Set in the mid 1980s, novelist Paul Freeman teaches a writing class for prison inmates. Among the felons, he finds a protege in convicted murderer, Charles Henderson, who is one of four Black Panthers convicted in a college student's shooting death in the 1960s. Although Henderson didn't actually pull the trigger, he's the only one still behind bars. Impressed by the inmate's essay recounting the incident, Freeman comes to believe in his student's ability to be redeemed and he works to free him from jail. But he faces a powerful dilemma when he meets and falls in love with the sister of the man who was murdered by his talented student. Her life has been haunted by the crime and she has spent years pressing the parole board to never release her brother's killer. Through the love of the writer, she is able to find some compassion and forgiveness.