I reread this book because I’m teaching it in my class. I’ve taught it twice already, but I wanted to refresh myself and be better at talking about it. Just like the first time around, I thought that maybe I’d just think it was alright. These are stories I already knew, writing I’ve already read. But I found that I was just as interested as before about this story of a lawyer who opens up a non-profit in Alabama to help get people off death row. A few moments that really stood out to me and were about to make me cry were:
- The chocolate milkshake situation. This guy George Daniel is a guy with obvious mental illness that Bryan Stevenson is representing. He is cheerful despite his situation and his past, and on his first visit to see Daniel, he was asking for a milkshake. Stevenson was annoyed at first but then saw the only way to get him to focus was to say okay I’ll try to get you one. By the end of his chapter, one of the COs (who is aggressive as hell until he hears Daniel’s story in court) finally agrees to get him a milkshake from Wendy’s on their way back to the prison.
- Stevenson’s mother telling him to tell another boy that he loved him after he made fun of the kid for having a speech impediment. His mom finds out about it and makes her son hug him and say “I love you.” Stevenson thought it was dumb but he did it and while they were still hugging, the other kid said “I love you too.”
- Joe Sullivan’s whole story. He gets locked up at age 13 and winds up in a wheelchair after surviving severe sexual violence. Stevenson goes to visit him in prison as an adult and he’s in a small cage in the wheelchair and it takes four or five people to try to get him out. That scene is so frustrating. And when they talk, all Sullivan wants to know is stuff like what’s Stevenson’s favorite color and does he have friends.
The way I teach this book is through the genre of the book review, and I always emphasize that importance of impact. How did you feel? Why does this matter? What was your experience? And what do you do next? I think what’s persuasive about this book is not only the language he uses, but also the sheer devastation. Things don’t work out, people get executed, others get free but then still have a miserable life. It really makes you stop and think like yea why are things this way? Who is this helping? Just Mercy is a great example of imprisonment as immoral.