Thursday, January 7, 2016

Just Mercy - by Bryan Stevenson

The 2015-16 Common Read for the Unitarian Universalist Association I will be participating in a book discussion with members of my church this month, and again with members of Messiah Baptist Church in Brockton, Massachusetts in March. This is the true story of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative a "private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system." (from the website).

This is a powerful work that tells the story of rampant corruption throughout the criminal justice system - lawyers, politicians, judges and law enforcement officials who are more concerned with appearances than in assuring that justice is served, even when there is incontrovertible evidence that the wrong person has been jailed. Sometimes Stevenson was able to have wronged convictions overturned, but sadly, too often, he watched as innocent people were executed. It is a good companion book to read with Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

I got almost to the end of this book believing it wouldn't find its way to this blog, but the final chapter "The Stonecatchers' Song of Sorrow" came through. The bar for inclusion on my blog is at least one mention of a library or librarian, and this book met that standard. In discussing the Supreme Court's decisions to ban life-imprisonment for juvenile offenders (in 2010 for non-homicide crimes and 2012 for homicide) Stevenson tells of
...several former juvenile lifers [who] had developed outstanding institutional histories with very few disciplinaries, even though they did their time with no hope of ever being released or having their institutional history reviewed. Some became trustees, mentors and advocates against violence among inmates. Others had become law librarians (emphasis mine), journalists, and gardeners.

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