'Just Mercy' Reading

Just Mercy, part 1

"Make me to hear joy and gladness;
that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice."

(Psalm 51:8, KJV)

Bryan Stevenson, in Just Mercy, describes his feelings after hanging up the phone with Jimmy Lee Dill just an hour or so before Dill was executed:
“When I hung up the phone that night I had a wet face and a broken heart. The lack of compassion I witnessed every day had finally exhausted me....As I sat there, I thought myself a fool for having tried to fix situations that were so fatally broken....

"For the first time I realized that my life was just full of brokenness. I worked in a broken system of justice. My clients were broken by mental illness, poverty, and racism. They were torn apart by disease, drugs and alcohol, pride, fear, and anger. I thought of Joe Sullivan and of Trina, Antonio, Ian, and dozens of other broken children we worked with, struggling to survive in prison. I thought of people broken by war, like Herbert Richardson; people broken by poverty, like Marsh Colbey; people broken by disability, like Avery Jenkins. In their broken state, they were judged and condemned by people whose commitment to fairness had been broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice....

"It took me a while to sort it out, but I realized something sitting there while Jimmy Dill was being killed at Holman prison. After working for more than twenty-five years, I understood that I don’t do what I do because it’s required or necessary or important. I don’t do it because I have no choice.

"I do what I do because I’m broken, too.

"My years of struggling against inequality, abusive power, poverty, oppression, and injustice had finally revealed something to me about myself. Being close to suffering, death, executions, and cruel punishments didn’t just illuminate the brokenness of others; in a moment of anguish and heartbreak, it also exposed my own brokenness. You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it.

"We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent. I desperately wanted mercy for Jimmy Dill and would have done anything to create justice for him, but I couldn’t pretend that his struggle was disconnected from my own. The ways in which I have been hurt – and have hurt others – are different from the ways Jimmy Dill suffered and caused suffering. But our shared brokenness connected us....

"Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make. Sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion....

"When I was a college student, I had a job working as a musician in a black church in a poor section of West Philadelphia. At a certain point in the service I would play the organ before the choir began to sing. The minister would stand, spread his arms wide, and say, ‘Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which thou has broken may rejoice.’ I never fully appreciated what he was saying until the night Jimmy Dill was executed." (Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy, 288-291)
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This is part 1 of 4 of 'Just Mercy'
See also
Part 2: Death Penalty and Race
Part 3: Progress. So Slow.
Part 4: In the Light of the True Narrative

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