Friday Reads: Just Mercy
“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work. Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read. Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things. Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too. No matter the source, good reads are featured here.
This week the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club discussed Just Mercy: a story of justice and redemption by Bryan Stevenson. It is the second book in our six-month series devoted to social justice. Each month we will read about a different aspect of social justice. In Just Mercy, the topic was criminal justice. But let me quote the author for a more in-depth description:
This book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America. It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us. It’s also about a dramatic period in our recent history, a period that indelibly marked the lives of millions of Americans – of all races, ages and sexes – and the American psyche as a whole. (p.14)
Stevenson’s personal narrative describes his first 30 years after Harvard Law School when he started the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama – a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free legal counsel to prisoners wrongly accused of crimes. Over that time the EJI grew from just two lawyers, Stevenson and a friend from Harvard, to over 40 attorneys who, together, tirelessly fight for racial justice and the fair treatment of children in prison, and against mass incarceration, and the death penalty. Through his experiences we learn just how many ways minorities, the poor, the mentally ill and other vulnerable members of our society can be treated unfairly when they are in the wrong place at the wrong time and members of the judicial system want a quick conviction. The results can be catastrophic: innocent people being imprisoned, put in solitary confinement and on death row or even executed. Many suffer physical and sexual abuse from wardens and other inmates. Their families and communities acutely feel the injustice as well.
Our large group had a thoughtful and moving discussion about Just Mercy. Some of us found it very difficult to read because of all the unfairness and corruption Stevenson uncovers, but we all were glad that we read such an important account from one with a reliable and even voice. Just Mercy is read in high school and college English classes across the country, including here at Falmouth High School. You can learn more about the author and the book at eji.org.
Join us next month for Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen, a memoir about racism and religious oppression in Tibet.