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Category: Go Big Read 2015-2016: Just Mercy

Former Inmate Receives Award for Volunteer Work

Last week, a former Dane County jail inmate received the Presidential Award for his service in volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank. A news story from Channel3000.com discusses Dominic Davis’s journey from an inmate at the Dane County jail to a dedicated volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank.

Two years ago, Davis served his year sentence for drug charges at the Dane County jail and took part in the Pathfinders treatment program at the Chris Farley House. The Chris Farley House is a treatment facility in Madison that focuses on providing substance abuse services to a wide range of people.

While participating in the treatment program at the Chris Farley House, Davis opted to join an inmate volunteer program at the jail. Through this program, Davis volunteered at the Second Harvest Food Bank in the warehouse, where he also learned basic skills that later helped him get a job there. Davis says, “I worked harder than I had ever worked before in my life.”

A manager at the Chris Farley House nominated Davis for the Presidential Award, which he was awarded at the Faith in Action Celebration on November 12. Sheriff David Mahoney says, “Dominic Davis is an example of when the criminal justice system addresses the problems that bring a person into the system, rather than focusing on punishment, we can change lives to the positive.”

To read the Channel3000.com article and watch a news clip of the story, click here.

A Look at UW’s Current Go Big Read Book, “Just Mercy,” from the Selection of the Book to the Author’s Recent Talk on UW’s Campus

This post was written by UW-Madison Journalism student, Lisa Speckhard.

Since 2009, UW-Madison has hosted Go Big Read, its common book program. A book is chosen to be widely read and discussed throughout campus and the community. According to the program’s website, the goal is to “engage students, faculty, staff and the entire community in a vibrant, academically driven experience.”

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This year, the Go Big Read selection committee was looking for a book about inequality in America. They noted this was a pressing local issue, as could be seen in the Madison reactions to grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York, as well as the local shooting of Tony Robinson.

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Over 200 entries were submitted by students, faculty, staff, and members of the community. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank chose “Just Mercy.”

Blank stated, “Bryan Stevenson’s book raises tough and important questions about inequalities in the criminal justice system … Now is a particularly good time to hold these conversations, as UW-Madison students, staff and faculty grapple with the ways in which these larger national issues affect our own community.”

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The New York Times review of the book called it “a call to action for all that remains to be done.”

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Bryan Stevenson is a the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a professor of law at New York University School of Law. In 2015, he was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. You can learn more about his journey here:

UW-Madison and the greater Madison area offered many ways to interact with the book. UW distributed over 5,000 copies to new students, used the book in over 170 class sections, assigned it as reading for all first year law students, held a faculty and staff panel discussion on the issues raised in the book, and is hosting a human rights conference at the Pyle Center next week. Later in November, Central Library will provide a life-size model of a solitary confinement cell for visitors to experience.

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Students even interacted with the book artistically. Business students made posters inspired by the book.

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It wasn’t just students who were involved; the UW-Madison Police department also joined in.

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Madison residents can listen to a chapter of the book everyday on Wisconsin Public Radio.

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Madison Public Library facilitated discussion by distributing discussion kits.

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And a community panel discussion, featuring the Middleton Police Chief and the CEO of Urban League, was held at Middleton Public Library.

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At 7 p.m. Monday night, author Bryan Stevenson came to the UW-Madison campus to speak at Union South in Varsity Hall.

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Students and people from the community formed a long line to hear him speak.

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Before the talk, I asked audience members why they came.

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Stevenson opened the talk with a vision for the future.

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He then laid out four steps for arriving at that future.

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During the event, some audience members used Twitter to state their agreement and enthusiasm.

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After the event, I asked audience members what their biggest takeaway was:

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The talk is available online for those with NetIDs.

Those interested in “Just Mercy” can continue listening to a chapter of the book a day on NPR, check out the Pyle Center’s upcoming human rights conference, or step into a model solitary confinement cell at Madison Public Library.

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To read the original article by Lisa Speckhard click here.

