Just Mercy: Chlidren Incarceration Essay
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by American Activist and Lawyer Bryan Stevenson is an account of his lifelong career as a lawyer as he advocated for and represented individuals who were wrongly and harshly sentenced for crimes they did not commit. The book profiles many cases throughout including Walter McMillian who was falsely accused of killing a white woman by the name of Rhonda Morrison and sentenced to death row. This books purpose is to bring awareness and get closer to the issue of incarceration in America and unveils how Criminal than Just the United States Justice System was and how they let race and fear prevent them from doing what was right.
Born on November 14, 1959 in Milton Delaware, Stevenson spent his earlier years in racially segregated schools. He graduated from Cape Henlopen High School in 1977 and attended Eastern University where he studied Political Science and Philosophy and graduated in 1981. Stevenson discovered his love and passion during his Dual Program at Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government, there he signed up for an internship at the Sothern Center for Human Rights. He witnessed the harsh and criminal punishment and injustice that led him to writing this amazing and inspiring book that tells the stories of those he represented.
Stevenson believes that Capital Punishment means ‘them without capital gets the punishment’ and for his dedication to work he established the Equal Justice Initiative that focuses on social justice and human rights. The initiative advocates for equal treatment in the justice system and gives hope to those like Walter Mcmillian who have been unfairly treated.
The introduction starts out with a twenty-three-year-old eager and inexperienced Harvard Law Student, Bryan Stevenson, on his way to Atlanta, Georgia to meet a man on death row who is later revealed to be McMillian. By the first Chapter titled ‘’To Kill a Mocking Bird’’, Stevenson is already representing McMillian and is a member of the bar, McMillians case was built on false accusations, and racial bias. There was zero evidence that Walter committed the crime but with the need for an arrest the County Sheriff Tom Tate decided that Mcmillian was reckless and dangerous for already having an illegal interracial affair and he became the number one suspect.
Chapter 2, titled ‘’Stand’’ named after a song mentioned in the chapter exposes the inhumane conditions and treatment of the inmates. In the 1970’s prison riots drew national attention to prison abuse and misconduct, inmates would be placed in small, isolated places known as the ‘’sweatbox’’, some were tortured with electric rods and others had their arms chained above their hands in painful conditions. It also discusses racial discrimination and police misconduct in which Stevenson was a victim of, he was approached while he was outside of his apartment by to S.W.A.T men and one officer began to yell at him ‘’Move and I’ll blow your head off’’(40), the other officer pinned him to his car and proceeded to illegally search his car and run his license, upon finding nothing incriminating they let him go and said ‘’Were going to let you go, you should be happy’’(42). Which shows how lucky he was because back then blacks were eight times more likely to be shot by police than whites and he was fortunate enough to not be killed and let off.
Over the course of the next chapters details the events leading up to McMillan’s conviction and other individuals Stevenson represented. Sheriff Tom Tate used the allegation of Ralph Meyers who claimed McMillian forced Meyers to drive him to and from the crime scene because of an injury, even though he had driven himself, the case had countless plot holes, moved the trial to a whiter community where McMillian would be judged by all whites, and ignored countless eyewitness statements that provided an alibi. Despite his obvious innocence, after three hours of deliberation the jury found Mcmillian guilty and he was arrested on charges on capital murder and sentenced to death.
Chapters 6 through 8 explores incarcerated children that were tried as adults and received harsher sentences that they deserved and discusses Stevenson’s attempts to get Mcmillian of off death row and out of prison. Stevenson introduces readers to Trina, Charlie, Ian, and Antonio who were harshly convicted and tried as adults for non-homicidal crimes apart from Charlie, it exposed how children of color were often harshly convicted compared to white children. Out of all of them Antonio became the youngest person to be condemned to die in prison for a crime where no one was injured and one of the most heartbreaking one’s that came to light was George Stinney who was accused of murdering two little white girls and became the youngest person to be executed at the age of fourteen.
