Bryan Stevenson was recently featured on The Laura Flanders Show, which is a weekly interview-based show hosted by Laura Flanders.
Flanders and Stevenson discussed the extremely high rates of mass incarceration in the United States and possible solutions to this issue, among other things, during Stevenson’s interview. Flanders in particular focused on the issue of isolation and how it relates to mass incarceration and our criminal justice system.
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.”
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.
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.”
The New York Times review of the book called it “a call to action for all that remains to be done.”
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.
Students even interacted with the book artistically. Business students made posters inspired by the book.
It wasn’t just students who were involved; the UW-Madison Police department also joined in.
Madison residents can listen to a chapter of the book everyday on Wisconsin Public Radio.
Madison Public Library facilitated discussion by distributing discussion kits.
And a community panel discussion, featuring the Middleton Police Chief and the CEO of Urban League, was held at Middleton Public Library.
At 7 p.m. Monday night, author Bryan Stevenson came to the UW-Madison campus to speak at Union South in Varsity Hall.
Students and people from the community formed a long line to hear him speak.
Before the talk, I asked audience members why they came.
Stevenson opened the talk with a vision for the future.
He then laid out four steps for arriving at that future.
During the event, some audience members used Twitter to state their agreement and enthusiasm.
After the event, I asked audience members what their biggest takeaway was:
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.
To read the original article by Lisa Speckhard click here.
Bryan Stevenson is featured in the recent film, Human. The film was created by French photographer, journalist, and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand. The film is a collection of stories from individuals from around the world about their human experience. Bryan Stevenson is one of those individuals.
In his segment, Stevenson talks about race, poverty, and the death penalty. He speaks poignantly about his experience with people on death row and how that experience has taught him that no one is beyond redemption. He says: “I’ve met a lot of people who may never get out, they may always be a threat to themselves or others, but I’ve never met anyone I could say was beyond redemption, beyond hope, beyond the possibility of restoration.”
Watch his segment below.
The film was released for free and can be watched on YouTube by clicking here.
Many of the cases Bryan Stevenson describes in Just Mercy deal with juveniles being convicted as adults, even at the ages of 13 and 14, and spending most of their adult lives in prison. The 2014 “Slender Man” stabbing case is a current example of such issues taking place here in Wisconsin. A recent ABC News article entitled “‘Slender Man’ Stabbing: Teens to Be Tried in Adult Court” by Emily Shapiro discusses the August 10 ruling to try Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier in adult court. Geyser and Weier were both 12 years old when they stabbed their friend Payton Leutner 19 times in the woods surrounding Waukesha, Wisconsin on August 31, 2014. Though Leutner suffered serious injuries, she ultimately pulled through and survived the stabbing. Geyser and Weier were arrested shortly after the crime occurred.
Image from BBC
Shapiro discusses Geyser and Weier’s fascination with “Slender Man,” a fictional character who supposedly stalks children. The two girls believed that their actions would allow them to live with Slender Man in his mansion in the woods of northern Wisconsin.
In a related article entitled “‘Slender Man’ Stabbing: Not Guilty Pleas Entered for Teens,” Shapiro reports that a Wisconsin court entered not guilty pleas for Geyser and Weier on August 21, 2015. The court did so after the defendants’ attorneys stood mute after being asked to enter pleas, which attorney Maura McMahon described as a way to object to the court’s jurisdiction – in this case, the decision that Geyser and Weier be tried as adults. Geyser and Weier are now both 13 years old, and if they are found guilty of the first-degree attempted homicide charges they face, they could receive sentences of up to 65 years in prison.
To read “‘Slender Man’ Stabbing: Teens to Be Tried in Adult Court,” click here.
To read “‘Slender Man’ Stabbing: Not Guilty Pleas Entered for Teens,” click here.
The recent Los Angeles Times article “Civil rights lawyer seeks to commemorate another side of southern heritage: Lynchings” profiles Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative’s work to place memorial markers at lynching sites across the southern United States.
As a part of EJI’s Race and Poverty Project, Stevenson has been traveling around the south talking to city officials to gain support to put up the commemorative markers. He has started out in predominately African American communities and acknowledges that there are some places where white residents may push back on the idea. He argues that to truly achieve racial equality we have to talk about our whole history, even the painful parts, such as lynchings.
As another part of the Race and Poverty Project, EJI conducted a multi-year investigation about lynchings of African Americans in the American south. As a result of the investigation, EJI published a report of their findings called Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. The report documents nearly 4,000 lynchings, or as EJI explains “systemic domestic terrorism” incidents, between 1877 and 1950 across 12 southern states.
To read the Los Angeles Times article “Civil rights lawyer seeks to commemorate another side of southern heritage: Lynchings” click here.
To read a summary of EJI’s Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror click here.
For more information about EJI’s Race and Poverty project click here.