UW-Madison Students Learn About Racial Justice Through Art at Wheelhouse Studios

The Morgridge Center for Public Service recently published an article about the opportunity that 18 UW-Madison freshman students had this fall to learn about racial justice through creating art. The students are enrolled in three courses that are focused on the same topic, which is “Citizenship, Democracy, and Difference.”

Their professor, Professor Kathy Cramer, took the students to Memorial Union’s Wheelhouse Studios earlier this month. The students were given small squares from a portrait and were asked to paint their squares on a larger square canvas without seeing the larger portrait.

Once the students completed their individual squares, these pieces were put together to form a large version of the portrait. Students were then shown the original portrait and saw the similarities between their collaborative work and the original.

The article from the Morgridge Center says that, “The students gather[ed] to reflect on the project through the lens of racial and social justice work. Students talk[ed] about the need for collaboration and the power of many over one. Other students explain[ed] how they felt their piece of the portrait seemed insignificant, alone. But now they realize how important it was to the final, collaborative picture. Just one missing piece would have left an incomplete portrait. Instructors explain[ed] how important these same principles are to racial and social justice.”

To read the original article and see the students’ finished portrait, click here.

Solitary Confinement Cell at Madison Public Library

A recent Wisconsin State Journal article, “Around Town: Solitary confinement crisis brought home by model cell” by Samara Kalk Derby, profiled the life-size, walk-in model of a solitary confinement cell at the Madison Central Library. At the Library, patrons can walk around the cell and if they want, check out audio of what prisoners in solitary confinement hear, such as moaning, screaming, and other loud noises.

The model cell has been to multiple venues around Madison, including the state Capitol. It’s estimated that 4,000 people have explored the model cell. The cell was brought to the Library to help patrons make connections between this year’s Go Big Read book, Just Mercy, and Wisconsin.

According to information posted outside the cell, between December 2011 and December 2012, Wisconsin placed over 4,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, which was approximately twenty percent of the prison population at the time.

The state Department of Corrections is considering limiting solitary confinement to ninety days. Currently, prisoners can be in solitary for 180 days to an entire year. Although an improvement, ninety days in solitary confinement is still six times the international standard for torture.

The model cell will be on display at Madison Central Library until Thursday, November 12th.

To read “Around Town: Solitary confinement crisis brought home by model cell” click here.

Upcoming Community Workshop in Middleton on Racial Inequalities

On October 12th, the Middleton Public Library held a community panel discussion of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. This event sparked much discussion about social injustices and issues of racism in Dane County. Five Middleton community leaders have organized a community-wide follow-up workshop in the wake of the book discussion to address racial inequalities in Dane County.

The event, entitled “Equity vs. Equality: An Examination of Racial Inequalities That Exist in Dane County,” will take place from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM in the courtroom at the Middleton Police Station, which is located at 7341 Donna Drive in Middleton. The event will be co-lead by Percy Brown, Director of Equity and Student Achievement at Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, and Laura Love, Director of Secondary Education at Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District.

Participants in the workshop will discuss current racial inequalities in Dane County, what actions are currently being taken to combat these inequalities within the community, and brainstorm other ways to tackle racial inequalities in the community.

One of the planners of the event, Middleton’s Chief of Police Charles Foulke, says, “The Equity vs. Equality training is a logical step in maintaining the momentum that community leaders have been building to address this very real problem [of racial inequality]. I am pleased to be part of the planning team for this training and feel the Middleton Police Department can be part of the solution.” The Middleton Police Department has been actively engaging with the themes in Just Mercy.

The event costs $10 to participate in, and scholarships are available for those in need.

To register for the event, pick up a form at the Middleton Public Library or the Middleton Outreach Ministry Office. You can also register online by clicking here.

You can email Jim Iliff at jiliff1955@gmail.com with any questions you might have or to apply for a scholarship to attend the event.

