Vol State book read examines incarceration with Just Mercy

Author Bryan Stevenson.  (photo: Nina Subin)

Author Bryan Stevenson. (photo: Nina Subin)

According to numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world. The number of American prisoners has increased from 300,000 in the 1970s to 2.3 million people today. The Volunteer State Community College ‘One Book, One Community’ initiative will examine these issues this coming school year with a group read of the non-fiction book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. This is how the publisher, Spiegel and Grau, describes Just Mercy.

“Bryan Stevenson takes us on an unforgettable journey into the broken American criminal justice system in his much lauded New York Times bestselling Just Mercy. After Stevenson graduated from Harvard Law School he started the Equal Justice Initiative, a law practice dedicated to defending some of America’s most rejected and marginalized people. Among the first cases he took on was that of Walter McMillian, a Black man from Monroeville, Alabama who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case would change Bryan’s life and transform his understanding of justice and mercy forever. Just Mercy follows the suspenseful battle to free Walter before the state executes him, while also stepping back to tell the profoundly moving stories of men, women, and even children, who found themselves at the mercy of a system often incapable of showing it.”

The ‘One Book, One Community’ initiative joins Vol State, local schools, libraries and readers from across Sumner County for the group read. There are three speakers coming to the Vol State campus in Gallatin to discuss issues raised by the book. Everyone is welcome to attend these free events.

Jeannie Alexander will be speaking on September 13 at 1 pm in the Caudill Hall Wemyss Auditorium. Readers of the Nashville Scene will recognize her as the publication’s ‘Best Advocate’ in 2017. Alexander, who has been involved in advocacy for those affected by homelessness as well as the prison system, now heads up the No Exceptions Prison Collective, a nonprofit focused on the abolition of prisons as well as the establishment of basic treatment standards for prisoners. Alexander will talk about her experiences as an advocate and more generally about the prison system.

Vanderbilt philosophy Professor Lisa Guenther will discuss the prison system in America on October 24 at 1 pm in the Mary Cole Nichols Dining Room. Guenther’s areas of focus include mass incarceration, capital punishment, the ‘carceral state,’ race and racism, and the effects of solitary confinement.

Rev. Joseph B. Ingle will present on November 15 at 1 pm in the Caudill Hall Wemyss Auditorium. Ingle is an expert on the history of incarceration in the United States. Ingle founded the Tennessee Committee against State Killing, and has served as the director of the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons as well as the executive director of the Neighborhood Justice Center, a Nashville based coalition focused on restorative justice.

Just Mercy is available at many Sumner County libraries and all Vol State library locations. For more information on ‘One Book, One Community’ and Just Mercy, visit the website at www.volstate.edu/onebook.