Guiding questions for students (adapted from Penguin Random House) We hope you enjoy your copy of this year's Buckeye Book Community reading selection. As you read, use the following questions to help you apply the themes of the book to your transition to college and your first year at Ohio State. When you return to campus, be prepared to start conversations and make connections with other first-year students who share the experience of the Buckeye Book Community.
Stevenson remembers his grandmother telling him, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close.” How do we see the author getting close to issues of punishment and mass incarceration? As you begin your first year at Ohio State, how will you get close to the issues that are most important to you?
Stevenson shared several examples of low-income individuals and/or people of color in difficult circumstances being presumed guilty before presenting their cases. Do you think race and class should factor into a court case? How about in a college admissions process or decisions about scholarships or financial aid?
Fifty percent of the people in jail and prison today have a diagnosed mental illness, with 1 in 5 having a serious mental illness. Why is severe mental illness often ignored at trial? Do you believe mentally ill people convicted of crimes should receive different treatment? In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing individuals deemed to be “mentally retarded” is cruel and unusual punishment. What other protections should be considered for prisoners with proven mental illness, including those who have committed violent offenses?
What factors prevent mitigating evidence (information about a person’s background and upbringing that may reduce punishment for an offense) from being presented at trial? What does Stevenson mean when he writes, “We all need mitigation at some point”? How can sharing your own background with fellow new students help you establish relationships within the Ohio State community?
Do you think Stevenson had any idea that representing indigent, incarcerated people was going to be his life’s work? How did he take care of himself while doing difficult and exhausting work? What did he struggle with and what kept him from quitting as he beat the drum for justice? As you begin to pursue your own college career and then your life’s work, how will you stay energized without burning out?
Students from all backgrounds will interpret this book using different knowledge and experiences. How did you react to Stevenson’s examples? Did the book shed light on new information for you, or did it confirm what you already knew? How might you react if you were of a different race or class? If you had personal experience with the justice system?
In 2015, the black population in Ohio was 12.7 percent, but black people accounted for 43 percent of our state’s prison population. How do the issues in Just Mercy relate to Ohio’s justice system? To the United States in general?