9th Grade English Students at West High School Read and Respond to Just Mercy

Post written by Kim Schopf and Lynn Glueck, Madison West High School

Every year, Madison Metropolitan School District students in English classes take beginning, middle and end-of-year writing assessments that help students and teachers gauge progress on the critical skills of reading a text closely and writing an argument based on that text. This year, as a way of tying this reading and writing authentically to the English 1 (9th grade English) curriculum and to current and relevant events and issues  in our community and the nation, the team chose to use an excerpt from Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.  The excerpt, the story of 13-year-old Ian Manuel who was imprisoned in Apalachee Correctional Institution, for much of  time in solitary confinement, struck a chord with students, many of whom were interested in reading the book. When they reviewed their assessments together as a class it engendered discussions about race, justice, punishment, and forgiveness. While being horrified about the treatment of Ian in prison, they also struggled with notions of appropriate consequences for actions in adolescence. These are exactly the kinds of discussions that foster critical thinking that we want to see in our West classrooms.

In support of engaging students in their learning, there’s a new structure for English 1 instruction at Madison West, in which students choose books to read based on interest rather than exclusively reading whole-class texts. Also, while the focus is still mainly on reading literature, there’s more integration of nonfiction text. So the recent donation of copies of Stevenson’s Just Mercy from UW-Madison’s Go Big Read program is a welcome addition to the classroom libraries.  Students’ reading of the book, and attendance at the Go Big Read event at which Stevenson spoke, ties in well with the curriculum for quarter three of English 1, in which students will dig deeply into a unit of instruction entitled “Because Lives Matter”  and focus on writing argument based on text.  A central focus will be on social justice and exploring the following questions:

  • What is the significance of being able to express self and to be acknowledged?
  • How do readers deepen their content knowledge as well as come to understand perspectives and cultures?
  • How do writers create argument writing in order to examine and convey their ideas?
  • How does research enhance the discovery of storytelling, ideas, and arguments?

We strongly encouraged our 480 9th grade English students to attend the Go Big Read author event on October 26!

A big thank you to UW-Madison for providing the copies of Just Mercy for  West High students. The Wisconsin Idea in action.

An Evening With Bryan Stevenson a Success

Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, visited UW-Madison on Monday, October 26th, and for many, the culminating event of the day, Stevenson’s talk at Varsity Hall in Union South, was an overwhelming success.

Part of the crowd at An Evening With Bryan Stevenson.

Varsity Hall’s doors were set to open at 6:00 pm, but people were already lined up and waiting before 5:00 pm; the hall’s capacity was reached before 6:30 pm. Live streaming of the event was available for those who were not able to attend the event in Varsity Hall.

Stevenson discussed four things that need to change in order to help combat social injustice, racism, and corruption in America’s criminal justice system, and he shared anecdotes from Just Mercy as part of this discussion. The crowd was energized and responsive during Stevenson’s talk, evinced especially by the resounding applause after the talk and the question and answer session.

The number of people who attended Stevenson’s talk was higher than anticipated. Reception of the event has been overwhelmingly positive, which speaks to the important conversations surrounding social justice, race, and the criminal justice system that Stevenson’s Just Mercy has sparked at UW-Madison and in the larger community.

To watch the video recording of Bryan Stevenson’s talk at UW-Madison on Monday, October 26th, click here. (Please note that this video is only available for viewing by those with Net IDs).

Mia Birdsong’s TED Talk: Connections to Just Mercy

As a book concerned with the corruption and problems plaguing America’s criminal justice system, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy also discusses the contexts surrounding this corruption. Mia Birdsong’s TED Talk from May 2015, “The Story We Tell About Poverty Isn’t True,” has important connections to Just Mercy.

Mia Birdsong has been an active advocate for social justice and liberation for the past thirty years, and she has held leadership positions in organizations focused on helping families living in poverty, all of which are listed in her biography on www.ted.com. Especially relevant to Just Mercy, Birdsong has also been involved with the prison abolition organization Critical Resistance.

Birdsong’s TED talk focuses on the marginalization of the poor in America, especially in terms of how people view the poor and the causes of their poverty. “I have worked with and learned from people just like them for more than twenty years. I have organized against the prison system, which impacts poor folks, especially black, indigenous, and Latino folks, at an alarming rate,” says Birdsong.

Mia Birdsong giving her TED Talk. Photo from flickr.com.

The overarching message of Birdsong’s TED talk is that the narrative surrounding poverty simply isn’t true. “Most people work hard. Hard work is the common denominator in this equation,” Birdsong says, “and I’m tired of the story we tell that hard work leads to success. Because that story allows those of us who make it to believe we deserve it, and by implication, those who don’t make it don’t deserve it.”

