Thursday, August 27, 2015

Just Mercy

"Just Mercy" by Brayan Stevenson

Oh man, this book will get you to really think and ponder our prison and justice system.  I think this is the second book that I've read like this.  The author is a lawyer in Alabama who runs a non profit that helps the "poor, wrongly condenmed, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system."  He also helps individuals on death row.  The story talks about some of the people that he has helped, one being a man on death row who insisted he did not commit the murder he was charged with.  This book brings to light the injustices in our system and the people that it affects, which is all of us really.  We are all created equal in God's image yet some are treated unfairly when they need it the most.  Our prisons are filled with people who were foster children, people who are poor, people who are minorities, people who were abused, and people who are mentally disabled.  How are we intervening in these peoples lives to bring them help before they are incarcerated?  How are we helping them once they are released?  "We have given up on rehabilitation, education, and services for the imprisoned becasue providing assistance to the incarcerated is apparently too kind and compassionate.  We've institutionalized policies that reduce people to their worst acts and permanently label them 'criminal,' 'murderer,' 'rapist,' 'thief,' drug dealer,' sex offender,' 'felon'-identities they cannot change regardless of the circumstances of their crimes or any improvements they might make in their lives."  No one wants to be labeled for the worst thing that they have done, I certainly don't.  "Each of us is more that the worst thing we've ever done."  There are many points in this book that have made me stop and think.  I don't necessarily agree with it all but it did make me look at what I believe and question if I really believed it.  I appreciate a book that can do this.  "One of the country's least-discussed postwar problems is how frequently combat veterans bring the traumas of war back with them and are incarcerated after returning to their communities."  Again, how are we helping these individuals before they get into trouble?  "I know that some have been through more than others.  But if we don't expect more from each other, hope better for one another, and recover from the hurt we experience, we are surely doomed."  Hurt people, hurt people.  Expect more from those around us, hope for it and they just might rise to the occasion.  "Oh, I think we can always do better.  The bad things that happen to us don't define us.  It's just important sometimes that people understand where we're coming from."  Sometimes knowing what someone has been through brings mercy and a differenct perspective.  "For the first time I fully reckoned with the truth that the conviction, the death sentence, and the heartbreak and devastation of this miscarriage of justice had created permanent injuries."  How do you get back years in prison for a wrongful conviction?  How do you overcome the fear and mistreatment?  "Most people released from prison after being proved innocent recieve no money, no assistance, no counseling-nothing from the state that wrongly imprisoned them."  How can this be?  How do we expect them to be good citizens with no resources?  Do these people not deserve some compensation, some therapy, for what they have suffered at the hands of injustice?  "I do what I do because I'm broken, too.  We are all broken by something.  We have all hurt someone and have been hurt.  We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.  Our shared brokenness connected us."  We need to let our brokenness connect us, then mercy will abound.  "In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and a desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy.  When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise.  You see things you can't otherwise see; you hear things ou can't otherwise hear.  You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us."  This is just like the gospel, Christ showed us mercy when we didn't deserve it and this makes us in turn show mercy to others.  "I understood that even as we are caught in a web of hurt and brokenness, we're also in a web of healing and mercy.  The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving.  It's when mercy is least expected that it's most potent-strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and vicitmhood, retribution and suffering."  The power of mercy really knows no bounds.  The power of mercy can transform even the worst of these.  "...the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit.  The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to kill?"  "Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving.  The people who haven't earned it, who haven't even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion."           

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