in brief interventions."
"This is a practical strategy that I can use as a high school health teacher."
"This was very powerful--so glad that I found this one."
"Great project and an important topic to discuss."
"Very interesting, and appreciate the many diverse views on this subject."
"A Night In Jail was particularly engaging and interesting."
"Very powerful presentation!"
At the 2023 SAM Summit, Heidi presented a short video about the outrageous amount of THC an 18-year-old with medical marijuana could, and still can, purchase in Colorado. There are three short versions of the video. All are entitled: This Much THC is NOT Medicinal. See this post with links to the videos.
“Thank you, again, for presenting such a great program with Esquire CLE.”
— Kyle Robinson (Esquire Continuing Legal Education)
"The facts and information you shared are powerful and extremely relevant to our mental health community and the general public. I agree that this information must be made available to more people so we can help other prevent these same mistakes in their own lives and the lives of their loved ones."
— Jolissa Hebard (Director of Outreach, NAMI Long Beach Area)
"Heidi Swan presented on January 27, 2021, to NAMI Solano County Members and the general community. She was the evening speaker for our General meeting and presented the book she co-authored, titled A Night in Jail. The book was inspired by her brother’s experiences with homelessness, drug addiction, eighteen arrests and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The book details Cannabis Induced Psychosis (a diagnosis found in DSM-5). Heidi uses the story to promote education and prevention. Her professional and personal experiences are weaved into the story which captures the audience’s attention. She is an outspoken activist, dedicated to preventing addiction, reducing homelessness, and providing mental health support. Her presentation was organized, empathetic and energized. She easily adapted her presentation to the mood and needs of the audience, making the experience mutually beneficial. It was a pleasure to have her present and the audience feedback was entirely positive.
As the Executive Director for NAMI Solano County, I highly recommend Heidi as a presenter."
— Dr. Cerrene Cervantes (Executive Director, NAMI Solano County)
"Your presentation to the students was very encouraging. Your story of struggle and redemption when confronted with the power of drug addiction spoke volumes to our students, many of which have their own stories of addiction. Your story however, came from a place where many of our students can't relate, and that is, a fairly wealthy and privileged individual who had the world at his fingertips but instead decided to succumb to the addiction of drugs. It provided our students with opportunity to see that no matter who you are or where you come from or how much money you have, drugs are powerfully addictive and are capable of ruining lives regardless of your background. The story of your brother's journey will enable students to see the other side of the coin and provide a different perspective for inner-city youth who are socio-economically deprived.
Thank you again for sharing your story."
— John Cotton (Principal, Los Angeles County Office of Education, Division of Student Programs)
"Heidi Swan recently presented to the Professional Fiduciary Association of California (PFAC), a trade organization representing over 1,200 professionals serving as trustees, probate administrators, financial and health care decisionmakers, conservators and guardians, and their affiliated professionals, who coordinate and hire case managers, custodial care and skilled care providers of health care, mental illness, substance abuse, addiction and homelessness services.
Heidi's presentation about the dangers of marijuana use - the high toxicity; its effect on biology and the brain (particularly teens and young adults whose brains are still forming); its use as a "gateway" drug that leads to use of more powerful illegal drugs; its impact on human performance and mental development that strongly correlates to later physical and mental illness; its contribution to rapidly increasing numbers of "failure to thrive", hospitalization, incarceration, ODs and deaths; the personal effect on her own family due to a sibling's use of marijuana - was a tremendous education for those families and PFAC professionals who are on the front lines dealing with these issues every day. The presentation provided substantial data from trusted, reliable sources - healthcare professionals, researchers and government agency representatives - that shed light on the origins, evolution, current state and trends of marijuana use and related illnesses, and the enormous financial impact on families, society and government. It was helpful to learn of various advocacy groups who are lobbying for change and the results of their efforts.
I strongly recommend that everyone watch this presentation to inform themselves and their loved ones and friends of the dangers of marijuana use, and to learn how to participate in the discussion."
— Ron Miller (California Licensed Professional Fiduciary and National Certified Guardianz)
"A Night in Jail is an honest and thought-provoking story that encouraged the youth I work with to open up and honestly share their own stories. It also offered a valuable framework to help them think about their future and how even minor decisions can have a lasting impact."
— Shayna Miller, LPC, CACIII (Executive Director, Alternative Homes for Youth, Colorado)
"In Heidi Swan’s heartfelt, enlightening presentation to our Beach Cities Prevention Community Council, she skillfully weaved science-based research with facts from her brother’s story of substance abuse to help us better understand the causal relationship between marijuana addiction and the onset of mental illness."
— Raunda Jones (Prevention Coordinator, Behavioral Health Services, Inc.)
"Heidi A. Swan is such a dynamic speaker that we felt very lucky to have her at our Drugs Kill Dreams, Youth Summit 2018. Her presentation on the effects of marijuana on the adolescent’s brain is crucial to help begin the discussion between youth. I commend Heidi for bringing awareness to the correlation of mental illness and early onset drug use. In addition, Heidi has so eloquently written a novella book titled, A Night in Jail, were the experience of her brother’s struggle with drug use serves as a firsthand experience to the jeopardies of drug usage. The material truly resonated with our audience because Heidi is able to relate the topic with her own experience while providing the scientific evidence to support. In her energizing session, Heidi gave an outstanding presentation that I am confident will help bring change in our communities."
— Brandon Silva (Prevention Outreach Specialist, Behavioral Health Services, Inc.)
Rotary Club in Fairfield-Suisun, California
“Heidi Anderson Swan was our guest speaker, introduced ably by Bart Bright. Ms. Swan, via Zoom, painted the picture of her book 'A Night in Jail.' It relayed the experiences of her brother, who through predisposition became incarcerated and homeless because of his substance abuse. The question – whether homelessness and substance abuse are preventable – was raised. As these issues have drastically affected a wide demographic, blurring the lines between race, class, gender, and trajectory – I hope this is the case. Too many of us have come across unfulfilled potential and wasted opportunity as a result of substance abuse. We see the effects of this written all over the place. While we may not have the immediate answer, I support the concerted effort to answer a question so daunting. Thank you, Heidi, for daring to ask!”
— Bart Bright (Rotary Club)
To read the related post, click here.