Assignment

The goals and outcomes of the Common Book Program include grappling with a text as a core function of the liberal arts experience and learning to engage in civil dialogue about topics that promote understanding across different points of view.  As we read Just Mercy together, we will consider how this narrative about “the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice”  invites us all to wrestle with big questions of contemporary social significance, including race, poverty, and the system of justice in this country. 

Below, you will find prompts inviting you to respond to the book.  Please choose one of the prompts and respond to it by July 31 in an essay of three double-spaced pages.  Your response will be shared with your academic advisor. When you arrive on campus, you’ll participate in conversations about the book that will also help you learn how to engage with texts and contribute to academic discourse.    

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  1. Just Mercy devotes considerable attention to juveniles who have been tried and sentenced as adults. According to Stevenson, how and why has the legal system failed to treat their cases justly? Use at least three examples from the text in your answer.

  1. In the course of his work, Stevenson constantly faces legal setbacks, physical exhaustion, financial constraints, and violent threats while confronting the injustices that have befallen his clients. How do Stevenson’s personal and professional experiences with racism and poverty inform and inspire his work on behalf of his clients? Use at least three examples from the text in your answer.

  1. How did Just Mercy challenge your assumptions about how the justice system works in the United States?  Discuss at least three examples from the text.  Has your thinking changed as a result of reading this book?  If yes, in what ways? If not, why not?

  1. The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) exists on donations.  Based on your reading of Just Mercy, imagine you are the head fundraiser for the EJI and compose a letter to potential donors explaining why people should support the work of the EJI.  Use three specific examples from the text to underscore your points. (Adapted from https://eji.org/sites/default/files/just-mercy-discussion-guide.pdf.)

  1. Respond to one of the following quotations.  In your essay, discuss at least three specific examples from the text that illustrate the idea outlined in the passage.

  • “My work with the poor and incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” (18)

  • “We’ve become so fearful and vengeful that we’ve thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and weak--not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us seem tough, less broken.” (290)

  • “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 victimhood, retribution and suffering.  It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.” (294)

  • “...Walter’s case had taught me that 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?” (313)