Tag Archives: incarceration

“Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson

This is another “I didn’t read the book” report, and, again, it’s based on the fact that I heard the author speak. The University where I am employed regularly celebrates Constitution Day. Now THERE’S a “holiday” I can get behind! A distinguished guest is invited to campus. (These are generally the caliber of speaker that requires payment.) The speaker visits classes, lunches with a select few and offers an address open to the entire community, campus and neighborhood.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Bryan Stevenson. His topic was “Racial Justice and the Constitution”. But he began by talking about himself, his education and how he became involved with advocating on behalf of death row inmates. He described being sent with a message to a condemned man, informing him that he was not going to be executed for at least six months. He kept apologizing – “I’m not a real lawyer, I’m just a student” to a man so desperate that this was GOOD news.

Stevenson’s other anecdotes were of human contact, with prisoners and others including prison guards.

Stevenson held the large audience spellbound. I can’t imagine a better speaker for students to hear. Mass incarceration is one of the crucial issues of our era.

When asked what an individual can do, Stevenson’s main point was that you can’t solve social problems from a distance. You need to get close – visit or correspond with a prisoner, support a prisoner’s family, etc.

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In memory of Martin Luther King, Jr: “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger” by Richard Wilkenson and Kate Pickett.

Much discussion recently of the 50th anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Here is a book that supports what King arrived at from another angle – the value of narrowing the gap between rich and poor.

The methodology used by Wilkenson and Pickett is EPIDEMIOLOGY. Yes, the statistical study of disease, applied to several health related social problems – juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, addiction, incarceration rate… Using data from the United States (state by state) and the developed world (country by country), the authors show that these problems all increase with inequality of income. They use data from reputable, publicly accessible sources. Their conclusions are based on solid science. 

If a group of problems all correlate with one factor (in this case, income distribution) maybe THAT’S what we should address, instead of plodding away at initiatives directed at six different problem areas. 

This book is readable, and should be required for anyone planning to run for public office or charged with responsibility for public health and welfare. Not to mention the citizen/taxpayer!