“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
And sometimes, the worst things we’ve done are minute compared to the distorted things our systems do.
I started hearing about Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson last year when it popped up on year-end lists and some black legal scholars I follow mentioned it. It’s a moving, humanizing take on mass incarceration and the criminal justice system, written by a lawyer advocate for prisoners, the great-grandson of slaves who went to Eastern and then Harvard Law, and ended up
In this introduction, he describes himself knock-kneed and out-of-place in law school, finding an internship and a clearer sense of purpose when he begins working with the Southern Prisoner Defense Committee– and encountering, in bolted down cells, the precious human contact of being face to face with prisoners. He moves between his description of his first time meeting a death row inmate and the big picture figures and realities we’re starting to fathom, far too late: ballooning prison populations, 1 in 3 black men incarcerated at some point in their lives, a prison industrial complex riddled with moral and political corruption, and grievous sin for a nation with many of them.
if The New Jim Crow articulated our disease with prophetic truth, it feels like Just Mercy will pull on our consciousness and consciences with personal import and awakened compassion. I’ll keep posting as I read.
(Shout out to New Hope Oakland, my church, for prompting me to read at last.)