Chapter 10 titled ‘’Mitigation’’ touches upon the mentally ill who are incarcerated, hundreds and thousands of poor and mentally ill people were the driving force behind the large prison population. Correctional officers had no patience and no training to handle the mentally ill and as a result they were subjected to abuse, solitary confinement and exploitation from other inmates. Amongst the mentally ill Stevenson introduces Avery Jenkins and George Daniel. Jenkins had brutally stabbed a man to death during a psychotic episode believing he was a demon and Daniel who suffered from brain damage had been hallucinating and erratic behavior got into a scuffle with an officer and the officer was shot. During both trials, their illnesses were ignored, and both were sentenced to death. Stevenson represented Jenkins and Daniel and makes convincing cases thus getting them off death row and get them the help they were denied.
The Equal Justice Initiative had been created and received bomb threats due to Stevenson taking Walters case as of Chapter 11 titled ‘’I’ll Fly Away’’. Stevenson is contemplating whether to take the risk of the Mcmillian case going public to gain national attention but worried how safely McMillian could live in a community when everyone believed he was a dangerous murderer and that a fair trial would be impossible if people didn’t want to see a fair picture. In order to save Walters image, Stevenson decided to go onto the 60 minutes segment to show that he is not a ruthless killer and a testament of his good character, because of this the ABI began to investigate his case and discovered that McMillian was not guilty. With their help Mcmillian was exonerated after six years on death row and declared free to go but his wife Minnie and Stevenson still worried that he would not be safe in the community.
Chapters 12 titled ‘’Mother, Mother’’ turns the focus on incarcerated women who were ‘’Imprisoned for having unplanned pregnancies and bad judgment’’(237), the presumptions of guilt had fallen on thousands of women, those whose children die unexpectedly. The first case is Marsha Colbey, a mother of six who was pregnant with her seventh child, with no insurance and being dirt poor, she gave birth at home to a stillborn baby, she buried him in the backyard, and it was later discovered by police. She was sentence to life without parole after the medical examiner mistakenly stated the baby had been alive when born. She was incarcerated at Tutwiler Womens Prison, where women were raped, sexually harassed, exploited, abused, and assaulted by male officers, and even the prison chaplain sexually assaulted women. With the help of Stevenson and EJI, her sentenced is overturned and she is reunited with her children after years of wrongful imprisonment.
Chapters 13 details the events after McMillians exoneration, Mcmillian had gained nationwide media attention weeks after his release from numerous news outlets and gave countless interviews. Stevenson still worried about him returning home because many people still believed he was guilty but Mcmillian wanted to return to the place he grew up in. Upon his return he restarted his logging business to feel a sense of normalcy, but shortly after Mcmillian broke his neck in an incident involving a tree branch. He went to live with Stevenson and after recovering returned home to start a junkyard business, while Stevenson was away Mcmillian gave an interview where he broke down in tears and Stevenson decided to return to check on McMillians mental status.
In Chapter 14, Stevenson uses the cases of several teenagers to show how the imprisonment of disabled children is Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Stevenson introduces Joe Sullivan, and Evan Miller two disabled children who were wrongfully imprisoned, EJI and Stevenson used neurological facts and their traumatic childhoods to find relief and lead to the banishment of juvenile life imprisonment.
Chapter 15 through epilogue ends on a sad and hopeful note, there is a plea for evaluation of the ethics behind capital punishment, and as of May 17, 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that children sentenced to life imprisonment was cruel and unusual punishment. Despite developing dementia, Walter Mcmillian remained a kind and charming man until the very end, he passed away in September 13, 2013. In the closing pages of the epilogue, Stevenson describes that Walters case made him understand why they need a reformed system and that fear and anger are a threat to justice, Walters case taught Stevenson that the death penalty doesn’t mean who deserves to die it means Do We Deserve to Kill?
This book is a great teaching tool that should be required to read in History Class and English Class to educate kids about the Criminal Justice System. Specifically, Legal injustice and racial prejudice that occurred in the 1900’s and still to this day. Women, Blacks, the poor, and people with mental health issues have been targeted and victimized by harsh sentences and wrongful convictions. They can use parts of this book to encourage them to speak out against police brutality, and lengthy sentences based on race instead of crime.
Students are was always taught in school and by their parents that African Americans were treated harshly and discriminated against in the past, but this book shows it went as far as wrongful imprisonment and executions. Stevenson’s brilliance and dedication to this book that the Justice system failed to do what it was created for and through their rules and regulation, the reason many African Americans were executed in the first place.