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Garrett Schuetz

MWF 11:45

Lens Essay

In ​Just Mercy​, author Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who specializes in death row cases in

Montgomery, Alabama, and founded the EJI (Equal Justice Initiative) to help wrongly convicted

people get a fair trial and a shot at freedom. ​Just Mercy​ is a personal narrative about the legal

cases that Stevenson worked on throughout the years and primarily focuses on the injustices of

race, demographic, and mental illnesses, as well as the need to remove the death penalty for

children. Throughout the book, Stevenson establishes himself as a credible lawyer in his

community taking on cases of racial injustice and wrongful sentencing, and by doing so, attempts

to persuade the reader to make a change for the good of society. Throughout ​Just Mercy,​

Stevenson demonstrates incredible knowledge and insight into his cases, sharing his clients’

harsh reality with the reader.

The reason that I chose Patricia Hill Collins ​On Intellectual Activism ​to be my lens is

because the ideas that she mentions throughout the book show the purpose for which Stevenson

wrote ​Just Mercy​. One idea that she frequently talks about is the dual audience that exists within

writing, typically between the scholarly and the public. Stevenson provides this by recounting

specific details from his legal cases that changed the outcome in his favor. In Collins book, she

talks about speaking the truth to people and the truth to power to change the current state of the

social hierarchy. When I read ​Just Mercy,​ I interpreted the book as a call to action because of the

explicit injustice throughout it, and feel that anyone reading it should be shocked with the current

state of the criminal justice system and should fight to reform it. Since the judges, police officers,
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and the prison guards are in a position of superior power, we need them to uphold the standard

that society has entrusted to them. Stevenson is able to bring the current problems that we face

such as bias and discrimination to light in his book through firsthand accounts and I believe if the

right people read it, that it can lead to serious change.

Just Mercy ​features strong instances of injustices of race, demographic, and mental

illnesses, and also explains the need to remove the death penalty for children. Stevenson displays

himself throughout the book as being credible, dedicated to his job, and thorough in his

investigations by using his experiences as a lawyer. One of the main focuses in ​On Intellectual

Activism​ is appealing to a specific/dual audience, and in order to accomplish that, you need to

gain credibility with the audience. ​Just Mercy​ author Bryan Stevenson establishes credibility

with his readers and indirectly claims that his appeals to the law should be heard and seriously

considered. Although there is no way to know if Stevenson was at all influenced by ​On

Intellectual Activism,​ both authors share many similar ideas in regards to speaking to power and

people to make an influence in society.

One main technique featured in ​Just Mercy​ can be described through this quote from

Collins, “One form of intellectual activism aims to speak the truth to power. This form of

truth-telling harnesses the power of ideas toward the specific goal of confronting existing power

relations. On a metaphorical level, speaking the truth to power invokes images of changing the

very foundations of social hierarchy where the less powerful take on the ideas and practices of

the powerful, often armed solely with their ideas.” (Collins, P. 12). This quote accurately

describes why and how Stevenson wrote ​Just Mercy​, he spoke the explicit truth about the

injustices he and his clients have faced in order to promote social change. Since ​Just Mercy​ is
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written to promote social and political change, you need to speak the truth to the two audiences

that have the reach to make changes, the scholarly and the general public.

Collin’s frameworks explain why Stevenson chose to write ​Just Mercy​ and present

information about his legal cases. Since Stevenson is a lawyer (or a “pure insider” as Collins

calls it), he has inside information that he is able to share with the general public that would

otherwise be hidden (Collins, P. 11). Stevenson tells the complete truth and speaks about his

previous experiences working different cases, sparing no details. An example of Stevenson’s

inside information can be demonstrated during the McMillian trial, where even though the judge

knew that the african american jury members were being kept from entering the court, he

claimed it was just an excuse and punished Walter for it (Stevenson, P. 84). If the general public

knew that was happening, it would have been all over the newspaper and the judge would most

likely have to step down.

