“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson
Justice is not about taking revenge; it is about equity. The purpose of this reflection is to present the thoughts and analysis of the Just Mercy book by Bryan Stevenson (2014). Stevenson is the main character of the book; it is about his journey from graduating Harvard Law School to being a civil rights fighter through his profession as a lawyer. It was after I read this book that I learned the real brutality of imprisonment in the United States. “Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality of life outcomes and risks” (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2014). The author implies numerous social determinates of injustice and how they affect an individual’s health and well-being. Some of the social determinants of health that I found in Just Mercy are race, poverty, education and gender. One of the main stories regarding racial injustice was explained throughout the book and it was about a man named Walter Mcmillian.
Mcmillian was an African American man involved in an interracial extramarital affair. He was being accused and condemned to death for the murder of a young white lady who worked in Monroe cleaners store in Alabama. Due to false testimony of three “witnesses”, he was put in death row prior to being convicted and sentenced to death. The white police officers were awfully racist and they took advantage of this accusation and put him in the prison. These officers were angry that Mcmillian had an affair with a white woman, but at the same time, they were under pressure to find who killed Ronda Morrison. Many of the officers and people in his city, regardless of his good reputation and no previous criminal history, thought he was hasty and probably dangerous as he was in an extramarital affair. However, during Morrison’s murder, Mcmillian was with his family and friends for a church event. After Stevenson took over his case, he proved that those witnesses were lying and the police officers and the judge were involved in making the witnesses falsely accuse Walter McMillian. Ultimately, after six years, prosecutors understood that his case was mishandled and Mcmillian got his justice.
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Mcmillian’s health eventually deteriorated as it affected him mentally and physically after the trauma of imprisonment. He developed dementia which may have occurred due to the trauma he experienced in the prison. Poverty is another social determinant of health. Ian Manuel was a thirteen-year-old who was homeless and abandoned by his family. One day he went with two older boys to rob a couple. Debbie Baigre was the lady who was being robbed. When she fought back, Ian shot her with a gun and she was severely injured on the jaw. The lawyer that Ian had prior to Stevenson was incompetent with his knowledge of sentencing laws and he misguided Ian to plead himself guilty of attempting the murder. Ian then received lifelong imprisonment. Stevenson is trying to show that child poverty and homelessness are associated to a bigger risk of crimes as a juvenile. Being homeless can lead an individual to do a crime especially when they are unable to pay for housing, food, and health care. I believe Ian would not have robbed anyone if he had a good family that took care of him and his needs. The court placed Ian in solitary confinement due to the risk of rape for children in adult prisons. Stevenson had explained that solitary confinement included minimal human contact. Ian was placed in solitary confinement for eighteen long years. During the years in confinement, Ian developed mental problems which led to emotional disorder and he began cutting himself which leads to another social determinate.
This social determinant is the lack of education regarding mental health. Several of the young adults who were mentioned in the book had either faced abuse, trauma or mental illness. Ian’s mental health issues was believed to be associated with his confinement. However, instead of treating his problems or taking him out of confinement, they decided to extended his stay in there every time he “acted out” (Stevenson, 2014, p.152). People do not help others with mental illness because of lack of education. People need to understand that it is a real and valid medical diagnosis. Many individuals face and endure social conditions and determinants that negatively impact their health status and outcomes. Stevenson’s first execution that he witnessed was of Herbert Richardson. Richardson is a Vietnam war veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (Stevenson, 2014). He was getting his cares in veteran hospital after the war and he fell in love with the nurse who was looking after him there (Stevenson, 2014). Eventually, they started dating and he started being obsessively protective of her (Stevenson, 2014). She then ended the relationship and asked Richardson to stay away from her (Stevenson, 2014). However, Richardson moved closer to her home and one day he made up a plan to win her back (Stevenson, 2014).
Richardson thought that if the ex-girlfriend felt threatened then she would come to him for protection (Stevenson, 2014). So he decided to make a bomb and place the bomb package in front of her porch only with the intention of scaring the ex-girlfriend (Stevenson, 2014). Ultimately, his ex-girlfriend’s niece came out of the house instead and picked it up, which led to an explosion and killed the niece. Richardson was then charged with capital murder and sentenced to death, even though he unintentionally killed her niece (Stevenson, 2014). The numerous years he was in the prison, he was pursuing redemption. He got married to a woman from the mobile and he became attached to her family (Stevenson, 2014). Richardson became Stevenson’s client shortly before his execution was scheduled. Stevenson found an expert to present evidence of the bomb case and to testify that “the bomb was a timed device and not intended to kill on contact” (Stevenson, 2014, p. 79). However, the judge was not interested in listening to what they were trying to prove and the judge did not consider it as it was “untimely” evidence, meaning it was too late (Stevenson, 2014). Additionally, Stevenson had petitioned for review of Richardson’s case in the supreme court prior to the day of his execution, but that was also denied and Richardson was executed (Stevenson, 2014).
I was saddened by reading his story, especially knowing that he was a veteran who fought in the war and yet they found him as a “threat” and accused him saying that he was intentional in killing the girl. I loved how Richardson still had hope and wanted to pray with his lawyer, knowing he was going in for his execution. Even in his last moments, he tried to make people around him laugh and make them feel better. I truly believe that if people would listen with an open mind, and think from that individual’s point of view, they will be able to understand and help them. This is the reason why the world needs more people who can be that change in someone’s life. Richardson would not have been executed if he got the help in the right time, if the judge had listened with an open-mind and if the people would have helped him with his mental condition, instead of condemning him. A story that touched my heart of a pediatric client of Stevenson’s was Trina Garnett. Trina Garnett was a fourteen-year-old teenager who had mental disability and she was charged with second-degree murder after setting a fire that sadly killed her two friends in Pennsylvania. According to Erikson’s developmental stage, Trina was in “identity vs. role confusion” stage when she was convicted (Ward & Hisley, 2016, p. 759). Trina was the youngest of the twelve children and her mother died when she was nine years of age. Trina and her two older sisters ran away from home when their father started sexually abusing them.
