Working in inner-city high schools, I thought I knew a fair amount about race, both from books by African-American authors and from my own students. But two books I read this year have opened my eyes to a broader context I had not considered before, and both are suited to the high school classroom.
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, selected by the Oregon Battle of the Books for high school competition across the state of Oregon, while directed at an adult audience, relates to justice and the inequities in our justice system that concern high school students, wanting to know how our justice system actually works. Bryan Stevenson offers a personal account of his work trying to get prisoners off death row and to get those with death-in-prison sentences a chance to have their sentences reviewed. What becomes abundantly clear is how those running our criminal justice system have built their careers on putting disadvantaged people in jail, whether guilty or not, and how poor people are further victimized by a system that has little interest in seeing them as they really are. Like the best crime fiction, this is a grim page-turner, where I found myself hesitant to turn the page, as those seeking justice were met with further injustice. As Stevenson relates these cases to his own growing awareness of how broken our society is and how we choose to feel better about ourselves by victimizing those even more vulnerable than us, we must ponder why the heritage of enslavement has led to more incarcerations in our own time than in times past.
368 pages 978-0812984965 Ages 14 and up
Recommended by: Gregg Heacock, Educator, Oregon USA
Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction | Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction | Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award | Finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize | Finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize | An American Library Association Notable Book
A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.--from the publisher