Welcome . . . to the first ever Read With Us book discussion post!
We're so happy to have you join us as we begin our discussion of Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. I'll be focusing our discussion this week on the Introduction and first 5 chapters of the book. Next Tuesday (Nov 12), Bonny will talk about the middle portion of the book, and then Carole will follow up on Nov 19 with the final section. On Nov 26, I'll be back to sum up our discussion for you.
Now for a bit of "housekeeping" regarding the discussion and how (we hope) it will work: Please join the discussion by leaving a comment here on the blog. I'll be responding to your comments IN the comments, so please do check back once in a while to see how the discussion is going this week. Feel free to respond to other commenters as well. We realize that this is not the most ideal discussion format, and that it's somewhat cumbersome and a little awkward -- but it's the most reasonable way we could think of . . . for a beginning step.
So. Let's get started, shall we?
If this were an in-person kind of book group, I'd be welcoming you to my house for the discussion. Since we're meeting via blog instead, let's just set the stage . . . and pretend we're all together. In my living room. Relaxed and sitting around my coffee table in front of the fire. With a plate of homemade brownies and a couple of bottles of wine in easy reach. After a few sips of wine and some social chit-chat, I'd announce that we were ready to begin . . .
So. What did you all think of the book?
Bryan Stevenson, an attorney in Alabama working with poor and underserved clients, provides a personal and sobering look at modern-day injustices in the US criminal justice system. While the book closely follows the story of Walter McMillian, a man unjustly sentenced to death row for a murder he did not commit, Stevenson also weaves in several other poignant stories about underage and/or mentally ill clients suffering similar injustices. By telling these heartbreaking stories, Stevenson brings criminal justice statistics to life and makes us care . . . and seethe.
I found this book to be heartbreaking AND hopeful -- and certainly inspiring. Going into the reading, I already knew the criminal justice system in our country was broken; Just Mercy opened my eyes to just HOW broken it really is. Bryan Stevenson has challenged me to think more openly about what justice means . . . and what mercy looks like.
(I shared quite a bit of background about the author, Bryan Stevenson, in an earlier post, and Bonny provided a link to his TED Talk, so I don't want to repeat any of that information here. Please do take a look if you missed either of those posts earlier.)
Here are a few questions rooted in the early chapters of the book, just to get the discussion started:
- Just Mercy begins with information about Bryan Stevenson growing up poor in a racially segregated community in Delaware. He remembers his grandmother telling him, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close." How does Stevenson get close to the incarcerated people he is helping? How does getting close to Walter McMillian affect Stevenson’s life? Do you think you can be an effective criminal lawyer without getting close?
- Walter McMillian was from Monroeville, Alabama. Monroeville is extremely proud of its hometown hero Harper Lee and her book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a Pulitzer Prize winning piece that sees white lawyer Atticus Finch defending African American man Tom Robinson against fabricated rape charges of a white girl in racially divided Maycomb, Alabama. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is likely the most famous 20th century novel dealing with racial injustice, a distrustful legal system, and the evils of stereotyping. What do you have to say to a community that simultaneously wrongfully convicts a man due in large part to their own prejudice, all the while celebrating Harper Lee’s work? Is it ignorance? Naiveté? Indifference? What would you like to tell the community of Monroeville about this startling parallel?
- Early in the book, Stevenson describes an incident when he was racially profiled and the police searched his car. He wonders, if there had been drugs in his car and he was arrested, would he have been able to convince his attorney that his car was searched illegally? Stevenson says, “Would a judge believe that I’d done nothing wrong? Would they believe someone who was just like me but happened not to be a lawyer? Someone like me who was unemployed and had a criminal record?” How does Stevenson’s work shape his understanding of the justice system? Do his experiences make him more or less empathetic to those in the justice system? Is it surprising that someone whose 86-year-old grandfather was murdered would work so tirelessly against the death penalty?
Please join in the discussion by commenting below. We're eager to hear what you think! And if you don't like the questions I've asked, that's okay! Please feel free to share your thoughts and impressions about the book -- or ask your own questions.
"My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I've come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment ot the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, adn the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."
----- Bryan Stevenson