Just Mercy Book Reading & Discussion
We are inviting everyone to join us for our first ever Summer Book Club offering: JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson. “Bryan Stevenson was a gifted young attorney when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to die for a notorious murder he didn’t commit. The case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.”
Please consider joining us. Grab a copy of the book (e book, hard copy or audio book)! Join the Facebook group by clicking here.
See below for the reading breakdown. Discussion questions will be updated each week.
Week of July 19 Reading: Intro, 1 & 2
- As you read the book, which details of Walter McMillan’s case are the most difficult for you to accept? Is it difficult to believe that this could really happen? Why?
- What is your reaction to the fact that Walter’s case took place in Monroeville? How could the very residents who romanticized Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird stand for (or, worse, contribute to) Walter’s trials?
- Critics of social justice initiatives complain that too many excuses are being made for those who have done wrong. What relevance might this opening line from The Great Gatsby have in the debate over this issue: “whenever you feel like criticizing anyone… just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had”?
Week of July 26 Reading: Chapters 3-5
- Was Ralph Myers a reliable witness? Why were the authorities so willing to accept his changing testimony? How did the justice system use Ralph Myers, Bill Hooks, and Darnell Houston to convict Walter McMillian and keep him on death row? How do you feel about this?
- Walter McMillian was both poor and black. Do you think his story would have played out differently if he had been poor and white?
- In Chapter 4 we learn about Herbert Richardson’s case. He was given the death penalty for creating a bomb that kills a young girl. Alabama’s capital punishment statute requires that murder be intentional in order for a defendant to be eligible for the death penalty. Why is this relevant in Richardson’s case?
- Herbert Richardson remarks on the frequent offers of help from the prison staff during his final day. What do you make of these offers?
Week of August 2 Reading: Chapters 6-8
- Stevenson structures his book with alternating chapters of Walter’s case and details of other cases. Why do you think he does this?
- In Chapter 7 the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Stevenson’s appeal. How did that make you feel? At the end of the chapter, Stevenson and his team have discovered a significant amount of new evidence. Do you feel any more hopeful that Walter will be released?
- What evidence did criminologists have in 1991 to support their “super-predator” theory? What do we know about the validity of these predictions?
- In what ways has the judicial system failed to protect Charlie (chapter 6), Trina, Ian, and Antonio (chapter 8)?
Week of August 9 Reading: Chapters 9-11
- In Chapter 8 Bryan talks about children and the prison system. In Chapter 10 he talks about the relationship between mental illness and the current prison population. How does lack of medical care for people with mental illness or with addiction issues relate to systemic problems in our justice system and abuse in our prisons?
- The story of the guard in Chapter 10 was especially poignant. How did Bryan’s point about “mitigation” change his life? How did the guard experience conversion? If the prison guard’s heart could change, what does that say about the people who are in prison?
- In Chapter 11, Bryan expressed concern that national press coverage of Walter’s case might be detrimental. Why? What were some of the things that the local press had falsely said about Walter? Why did they do that? How does injustice like this traumatize the entire black community in the area? What role does “hope” play in situations like this?
Week of August 16 Reading: Chapters 12-14
- In Chapter 12 we learn the story of Marsha Colbey. How did the justice system fail her? In what ways are female inmates more at risk than male?
- In Chapter 13 we get a look at Walter’s life after being released from death row. How does he continue to be “punished” even though he was completely innocent of any wrong doing?
- Chapter 14 tells the story of a 13 year old boy named Joe Sullivan. There are so many sad and unjust parts to this story. Are adolescents always capable of behaving rationally? Why or why not? What does this have to do with the sentencing of juveniles? After reading this and some of the other chapters in the book, how do you feel about “life in prison without parole” sentences for kids 13-17 years of age?