Another passage from ​On Intellectual Activism​ that talks about the truth-telling strategies

Stevenson used in ​Just Mercy​ can be found on page 13, where Collins says, “A second strategy

of intellectual activism aims to speak the truth to the people. In contrast to directing energy to

those in power, a focus that inadvertently bolsters the belief that elites are the only social actors

who count, those who speak the truth to people talk directly to the masses.” (Collins, P. 13).

Stevenson’s ​Just Mercy​ has two primary audiences, the first being regular people who can all get

together to promote change, and the second being people in power, who can read about the

injustices and have the power to enact change. Reading ​Just Mercy​ using this quote explains how

Stevenson is able to target a large audience that is able to make change, whether that be people in

power or people who can all stand together to make a difference. The way that Stevenson writes
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Just Mercy​ is interesting because he gives very detailed explanations of what is happening, but

yet simple enough for the general population to understand. When mentioning terms that people

who aren’t lawyers wouldn’t understand, Stevenson explains them in a simple way so that

everyone can comprehend what the book is saying with little effort. Stevenson also knows a

great deal of information about his clients and is able to use it to his advantage when speaking to

power. For example, in the case of Trina Garnett, “46 percent of the city’s children were living

below the federal poverty level” and that Trina was going to the “worst-ranked public school

system among Pennsylvania’s 501 districts.” (Stevenson, P 197). Stevenson speaks the truth to

power by introducing new information that would make anyone in their right mind reconsider the

sentencing. By doing this, Stevenson is able to broaden his audience to not only the scholarly (or

those in power), but also the general public, gaining a wider audience and more support.

Throughout ​Just Mercy,​ Stevenson uses strong but necessary language as well as

influential information to make the reader feel a sense of injustice that needs to be fixed. Much

like Mari Evans’ poem “Speak the Truth to People”, stevenson attempts “to speak the truth to the

public about issues as diverse as racism” and others (Collins, P. 9). The way in which Stevenson

writes is very analytical, listing chronologically the shortcomings that have happened in his

client’s life. For example, when describing Trina Garnett’s timeline, Stevenson mentions the

moment when her father “beat the [pet dog] to death with a hammer and threw its limp body out

a window” (Stevenson, P. 197). This quote uses the raw truth-telling power that Collins talks

about and makes the readers truly understand the gravity of the situation. If the reader knew

nothing about this, they might not understand why Garnett suffers with mental health problems

later on in her life. Telling the detailed truth about Garnett makes his message have a dual
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audience, with the details being specific enough for scholarly consideration, but colloquial

enough for the public to understand it. Stevenson attempts to take on the “very foundations of

social hierarchy” by informing the public of the current unfair justice system, exposing the

corrupt ways in which people are prosecuted (Collins, P. 13). Stevenson also speaks the “truth to

power” by identifying key examples of injustice within the court system, and also proposes

solutions that could resolve those injustices (Collins, P. 13). Since Stevenson’s main goal of

writing ​Just Mercy​ is for laws to be reformed for children being tried as adults during death row

cases, and to eliminate the racial and socioeconomic bias being held in the criminal justice

system, targeting the two audiences who are able to create change is a strong technique that

Stevenson uses throughout the book.

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Works Cited

Collins, Patricia Hill. On intellectual activism. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2013.

Stevenson, Bryan. Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption. Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
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Author’s  Writing Analytically​ says that “an important goal for writers is 
to develop confidence in their ability to evaluate their own 
Note  work” (p. 143). Below are some rubrics (guides) to help you 
review your work and pinpoint any last places for revision 
before you submit your draft. Once you complete all these 
sections, add this sheet to the top of your draft 
Section 1. Short list of Things that Go Wrong” from ​Writing 
Analytically ​p. 144 ​Read your draft and complete the table below. If you answer 
yes​ to any of the questions, use WA 144-145 to identify a revision strategy and include 
it below 
  Do you plug  Do you  Do you put  Do you  Do you  Do you  Are you 
in  assume  evidence  reduce  substitute a  offer a  locked into 
quotations  the  next to  complex  familiar,  general  five 
from  meaning  claims  subjects  preconceive impression  paragraph 
readings as  of words  without  to single,  d point--  of a  forms that 
answers,  (e.g. ​story​,  explaining  overly  some kind of  reading,  make you 
but leave  truth,​   how you  general,  cultural  without  list, instead 
the quotes  death​) to  derived the  usual  cliche like ​in  referencin of analyze? 
to speak for  be self  claim from  unqualifie today’s  g specific 
themselves evident?  the  d claims?   society--f​ or  words or 
?  evidence?  what is in a  details? 