Trina again ran away from her sister’s place (where she was staying) due to her sister’s husband’s sexual abuse and wandered in the streets. She was suffering from the trauma of abuse, and had mental illness. One night, Trina wanted to go see her friends, but their mother did not allow Trina to see or play with them. However, Trina wanted to see them and she climbed up into the house and lit the matchstick and the house caught on fire. Her friends were sleeping in their home and they died from suffocation of smoke. Their mother had accused her saying that she intentionally lit the house on fire. She was then tried in adult court and sentenced to die in women’s prison. During her time in the prison, she was raped by an officer in duty and got pregnant. Gender injustice was another social determinant. Similar to McMillian’s case of being condemned for his race, women are condemned for circumstances related to their gender and disadvantage. Trina filed a rape case against the officer and “the jury awarded her $62,000, however the guard appealed, and the Court reversed the verdict because the correctional officer had not been permitted to tell the jury that Trina was in prison for murder” (Stevenson, 2014, p. 151). Trina did not get her justice; she never received any financial reward or service for getting raped (Stevenson, 2014).
They did not even move her from that facility even after knowing that she was raped. Additionally, after bearing her son for months in pregnancy, he was taken away from her and kept in foster care. Her life in prison worsened her health and well-being. Trina had gone through so much at a young age and did not get a chance to live a good life like other children with good families. It was heartbreaking to read that she had no one to support her through her difficult times. There are several factors that have impacted the child that contributed to their vulnerability and that includes her mental disability, the trauma of abuse from her father, intellectual disability and lack of support. Teenagers are so impulsive that they do not think logically before doing something. I believe that since her friend’s mother did not allow her to see her friends, she did not care about what the mother had said and the consequences of getting caught. Several ways that I can advocate for Trina is by supporting her and believing that this is a true medical diagnosis that she has and help her to recover to live a meaningful life. I can also advocate for her by helping her find a shelter where she could grow and develop like a normal child. Bryan Stevenson had many great qualities. He had perseverance, he fought for many people who were in prisons and death row.
An example of this quality; Stevenson had petitioned for review of Richardson’s case in the supreme court prior to the day of his execution, regardless of knowing there was only a small percentage of chance that the court would approve it, he did not give up on his client. He continued in hope that the innocent who were accused wrongly will eventually get justice. Similarly, when a situation seems to get tough, nurses will figure out and arrive at a solution. I believe nurses always have a backup plan so that when one does not work, then there is another approach that they can take for a better outcome of the patient. Stevenson was also very compassionate about his clients and the people he dealt with. I believe compassion is essential for good people skills. He always listened to his client’s concerns and tried to do his best to help them. As a future nurse, I must be able to listen to my patient and take in much information, analyze and synthesize it. Then, use good judgment to provide advice to the patient. Stevenson showed compassion towards many young adults in the story who had abuse, trauma and mental disability, which caused them to end up in prison. He showed compassion by spending time with them and working to get them justice individually. He showed care towards those children when no one else did. Stevenson was also exceptionally supportive and had empathy for his client.
A great example for this is when Stevenson stayed by Herbert Richardson’s side until his last moment before his execution. Stevenson rushed all the way to Atmore (2 hours away from Stevenson’s place) to be there for Richardson, regardless of his busy schedule (Stevenson, 2014). He was able to understand that Richardson was going through a hardship and he wanted to be there to support his client. I believe this quality to be important as it can build a trusting relationship with my patients. Especially during the tough times, people need support and want to know that someone cares about them. This can make a huge impact in their life and with this support, they can recover and grow stronger. According to Stevenson, stonecatcher is someone who bears the burden of those who are wrongly being accused and condemned, who are presumptively treated as if they are dangerous or guilty (2014). Once Stevenson had given a speech in a church meeting in Monroeville regarding Walter Mcmillian’s case. Several people in the African American community did not support Mcmillian’s case because he was in an affair outside of his marriage and also because he was not active in the church (Stevenson, 2014). Stevenson quoted the words of Jesus from the bible to accusers who were eager to kill an adulteress, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (Stevenson, 2014, p.309).
The accusers departed, and Jesus forgave the adulteress woman and urged her to sin no more (Stevenson, 2014). The author had explained that “our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion” (Stevenson, 2014, p. 309). Stevenson had pleaded to the assembly of church not to throw stones at Mcmillian, but to be “stonecatchers” (Stevenson, 2014). I believe nurses are true example of stonecatchers, because they are the advocates of their patients. Nurses advocate by giving support, protection, or by speaking out for the rights and interests of the patients. Nurses are to give cares to the patients without being judgmental. Nurses spend most of the time with the patients than any other health care provider, and it is important that I, as a future nurse should provide care without discrimination in a warm, sensitive and compassionate manner. One must conclude that the author’s aim was to show that there are many cases that are unlawfully handled. Several people where unjustly accused and many higher officials had corrupt practices in America. Stevenson wanted to convey that all people deserve to be treated fairly and with justice. The theme of this book was to persuade people to be “stonecatchers”. To show compassion and to be an advocate to make a difference in a vulnerable individual’s life instead of condemning them.