Celebrated author of ‘Just Mercy’ to discuss penal system
THE SANTA CLARA
January 14th, 2016
If a murder victim is white, the perpetrator is 11 times more likely to be sentenced to death than if the victim is black.
One man, Bryan Stevenson, is spending his life fighting tooth and nail to help change this statistic and to advocate for the rights of prisoners who are mentally ill, impoverished and cast aside by society.
The university community has a chance to hear his story tonight when he speaks on campus as part of the second installment of the annual President’s Speaker Series.
Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to providing legal representation to prisoners who haven’t received fair treatment in the eyes of the law. The group has won commuted sentences, uncovered abuse of mentally ill prisoners and fought to help prevent abuse behind bars, and has exonerated over 100 prisoners sitting on death row.
Aldo Billingslea, associate provost for diversity and inclusion, said that reading Stevenson’s story of his work in “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” which the New York Times deemed as one of the best books of 2014, “floored” him.
Despite the overwhelming obstacles he faced in trying to help fight for prisoner’s legal rights, such as being sexually harassed and ridiculed by an angry prison guard every time he visited one mentally ill man who was jailed for murder, Stevenson never lost faith in his mission.
“It’s huge that he doesn’t sell out his own integrity and that he is able to help someone else regain his own humanity, but on top of all that he helps people who have so little hope that they think justice has passed them by and he gives them hope and restores faith,” Billingslea said.
Senior Alana Hinkston, the Associated Student Government’s public relations vice president, said Stevenson’s work resonates with her because of her deep passion for social justice issues, and that it encourages people to step back and see the impact of police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline.
Billingslea said he hopes that hearing the talk will galvanize students into action, encouraging them to fight for the rights of America’s marginalized populations.
He added that many people have the capacity to do this, but sometimes lack the “courage and conviction” to actually do work like Stevenson’s.
“These talks often are about leadership formation and nurturing the next great leader for our society,” Billingslea said. “There are many great leaders for our community, so I hope someone out there starts reexamining what road they are on and figure out how to make that the most inclusive road possible.”
Stevenson is speaking in the Mayer Theatre tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Contact Sophie Mattson at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4849.