These books are probably two of the most important books you could ever read. This year has taught us, more than ever, how broken our current policies, agencies, and criminal justice system really are. Systemic racism is integrated into every piece of our government and this is nothing new. These books bring to light the stark issues within our current criminal justice system. A reactive system with minimal focus on rehabilitation, prevention, or even, at times, accuracy. One that tends to be the answer to most issues in this country, when alternatives like mental health treatment and rehabilitation are not considered. I cannot emphasize enough how important these books are and I hope this post encourages you to read, if not one, but both of them.
Anthony Ray Hinton spent over 30 years of his life on death row. I want you to pause for a moment and really think about this. Maybe you aren't even 30 years old yet, or you have lived 30 years twice over, but think about all that you live through in that time. No imagine that all being taken away from you over a crime you didn't commit. Over a crime where you weren't even in the wrong place at the wrong time. A crime where you had an alibi that detectives and prosecutors threw to the side so they could get a conviction and close the case. Imagine how angry, frustrated, helpless, and hopeless you would feel. Anthony Ray Hinton felt all those things, but the ever present optimism and hope he exhibited is beyond inspiring. That hope and tenacity is what eventually exonerated him and he is now able to share his story so that we can learn from the injustices he received.
The Sun Does Shine is a memoir unlike any other I have read. At times, it reads like fiction, because it is shocking all this man endured and how terribly the criminal justice system failed him. His story is not new and it is not over. Situations like this are still happening, even as I type this blog post. Innocent people are currently sitting on death row and spending years of their lives hoping that one day someone will finally listen to them. Let's be the ones to listen and help.
"The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It's when mercy is least expected that it's most potent."
Words cannot do this book justice. All I can say is please, please read it. Bryan Stevenson has dedicated his life's work to defending the poor, wrongly condemned, and those left forgotten in the criminal justice system. He founded the Equal Justice Initiative and runs it to this day. Just Mercy focuses on one of Stevenson's first cases involving Walter McMillian. Walter was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to the death penalty. He faced numerous acts of injustice and the system failed him horribly every step of the way. Stevenson recounts his experience working on Walter's case, as well as educating readers on continuing issues in the criminal justice system surrounding racial bias in courts, children sentenced to life without parole in adult prisons, and countless miscarriages of justice that he has witnessed in his career.
Just Mercy will infuriate you and light a fire under you to be part of the change. I am not exaggerating when I say that I highlighted and flagged most of this book, as well as went on an internet research trip into the history of the death penalty and life without parole sentences in Wisconsin (FYI, there are still hundreds of people who were sentenced to life without parole in adult prisons for crimes they committed as children.) There is a current case that is a hot topic in the Minneapolis/St Paul area, involving Myon Burrell, who was sentenced to life without parole at the age of sixteen for the death of eleven year old Tyesha Edwards. The case is truly tragic in every sense. Burrell is currently the topic of conversation as the Hennepin County Attorney's Office has announced they are discussing the possibility of reducing Burrell's sentence by fifteen years, sighting Supreme Court rulings that have determined the differences between an adolescence brain and decision making process, as opposed to an adults. The timeliness of this case are interesting to me and one I will be following after learning from Just Mercy.
If you are interested in reading about this case, click the link below:
If you are interested in learning more about Stevenson's work at the Equal Justice Initiative, click here. Consider making a donation this holiday season. It could be a meaningful gesture to give a donation to EJI, in leu of material presents.