One of Birdsong’s largest issues with this story about poverty is that it disregards the drive and determination of the poor. “What if we recognized that what’s working is the people, and what’s broken is our approach? What if we realized that the experts we are looking for, the experts we need to follow, are poor people themselves?” she argues. “Marginalized communities are full of smart, talented people hustling and working and innovating, just like our most revered and most rewarded CEOs.”

Birdsong’s call for a change in the narrative Americans tell about poverty echoes Stevenson’s call for a more compassionate and just view of inmates, not to mention more humane treatment. “Everywhere I go, I see people who are broke but not broken. I see people who are struggling to realize their good ideas so that they can create a better life for themselves, their families, their communities,” says Birdsong. Stevenson makes a similar argument in Just Mercy, arguing that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

To watch Mia Birdsong’s TED talk, click here.

UW-Madison Welcomes ‘Go Big Read’ Author Bryan Stevenson on October 26th

This press release was written by Jenny Price from University Communications.

Go Big Read is bigger than ever in its seventh year.

The selection of Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” prompted record participation in UW-Madison’s common-reading program. More than 170 courses are using the book this semester, in disciplines including business, education, English, history, law, nursing, political science and social work.

The UW-Madison community will hear from Stevenson on Monday, Oct. 26, when he visits campus to meet with students and give a public talk as the centerpiece of Go Big Read.

The event, hosted by Chancellor Rebecca Blank, begins at 7 p.m. in Varsity Hall at Union South and will be streamed live and captioned on the Go Big Read website. Stevenson’s talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session, moderated by Everett Mitchell, director of community relations for the UW–Madison Office of University Relations.

During his visit to the UW campus, Stevenson will also meet with students from First-Year Interest Groups, the College of Letters & Science Honors Program and the law school.

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Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy” and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, will speak at UW-Madison on Monday, Oct. 26, in Varsity Hall at Union South.

Stevenson co-founded the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama, three decades ago. Since then, he has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court five times and played a role in landmark court cases that have transformed how the criminal justice system deals with violent youths. He has helped secure relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, advocated for poor people and developed community-based reform litigation aimed at improving the administration of criminal justice.

Last year, President Barack Obama appointed Stevenson to a task force established to recommend police practices that can improve relations between officers and the people they serve, particularly in minority communities. Stevenson is on the faculty at New York University School of Law and the winner of a MacArthur “genius grant.”

More than 5,000 new UW students received copies of “Just Mercy” during Wisconsin Welcome in early September. This month, every member of the UW-Madison Police Department is reading the book. During their orientation week at the start of the semester, first-year law students also received copies to read and discuss before participating in a community-service day.

Other upcoming Go Big Read events:

— “Just Mercy” is being featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Chapter a Day series, airing at 12:30 p.m. (and repeating at 11 p.m.) from Monday, Oct. 19-Friday, Nov. 6.

— Thursday, Oct. 22, noon-1:30 p.m.: Daniel Meyer, a professor of social work, will lead a faculty and staff panel discussion of key issues raised by “Just Mercy” from a Christian perspective during a luncheon at the University Club.

— Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 5-7: free conference at the Pyle Center, “A New Politics of Human Rights: Crossing Disciplines, Regions, and Issues.”

— Tuesday, Nov. 10, 5-9 p.m.: Reform Now Programs and Resource Fair, an evening of social justice at the Madison Public Library, 201 W. Mifflin St., includes a screening of “Reform Now,” a film about Wisconsin citizens who are challenging solitary confinement.

Read the original press release here.

WPR’s “Chapter a Day” Reads Just Mercy

Starting Monday October 19th – Friday November 6th, Lydia Woodland of Wisconsin Public Radio, is reading a chapter of Just Mercy each day as part of the “Chapter a Day” program.  According to the WPR’s website, “Chapter a Day” is WPR’s longest running program. It debuted in 1927. Hosts of the program read a chapter of a book each day. They read entire books in half hour segments.

Listen to “Chapter a Day” by clicking here.