During this week, the mentees learned about Trust at War Memorial Stadium on November 18, 2017. The mentees were randomly assigned a label that some objected to. Some labels included Failure, Super Predator, Criminal, Slow, Stupid, Loser and others. We continued with the discussion but could see that some of the young men’s demeanor changed after getting the label. For a few minutes we talked about the jail visit seeing if the mentees remember anything specific. 100 Members Ventrell Thompson and Wendell Scales shared what they thought of the jail experiences and the mentees were asked to mark a line over the label if they thought it was wrong or offensive. The majority of mentees changed their label to something better including Loving, Smart, Intelligent, and Handsome.
We discussed the steps to building trust. I spoke about my Grandfather’s quote “A man’s word is his bond.” That means a person has to trust you. Trust has to be built (or earned). Some mentees gave good examples of trust. The next exercise featured Bryan and Henry. Bryan and Henry’s story is from the book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” written by Attorney and Social Justice Activist Bryan Stevenson. Presently, Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a clinical professor at New York University School of Law.
We read the first chapter of Just Mercy where you were introduced to Bryan and Henry and their polar opposite lives. One may think, how could God do this? It happens and this could shape a person for the rest of their lives. Bryan was a young law student just going to law school because it seemed right. Henry was a man who the reader is introduced later. On an internship, Bryan was chosen to drive from Boston to Atlanta then to the maximum security prison outside of Jackson. Bryan was nervous as most students are. He had one thing to tell Henry.
“My name is Bryan Stevenson. I’m a legal intern with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, and I’ve been instructed to inform you that you will not be executed soon.” “You can’t be executed soon.” “You are not at risk of execution anytime soon.” No.
Henry was brought into visitation. He was a young, neatly groomed African American man with short hair—clean-shaven, medium frame and build—wearing bright, clean prison whites. He looked immediately familiar to me, like every-one I’d grown up with, friends from school, people I played sports or music with, someone I’d talk to on the street about the weather. Bryan was probably shocked to the see the procedure that inmates go through. The guard slowly unchained him, removing his handcuffs and the shackles around his ankles, and then locked eyes with me and told me I had one hour. The officer seemed to sense that both the prisoner and I were nervous and to take some pleasure in our discomfort, grinning at me before turning on his heel and leaving the room.
Bryan nervously tells Henry the news. Henry is excited! Bryan is shocked. Henry has been on death row for two years and no one has come to see him. He didn’t want his wife and kids to visit because he didn’t want them to come on his execution day. Henry trusted Bryan and they talked for longer than visitation allowed. Henry’s request was for Bryan to come back. This gave Bryan a more intense desire to be an Attorney.