Saturday, November 5, 2016

Just Mercy

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and RedemptionJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was 17, I wrote a research paper on how juveniles should be tried as adults. I had sobbed my way through the Columbine news coverage eighteen months prior, and I believed with every fiber of my teenage heart that there was no excuse for breaking rules, large or small. My conservative parents, religious upbringing, and strangely adult-like personality created a mindset that my teenage peers clearly should also know right from wrong. End of story.


If I have learned anything in the intervening years, it is that there is no one way to view human behavior and life experiences. What once seemed simple and clear cut is now excessively layered, nuanced, and often confusing. Some juveniles, for example, do clearly know that what they are doing is wrong. Others, however, have been so tormented by abuse, poverty, and fear that their behavior speaks instead to the failings of those around them to keep them safe or to teach them better. Mostly, I've learned that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to life, to love, or to justice.

Stevenson's book is eye opening, horrifying, and conflicting. Every section I read left me shaking my head desperate to have a second reader there to echo that yes, that egregious miscarriage of justice really happened and that only Stevenson and his team were on the side of the wrongly accused. I also just couldn't make things add up - my internal belief that the vast majority of people aim to do the right thing, that the justice system is there to protect us - alongside lying prosecutors, law enforcement going out of their way to penalize people of color, etc, etc. Stevenson does not set out to make villains of any one side or any one group. Rather he speaks to how everyone deserves justice and that sometimes mercy is necessary alongside justice.

I honestly still can't make sense of everything I read, and I've talked random people's ears off as I have tried to figure out what my core beliefs are surrounding the issues Stevenson raised. I do know that I agree with him wholeheartedly that we are fundamentally broken - an idea rooted deeply in Christianity, but there are those who are punished for their flaws in a way that denies them any humanity. I don't know how to process my desire to feel safe and protected from crime and wrongdoing and my simultaneous desire to lift those who struggle, those who don't know's all more than I can absorb or understand. I do know that this book changed the way I voted on California state propositions just this past week, and it changed the way I looked at miscarriages of justice as being mostly a thing of the past. And I do know that it is always my responsibility to try to make my corner of the world a little better - to give people the benefit of the doubt, because no action, right or wrong, should be handled out of the context of the rest of someone's life story.

I can't say that everyone should read this book because the style and topic won't appeal to most readers, but it seems like a book everyone should read - at least a part of it, because we are all affected by the justice system, whether we realize it or not. Rambling over.

Happy reading and happy November. I really love this time of year--

(These were my notes while reading the book that didn't quite make it into the book. They are not organized or filtered. Just the lines that rang true amidst all the truly engrossing stories: the opposite of poverty is justice....each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done...the true measure of us is how we treat the poor and the condemned (Christ)....fear makes us unjust and unmerciful (I really believe this one)...fear and anger are a threat to justice....status vs WE deserve to kill...mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given...)

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