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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: Just Mercy

Teens Tried as Adults: Wisconsin’s “Slender Man” Stabbing Case

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.

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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.

Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals

Image from: Equal Justice Initiative

Image from: Equal Justice Initiative

At the end of July, the U.S. Department of Education announced that some incarcerated Americans will once again have the opportunity to be eligible for Pell Grants. In 1994 federal student aid for people in prison was cut, despite research that shows that education programs in prisons reduce recidivism rates. According to a 2013 study, funded by the Department of Justice, those who participated in correctional education were 43% less likely to go back to prison after being released for three years, than those who had no correctional education. The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program will test ways to help incarcerated individuals receive Pell Grants and pursue secondary education.

For more information, read the press release from the Department of Education here.

To read the Equal Justice Initiative’s post about this click here.

What Bryan Stevenson Learned from Ralph Ellison

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’s Interview with Truthout

 

Photo of Bryan Stevenson by Linda Nylind Guardian

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.

To read the Truthout interview click here.

NPR Interview with Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson conducted an interview with NPR back in October 2014. In this interview he shared a personal experience he had in his 20’s as well as the case at the center of his book, Just Mercy.

The interviewer began by asking Bryan about an encounter he had with police in his 20’s in Atlanta. Bryan had been listening to the radio in his car outside of his new home when a police unit pulled up and pulled a gun on him. Bryan describes the terrifying event in a calm and poised voice now, but he admits that at the site of the gun his first instinct was to run. Bryan was a Harvard law student at the time and remained calm, but it was this encounter that led him to ask young boys and men in the area if they know what to do if they are in that situation. He was surprised to discover that the majority of boys did not know what to do, and this was just one of many events that influenced his future work with the Equal Justice Initiative.

The rest of the interview focuses on the case at the center of Just Mercy. The discussion focuses not only on Bryan, but on Mr. McMillian himself. McMillian died in 2013. Bryan had the following to say about the early death of McMillian,

One of the things that pains me is we have so tragically underestimated the trauma, the hardship we create in this country when we treat people unfairly, when we incarcerate them unfairly, when we condemn them unfairly.

To hear the interview and to read the highlights click here 

 

Good Leadership is Key: Desmond Tutu on Bryan Stevenson and Malala Yousafzai

Desmond Tutu, South African humanitarian and social rights activist, discusses good leadership in a recent Vanity Fair article titled “Why Desond Tutu Thinks Bryan Stevenson is ‘Shaping the Moral Universe.'” In the article he commends two individuals he feels are leaders making a difference in the world today. The two leaders are Malala Yousafzai and Bryan Stevenson.

Tutu had this to say about good leaders:

Good leadership is key. Good leaders with the ability to identify the challenges and the tenacity to act on them.

He sees Stevenson as a “champion for justice” and Yousafzai as a champion of women of and girls’ rights.

He acknowledges the challenges involved in working toward big change, but is hopeful that with good leadership, such as the leadership of Stevenson and Yousafzai, significant change is possible.

We may not be capable of changing the world in one fell swoop on our own, but when we swim together in the same good direction, we become an unstoppable force.

To read Tutu’s article click here.
For more information about Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, click here.

Go Big Read selects ‘Just Mercy’ for 2015-16

Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls Bryan Stevenson “America’s Mandela.”
Stevenson has spent his career fighting for racial justice and wants his fellow Americans to realize that something is inherently wrong with the land of the free and the home of the brave having the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Photo: Brian Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson
Photo: Nina Subin
In the 1980s, Stevenson co-founded the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama. 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. His book, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” is the latest selection for Go Big Read, UW-Madison’s common-reading program.
Go Big Read organizers encouraged the campus community to suggest titles that fit into a theme of inequality in America. Chancellor Rebecca Blank chose “Just Mercy” from the short list that a selection committee culled from 200 nominated titles.
“Bryan Stevenson’s book raises tough and important questions about inequalities in the criminal justice system,” Blank says. “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.”
Hundreds of UW students and community members have taken part in demonstrations following the fatal shooting by a Madison police officer of a black teenager on the city’s East Side, as well as grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York. Many more added their voices to this important discussion during campus forums.
Stevenson’s book focuses on one of his first cases, which involved Walter McMillan, a black Alabama businessman sentenced to die for the murder of a white woman despite having an alibi verified by dozens of witnesses. “The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made,” said a review in The New York Times. “‘Just Mercy’ will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.”
Stevenson grew up in Delaware and graduated from Harvard in 1985 with a law degree and a master’s degree in public policy. Since then 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. He also is on the faculty at New York University School of Law and the winner of a MacArthur “genius grant.” Last year President Barack Obama appointed him to a task force established to recommend police practices that can improve relations between officers and the people they serve, particularly in minority communities.
William P. Jones, a professor of history and a member of the Go Big Read review committee, says he will use Stevenson’s book in his courses to introduce the question of “mass incarceration” and its impact on the economic and political history of the United States.
“There is perhaps no greater evidence of injustice and inequality in our society than the brutality, unfairness and racial bias displayed by our criminal justice system,” Jones says.  “‘Just Mercy’ is an ideal book for us to read and discuss together as we seek to understand and address those problems.”
By recounting his experience as a defense attorney, the author shows how poverty and racial bias work together to shape those inequalities, Jones says. “Stevenson forces us to confront the contradictions between our criminal justice system and our nation’s founding principles of equality, freedom and justice.”
Planning is underway for how students, faculty and staff will use the book in classrooms and for special events associated with “Just Mercy.” Stevenson is scheduled to visit campus Oct. 26, when he will give a talk in Varsity Hall at Union South. Copies of the book will be given to first-year students at the Chancellor’s Convocation for New Students and to students using the book in their classes.