Another session of inside-outside has just concluded, and another set of first experiences, and observations have taken place and continue to change my world view. I believe that our class is growing closer, and becoming more comfortable with the setting (both inside and outside students). The structure of this particular session, of small groups of three, for three to five minutes then switching, along with the probative questions, fostered intriguing conversation in which I learned new things about my classmates and developed new insights about the book.
I noticed that we were all at different places concerning our places within our reading of Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”. Clearly everyone at least on the surface really has enjoyed reading ” Just Mercy”, and is learning a great deal. The ten questions presented to us, were able to illicit a comprehensive discussion about the book. Questions such as, “What might this book inspire you to do differently in your life?”, made us all think of the phenomenal works of Bryan Stevenson ( i. e. his work with juvenile lifers) and how this new knowledge would effect us personally. Our conversations ranged from what motivates Stevenson (passion, injustice, calling), to is he an effective voice of this movement, and what is next for Mr. Stevenson.
Stevenson quotes such as “stone catching”, (meaning stopping people from condemning others by asking them to consider the complexities of their own humanity) was an absolute stunner throughout the class. It led to one classmate in particular, who is more conservative and punitive concerning criminality, to reexamine some of their positions. One position change that I observed was, this student said “that they were wrong to judge prisoners the way that they have in the past. This student had the realization that our humanity (prisoners) is complex just as is his own humanity.
Another quote and question that stood out the most and effected me viscerally was “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” (Stevenson) -Do you agree? Why or why not? This quote and question mad me reexamine my understanding of poverty and its meaning. (poverty: the state of being poor; lack of means of providing material needs or comforts.) This black and white definition is without nuance, without the full spectrum of what poverty truly is. Poverty also is a state of mind, a lack of access, and a denial of justice. This realization truly staggered me, and I am amazed that I have for so long looked at poverty in such a basic way.
Analysis and Integration
While there are many different themes, and points that stand out throughout “Just Mercy”, the one point that I continue to come back to is, the need to respect our fellow citizens’ humanity. So many of the injustices that take place daily in this country could not be, if we were to see each other through the prism of our humanity. If those charged with protecting our society, were to see both victim and accused in their totality, the epidemic of overly punitive prosecution and wrongful convictions would cease to exist as they do today, and a new paradigm would emerge. “We want to get Walter out of prison as soon as possible,” I insisted. ” Well, I think the attorney general and the lawyers would like to maintain the status quo for a few months, until we can make an arrest of the actual killer.” (J.M. pg217) This quote illustrates how those deemed to protect the whole of society, too often view the inalienable rights of those that are accused and or convicted as ancillary to attaining convictions or the status quo….. Once labeled inmate, prisoner, felon, or criminal it is difficult in the eyes of many to empathize even with the plight of children. ” The total ban on life-without-parole sentences for children convicted of non-homicides should have been the easiest decision to implement, but enforcing the Supreme Court’s ruling was proving much more difficult than I had hoped”. (J.M. pg 302). My overarching take from Just Mercy is the need for “stone catching” that is, keeping at the forefront of one’s mind the complexity of our, and others humanity, whether they be accused, convicted, incarcerated, free, or somehow different. ” I began thinking about what would happen if we all just acknowledged our brokenness, if we owned up to our weaknesses, our deficits, our biases, our fears”.( J.M. pg291) . …This thought process of “stone catching” if implemented broadly, would also change the face of criminality from the perspective of those who have and are committing crime. “They didn’t have to kill him.” “There was no way an eighty-six-year old man could have stopped them from getting away with their paltry loot”. (J.M. pg 267) In the midst of crime many times there is disassociation, there is a propensity to see people as “others” and there is a paucity of empathy, as opposed to “stone catching “. This principle of humanity first (within stone catching) would be a game changer for society.
Humanity first, even in the face of long odds, its humanity first, a mantra for law enforcement police, attorneys courts, and the D.O.C. humanity first, citizens, no longer obsessed with capitalizing off of capitalism instead “stone catching”, knowing innately that our humanity is first. A paradigm shift that would change the meaning of poverty, success, and criminality, humanity first.” It wasn’t likely that we could do much for many of the people who needed help but it made the journey home less sad to hope that maybe we could”. (J.M. pg 314). Humanity first.
I continue to be amazed by the intelligence, the drive, the willingness to learn, the diversity, and the accomplishments of the outside students. Many people speak negatively concerning the youth of this nation. I find that this generation, is brighter, more open, have more opportunity, and I am certain that they will run with that opportunity, further than any previous generation. These young students have a level of insight that I could not come close to, when I was at a comparative age. I see within them growth of thought, and I am excited about what they will do with their lives as a result of that growth. I have seen growth within my inside classmates as well. They are learning with every session, every exercise, and each encounter. As for myself, the inquisitive nature, and insightful responses, of the outside students has pushed me to be a better student, a deeper thinker, and has forced me to continue to improve as a man. I am thankful for this opportunity, and I look forward to finishing strong.