Paragraph  No  no  n/a  n/a  n/a  maybe  no 

Paragraph  No  no  n/a  introduce no  no  no 

2  s claims 

Paragraph  No  no  no  no  no  no  no 

Paragraph  No  no  no  no  no  no  no 

Paragraph  No  no  no  no  no  no  no 

Paragraph  No  no  no  no  no  no  no 

Section 2. Evaluating along the assignment guidelines ​Below is the 
rubric that I will use to grade your second draft of project 3. Read through your draft 
along the criteria below, and identify if you meet expectations or don’t by highlighting 
the appropriate box green, then provide a brief sentence where you share why you 
meet expectation or why you don’t. 
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Course Learning  Course  Meets expectations  Does not meet 
Goals  Outcomes  expectations 

Critical thinking  Use writing  You collaborated with your  You worked with your writing 
The ability to  processes as  writing group in ways that  group in a way that did not 
identify, reflect  tools for  follow our community  follow our community 
upon, evaluate,  learning and  agreement, you reflected on  agreement, you did not submit 
integrate, and apply  discover  your challenges and successes  author’s notes, and did not 
different types of  in author’s notes, and revised  revise your writing 
information and  your writing using the feedback 
knowledge to form  you received. 
judgments. You will  I turned in my drafts on time, 
experience writing  gave feedback to my writing 
and other critical  group, and revised my draft. 
thinking processes 
as a way to learn.  Read and  Your essay makes an argument  Your essay only analyzes Just 
   analyze text for  about how to best  Mercy or the lens text, without 
audience,  read/understand/value Just  connecting the two to make 
speaker/writer,  Mercy, drawing on a conceptual  an argument. 
purpose,  lens from another text to make 
message, and  that argument 
I use Collin’s text as a 
way/beliefs system to 
demonstrate Stevenson’s 

Complexity  Compose text  You work closely with ​Just Mercy  Your essay generalizes about 
An approach to  that resist  by applying a concept from  the relationship between texts, 
understanding the  overly  another text to your reading of  maybe only evaluating them 
world that  simplistic  Just Mercy. Y​ ou support those  without focusing on specific 
appreciates  binary thinking  analyses with evidence from  features and without using 
ambiguity and  both texts.  evidence from the texts. 
nuance as well as   
Compose text 
clarity and precision.  Brought up specific examples 
that engages 
You increasingly  from both texts that relate to 
sensitive to the  each other in a new and 
significance of  insightful way 
about text 
cultural difference. 

Communication  Compose  Your essay makes careful  Your analysis jumps from 
Interacting  effective text  rhetorical decisions about how  ideas in ways that do not show 
effectively with  for audience  to arrange your ideas so an  the relationship between 
different audiences,  academic reader finds you  them. 
especially through  credible 
writing, speech, and   
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second language.  Each paragraph brings up a 

You will learn to  quote from Collins and relates 
contextualize your  the two texts to each other or 
own ideas and the  provide context for later 
ideas of others  paragraphs that introduce it 
through rhetorical   
analysis, logical 
reasoning, and  Compose text  Your essay follows conventions  Your essay does not introduce 
information literacy.  in appropriate  of academic writing, specifically  or situate the texts, and does 
   mode  introducing and situating texts,  not use a consistent citation 
and using a citation style  style  
I included a works cited page   

Section 3. Revision plan 
Based on all the feedback you received, and your work above on these 
self-evaluating rubrics, what is your plan for revising your essay? 
1. I think I can introduce more specific quotes into my writing instead of relying on the main idea of 
the quote