Injustice. One of the things that strikes most people about this word is that it creates a sense of discomfort. To be able to fully understand what someone is experiencing on the opposite end of the spectrum, while still grasping the harsh realities of the present, is a rare combination. However, we often do not find the courage to make the change until we have faced injustice ourselves.
Mercy from the margins
Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with Mr. Bryan Stevenson; author, speaker and advocate for individuals who face injustice on a daily basis. As a believer, his tireless efforts to uphold the justice system, while fighting on the side of those who are sidelined by injustices, has placed him in a unique position to help others, even those on death row. Having penned his experiences in the New York Times bestselling book, Just Mercy, which was recently adapted into a movie of the same name, he was able to share his thoughts on why he takes a stand for those who sit unjustly between the margins.
When I asked Mr. Stevenson if he knew that the people whom he represented on death row were innocent or not, he responded, "I have always understood that to achieve justice we have to believe things that we haven't seen before...my work for people on death row was rooted in a belief that we are all more than the worst thing we've ever done; and that a system that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor or innocent is too unreliable to be entrusted with unnecessarily taking lives."
In my own life, I vividly remember the first homeless man who I ended up corresponding with when he was wrongfully imprisoned in a state penitentiary. It was during my time at seminary, and I had volunteered at my local church to look after a couple who were spending the night in one of the spare rooms.
A few days earlier, his wife mentioned that her husband had been locked up, and asked me to correspond with him via mail, as it was one of the only forms of communication he was allowed. As it turned out, instead of becoming embittered at his unjust situation, my friend became more open, and took the time to educate himself with reading materials that I sent to him by mail, encouraging words, and prayers that we prayed for each other. Our one brief encounter spoke volumes about the importance of solidarity with those who stand alone.
Talking to Mr. Stevenson regarding his fight for justice, he remarked that he could not have predicted that he’d win relief for so many people, but, as he puts it, “I'm gratified that we've been able to make some small difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society; the accused, incarcerated and condemned."
Perhaps there are those of us who could never imagine placing themselves in the shoes of being falsely accused, or of representing those who may be labelled as “guilty”, but we all have people in our lives who we have come across that have endured hardship beyond belief, and have suffered immensely as a result. It can often lead to a poverty of mind, in which you begin to enter a struggle which is difficult to address, and even harder to solve.
Oftentimes, that person who struggles the most, as hard as it may be to admit it, may be yourself.
Yet it is not the end of your journey when you realise you’ve just begun.
In Mr. Stevenson’s own words, “I believe that the opposite of poverty isn't wealth, I believe the opposite of poverty is justice. Indifference to injustice and inequality will destroy the integrity of our courts and the rule of law; so I continue to believe it's imperative that we fight wrongful convictions and unjust sentences."
We all have the opportunity to fight against injustice—in our own lives, in the lives of others around us, and in the lives of those who we come to represent. It is a choice; and one that we cannot make in isolation. Addressing our own poverty is one of the first steps forward; but we need to be able to make the first step. Only then can we seek justice for ourselves, and for others. When we press forward on the journey towards true justice, we find the liberation only God can give.
The path we then take can change our lives in ways we never thought possible.
Joseph Kolapudi's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/joseph-kolapudi.html