Just Mercy: A Story of Humanizing the Imprisoned

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Just Mercy: A Story of Humanizing the Imprisoned

Austin Stone

Dr. Levett

CJL3038- Summer A

6 June 2017

Just Mercy: A Story of Humanizing the Imprisoned

        The term dehumanization is often used to describe what happens to an individual who commits a violent crime, but displayed throughout the book ‘Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption’, is often what happens in the realities of the American criminal justice system. Throughout the book and in virtually all of the cases Stevenson describes, to me, the author denotes an overwhelming purpose to treat the people he defends as human beings, and for authoritative figures to follow suit. Not only to does he utilize the impact of history to complementary society, but also implicitly encouraged me, the reader, to do the same thing. Stevenson encourages individuals to see those who have been perceived as criminal, or having lesser value as a person, and to uphold a new perspective that views them as individuals with identities and lives worth living with some sort of formal quality and respect. Stevenson fights for better treatment of the imprisoned, and essentially encourages provocation from authority figures to deny him of this suggestion. Throughout the book, he always calls the individuals whom he represents by their first names, and makes a notable effort to include people’s histories and backgrounds in his discussions of their cases. In doing so, I believe Stevenson is implying that one of the governing principles to which he refers in his introduction is a fundamental truth, in that “non-one is ever just the worst thing they have ever done” (Stevenson 17).

        As an advocate for the restorative justice initiative, Bryan Stevenson combats the flaws in the American legal system in an effort to humanize the imprisoned. In the case of Charlie, who had been jailed for murder at the age of fourteen, the humanizing behavior from Mr. and Mrs. Jennings is certainly significant in comparison to the overwhelming concept exhibited in the book. Residing on the notion that American prisons tend to dehumanize most individuals, rehabilitation is commonly thought of as a hit-or-miss process.  In the case for Charlie and at one point in the chapter, Stevenson tried to caution Mr. and Mrs. Jennings from expecting too much from Charlie after his release (Stevenson 126). Mrs. Jennings replied with, “We’ve all been through a lot, Bryan, all of us. 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” (Stevenson 126). Mrs. Jennings does not view this individual as a criminal, or deviant, but as someone that has a life that is worth living. Furthermore, the compassionate nature expounded by Mrs. Jennings towards a troubled African-American man awakens a sense of possibility that hope and compassion can change people’s lives, even in the worst of situations.

        The overwhelming theme of humanizing the imprisoned is equally relevant in the chapter titled, “All God’s Children”. Defined by the author and regarding his actions in an effort to humanize the imprisoned, this chapter looks at several examples of how individuals who are perceived as mentally or emotionally tarnished eventually contributed to receiving punishment out of or proportion. In the case for Ian Manuel, this is certainly true. In an effort to draw attention to the plight of children in the United States who have been sentenced to die in prison, Stevenson published a report and took pictures of Ian during his stay in solitary confinement. Stevenson includes in the book that immediately following his visit to the prison, Ian wrote him a letter (Stevenson 161). In order to fully address the dehumanizing nature of prison, Ian writes in his letter that “I don’t know how to make you feel the emotion and importance of those photos, but to be real, I want to show the world I’m alive! I want to look at those photos and feel alive! It would really help with my pain. I felt joyful today during the photo shoot. I wanted it to never end. Every time you all visit and leave, I feel saddened” (Stevenson 162). This quote, taken from the letter written to the author by one of the prisoners he defended, illustrates the reasons why humanizing prisoners, particularly teenagers, is important. Prison, the author suggests throughout the book, is one of the most dehumanizing experiences a person can weather.