This week, on July 7th, the Equal Justice Initiative released an animated film Slavery to Mass Incarceration. The film is narrated by Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson and features art from Molly Crabapple. In just under six minutes Stevenson and Crabapple tell the story of how the enslavement of African people has evolved to mass incarceration of African Americans today. The film points out that an African American person is six times more likely to be sentenced to prison for the same crime as a white person. And that one in three black men born today can expect to spend some time in prison. With this film EJI hopes to engage people in the conversation about this injustice in the United States and help move the country forward.
Slavery to Mass Incarceration was created as a part of Equal Justice Initiative’s Race and Poverty Project. As EJI explains, the Race and Poverty project “explores racial history and uses innovative teaching tools to deepen our understanding of the legacy of racial injustice.”
Watch the film below.
To read more about EJI’s Race and Poverty Project click here.
On Saturday, June 27th, at the annual American Library Association conference, Bryan Stevenson was awarded the Andrew Carnegie Medal for nonfiction for his book Just Mercy.
The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction were established by the American Library Association in 2012 to recognize the best fiction and nonfiction books for adult readers published in the U.S. the previous year. The winners (one for fiction, one for nonfiction) are announced at the ALA Annual Conference. Winning authors receive a $5,000 cash award and two finals in each category receive $1,500. The winner is chosen by a seven-member selection committee of library professionals from across the country who work closely with adult readers.
The awards were created in partnership with the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The awards were created during the foundation’s centennial and in recognition of Andrew Carnegie’s deep belief in the power of books and learning to change the world.
On winning the award Stevenson had this to say: “I’m pretty overwhelmed. I’m thankful to you, for creating a space where something like this can happen to someone like me.”
He also spoke about libraries and books: “[They] get you to do some things and understand some things that you can’t otherwise understand. I wrote this book because I was persuaded that if people saw what I see [regarding mass incarceration], they would insist on something being different.”
Watch a brief interview with Bryan Stevenson about winning the Andrew Carnegie Medal below.
In March of 2012 Bryan Stevenson gave a TED Talk about his work to reform the criminal justice system. In April of this year Stevenson was interviewed about his TED Talk experience by Charlie Rose for 60 Minutes. In the interview Stevenson admits that when he was first asked to do a TED Talk he didn’t know what it was. Now though, he is very grateful for the experience and exposure. The TED Talk helped the Equal Justice Initiative raise one million dollars and even today, three years after the Talk, the online video helps create awareness of the nonprofit organization and its mission.
Chris Anderson, the man who runs TED, is the one who wanted Stevenson to do a TED Talk. He said that the purpose of TED is to help people spread ideas. He describes what TED does by explaining that:
There are numerous brilliant people out there and they’ve come up with something really important. And so part of the way we see our role is to help them make their knowledge accessible.
Anderson and his colleagues at TED saw Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative’s ideas as worth spreading. Watch and share the TED Talk here. Read or watch Bryan Stevenson and Chris Anderson’s interview with Charlie Rose here.
This spring during the Los Angeles Festival of Books, the Los Angeles Times featured writers discussing their literary idols. Bryan Stevenson was one of those writers. He wrote about Ralph Ellison an how the book Invisible Man changed how he saw things.
Ellison taught me that sometimes a book can disrupt the relationship you have to the world around you and force you to demand more, seek more, expect more, experience more that is essential and important to what truly matters.
After reading Invisible Man, Stevenson noticed a change in how he viewed racially segregated society and made him more aware of the roles he maintained in that society. He used the wisdom he learned from the narrative in Invisible Man in writing his own book, Just Mercy.
After Invisible Man, I knew it existed; this place where words, narrative and language can get you close to truth and the powers that truth can activate.
Have any books impacted you the way Invisible Man impacted Bryan Stevenson? Who is your literary idol?
To read Stevenson’s article about Ellison click here.
To see if Just Mercy is available for check out at UW Madison Libraries click here.
To see if Invisible Man is available for check out at UW Madison Libraries click here.
Bryan Stevenson was recently interviewed by Truthout. In the interview he was asked to elaborate on some of the issues he discusses in his book, Just Mercy. In particular he expands on what the book’s title means, areas of the Unites States’ criminal justice system that he is advocating to improve, and the challenges ahead for helping those most vulnerable in our current system.
Stevenson works primarily on issues in the criminal justice system related to race and poverty, children in prison, mass incarceration, and the death penalty. In this interview he explains why his work is so important an why he started the Equal Justice Initiative as a young lawyer. He sums up the purpose of his work by saying:
It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.
With his book, Just Mercy, Stevenson hopes to bring these issues to the attention of more people. For example in the United States 68 million people out of 320 million people have criminal records. That equates to one out of every four to five people in our country. He sees that number as too high and as a result is devoted to working for social justice.