(July 2016) This book was just a great followup to Isabelle Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns.” Bryan Stevenson brings home the reality of a racially driven criminal justice system that is out of control. The headlines around mass incarceration, the executions as well as the exonerations of prisoners on death row, the investigative journalism around the blatant miscarriage of justice – it all comes together in this book. Told in the first person, it is moving beyond anything I have the ability to describe.
As I read the book I was horrified, outraged, disbelieving, sad and discouraged. How could this happen? Our narrative of America as “the greatest nation on earth” does not hold up under this examination of a justice system blatantly racist and operated with impunity by people who do not believe they will be held accountable. Because they are not held accountable.
The recent explosion of cell phone videos showing police shooting unarmed black people is the tip of the iceberg. This has gone on for generations. The excessive use of force, the disregard for black lives, a criminal justice system where accountability is simply absent – that is the true narrative of this country.
I was floored by the details of the cases Bryan Stevenson worked on. Buoyed by the cases where he managed to finally get justice for people wrongly accused and incarcerated, and devastated by case after case of people he could not save. Innocent people are being executed by the state, which makes it murder. There is no justification for “mistakenly” taking the life of those wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. What is the penalty to the judge, jury and executioner for the wrongful death of an innocent person?
The statistics are mind blowing – the number of juveniles in prison serving life sentences. Women incarcerated for giving birth to stillborn babies and housed in prisons where they are raped and impregnated by prison guards and NO ONE IS HELD ACCOUNTABLE.
Does that sound familiar? Bad things happen but no one is to blame? All lives matter – really? So much injustice inflicted on so many – people whose names and stories will never be told. Bryan Stevenson has shone a light on a criminal justice system that needs greater accountability. That is up to the public. As long as we choose to remain in the dark, our prisons will continue to overflow with people whose chief crime is being black, poor, mentally ill or developmentally disabled. It’s shocking how we have turned a blind eye to what is happening in every community across this country.
I highly recommend this book. It should be on the reading list in every high school.