“One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated” -- Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
Throughout Just Mercy, lawyer, author, and equal justice advocate Bryan Stevenson introduces the reader to countless jaw-dropping statistics like the ones above, all working to highlight the pitfalls of the American criminal (in)justice system. And while the statistics and figures Stevenson include do a particularly strong job of illustrating the issues with our justice system today, perhaps nothing will stick with me more than the stories Stevenson offers his readers of the real people he has worked with: the real people who have had their lives completely changed by an unfair and unjust justice system.
I was introduced to Just Mercy through my LEAD CTW class taught by the wonderful Dr. Danielle Morgan; our class used the book as a catalyst for greater discussion about race and the criminal justice system in America. Once I started reading the book, I immediately realized why the book had become both so impactful and successful, and I couldn’t put the book down. I think I read Just Mercy over the span of 2 or 3 days (much faster than our class was advised to); after being introduced to the book’s characters and their unjust lot, I felt like I needed to know just how such injustice could have been occurring at such a vast level, and I needed to know quickly. And over the course of his story, Stevenson explained just that: he painted a picture of the unjust world we occupy, it’s reasons and influences, and he importantly painted a picture of what a merciful system could and should look like if we were to make change.
After reading Just Mercy, I will never forget the tragic stories of individuals like Herbert Richardson, a black Vietnam War veteran with heartbreaking mental health issues caused by both blunt force brain trauma and PTSD as a result of his service. It was a particularly troubling manic episode that led to him accidentally killing an ex-girlfriend’s niece, resulting in a death sentence for the mentally broken veteran Richardson. Stevenson outlines Richardson’s grim life behind bars while dealing with mental health issues, and how the system’s inherent lack of pity and nuance changed and ended Richardson’s life forever.
Perhaps the most memorable story from Just Mercy is its main narrative, that of Walter McMillian’s unfortunate encounter with the U.S. criminal justice system and his fight against it. Stevenson illustrates how Walter McMillian, a black man from Monroeville, Alabama, was charged and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. Stevenson surgically but comprehensively lays out the facts of Walter’s case, how he is innocent, how racial prejudice and overall lack of competence on behalf of law enforcement led to his charge and sentencing, and how Stevenson and McMillian worked together to rectify the system’s wrongdoing and keep McMillian away from state-sponsored execution.
Just Mercy is intelligent, socially conscious, heart-warming, thought-provoking, tragic, and inspiring all at once. After my reading of it, I was left questioning not only what leads to racial and economic prejudice in our criminal justice system, but what steps we can take individually and collectively to change it. Since my reading of Just Mercy, it has been made into an incredible movie, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx as Bryan Stevenson and Walter McMillian. While the movie is certainly not a replacement for the book (what movie ever is?), the movie is certainly worth a watch regardless, if for nothing more than to see the inspirational and harrowing stories of Just Mercy illustrated on the big screen.
I believe that if a reader is to take any one thing from Stevenson’s series of narratives, to carry a point or line with them beyond their reading of the book, it is this:
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we have done” -- Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
Just Mercy has opened my eyes to this simple fact above. As Stevenson emphasizes throughout the book, we must keep our mercy and our empathy with us at all times, we must build structures that mirror our shared mercy and empathy, and we must treat those around us, in both little and big ways, with mercy and empathy.
I hope you enjoy and interact with this story as much as I did :) --- Nate Metz
About the Author:
Nate Metz '23 (he/his) is an English and History double major. He loves all types of reading and writing (especially creative writing) and in addition to working as a Writing Partner at The HUB, he is involved with the University Honors Program, the LEAD Scholars Program, and the Santa Clara Review.
“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
- Gene Fowler (American Journalist, Author, and Dramatist)
Feeling stressed and it’s only Week Two? Considering classes have been online for the past eighteen months, many of us are experiencing similar emotions. Luckily, as in-person classes resume and assignments start piling up, the HUB Writing Center has your back! For new students or those that simply need a refresher, the HUB is a free resource for anyone at SCU (undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff). Need guidance on a thesis statement? Want someone to hear your presentation? To look at a resume? Though the HUB will operate virtually this quarter, we continue to offer a safe space to bring all public speaking and writing-related concerns.
I’m embarrassed to admit I never used the HUB before I started working here. Looking back, I think this was for several reasons: feeling that I was a decent writer and didn’t need it, being somewhat self-conscious about others reading my writing, and (sad but true) starting many of my papers shortly before they were due. Now entering my second year as a HUB writing partner, I realize how useful the HUB is for all students, no matter their writing ability, stage, or process. Don’t be like Freshman/Sophomore Me! Here are the top 5 reasons you should visit the HUB:
The next time you’re staring at a blank page as blood, sweat, and tears stream down your face, visit the HUB! Or maybe your writing process isn’t quite so dramatic? You should still come to the HUB! Check out our website’s homepage, which includes a link to the HUB’s appointment site and a video tutorial about how to make the most of your first session.
And if you don’t have anything to write yet, keep checking our new blog (yes, what you’re reading right now!) for more writing center updates and advice.
Welcome back to campus, hope to see you all soon, and happy writing!
About the Author
Madeleine Voorhees is a senior at SCU who is starting her second year as a writing partner at the HUB. On campus, she's involved with SCU A Cappella, SCU Presents, and various clubs through Campus Ministry. She is thrilled to bring you the very first blog post!