Just Mercy' Narrative Essay

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Within my role as a Community Health Worker, I am often faced with ethical dilemmas that involve conflicting values and morals. The balance of what is morally right and wrong is constantly in my heart and on my mind when it comes to the vulnerable populations I work with. However, this module’s material has given me a deeper insight into what it means to be a self-aware and unbiased social worker. I have always believed myself to be in tune with my personal values and belief system but now I realize that was only on a surface level. As a social worker, it is of the utmost importance to cast any judgments, biases, and assumptions about clients aside. According to Abramson (1996) “the morally aware social worker will want to know what generates self-esteem, empowerment, and self-approval in him- or herself.” (p. 2) She included numerous self-assessing questions that helped me understand my own morality, competency, and ethical viewpoints. Understanding my self-worth, self-esteem, and ethical principles will allow me to view client’s ethical dilemmas in a more empathic way. Previously, I attempted to take myself out of the equation and look at the client’s problem from their point of view. Now I am aware that everyone has their individual experiences, beliefs, morals, and insights. It is impossible for me to “walk in someone’s shoes” or even see something from a client’s viewpoint because that is not my lived experience. I can utilize preparatory empathy skills to formulate a plan to support them through challenging issues.

As a human, aspiring to be a licensed clinical social worker, I am passionate about advancing human rights and eradicating social injustices. Reading Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail resonated with me. One of the most powerful statements in that letter is, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (King 1963) King’s profound words immediately reminded me of what I think should be viewed as a modern civil rights issue: mass incarceration. Bryan Stevenson, attorney, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, and author of Just Mercy has saved one hundred forty wrongfully convicted Americans from death row. His unyielding dedication to serving a population that has lost their voice is a true inspiration to me. During a speaking engagement, Stevenson discussed multiple ideas King would want us to remember today. Stevenson stated:

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The first is that Americans can’t have justice if they are unwilling to get into close proximity to the people who are suffering. Dr. King could not march without going to Selma, he could not be an advocate unless he was willing to go to Albany, and he could not make a difference in the lives and spaces of this country without going to Birmingham. It was key to his philosophy and to his vision that justice requires proximity. (Landers, 2018)

Social workers are always in proximity to people who are suffering. Evoking change, instilling hope, and giving voice to the unheard and suffering have drawn me to this profession.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative’s website, “The United States incarcerates its citizens more than any other country. Mass incarceration disproportionately impacts the poor and people of color and does not make us safer.” Just Mercy, Stevenson’s TED Talk, and various interviews and articles with Stevenson have inspired me to learn all I can about criminal justice reform and the blemish on society our prison and criminal court system has become. In Mr. Stevenson’s TED Talk, he stated:

This country is very different today than it was 40 years ago. In 1972, there were 300,000 people in jails and prisons. Today, there are 2.3 million. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We have 7 million people on probation and parole. And mass incarceration, in my judgment, has fundamentally changed our world. In poor communities and communities of color, there is this despair, there is this hopelessness that is being shaped by these outcomes. One out of three black men between the ages of 18 and 30 is in jail, in prison, on probation or parole. Our system isn't just being shaped in these ways that seem to be distorting around race, they're also distorted by poverty. We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. (Stevenson, 2012)

These issues aren’t just race or poverty problems. They are social justice matters. These aren’t just issues for minorities or people experiencing poverty. They are all of our issues and I feel a strong urge to help fight this battle and to eradicate the despair and hopelessness Stevenson speaks of. Reading Just Mercy reminded me of the court system in the small rural county I am from. Stevenson states, “America's prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill.” (p. 186) Similarly, in November of last year, the Lexington Harold-Leader, reported a Circuit Court judge “ordered a 51-year-old man — poor, mentally ill, unable to read, with an extensive history of alcohol abuse — to act as his own defense lawyer.” These kinds of injustices go on significantly more than the general public realizes. As a social worker, I aspire to speak out and make a change in our criminal justice system. Leading by King’s and Stevenson’s example and simply reminding others that injustices in our prisons and courtrooms are a threat to justice everywhere feels like an ethical place to start.

After reflecting on this topic, talking with Dr. Biermann, and reading my colleague’s thoughts and ideas, I have a new understanding of values, morality, and biases. I was impacted by my peers’ sense of morality and hearing what shaped them. Many of my peers noted their family’s values impacting who they are today. I hold my family in the highest regard and often rely on my mom when I am doubting myself or need a reminder of what is important.

Many classmates also mentioned religion or spirituality shaping their morals and beliefs. I attended a catholic school where religion class and weekly mass were normalized. It seemed as if we didn’t have the freedom to believe any other way than what we were taught. Finally, after years of questioning and wondering about these ideas, I started college. There, I began to explore my spirituality and realized I didn’t have to conform to the beliefs that had been instilled in me. I have faith in something bigger than myself while also believing everyone should be loved despite their sexual preference, race, religion, or anything else. Having the self-awareness and insight to challenge some of these religious views has truly helped shape who I am.

“Knowing what makes one feel good about oneself is as important as knowing one’s prejudices and prejudgments.” (Abramson, 1996, p. 196) This statement struck a chord with me because I pride myself on being accepting, nonjudgmental, and open to everyone. At work, I like to think I view our patients as equals. I never want to be superior, talk down to, or minimize their thoughts. However, there is a small, hidden, internal bias inside of me that says, 'I don’t have these problems. I am different. I am better. I am more worldly. I am more experienced.” Looking at this now, I realize this is a bias, and deep down, it causes me to think our patients aren't the same as I am or they fall into a different life category that I can't identify with. Do I rationally feel that way? Of course not! But now, I can recognize this bias. Identifying it allows me to fight against it and be mindful of it when working with patients. When I was first exploring this, it made me feel terrible. Then I tried to examine it and understand that biases make me human and we all have them. Owning my biases and being mindful in my practice is imperative. Now I can focus on me, an empathic human aware of my biases, while concentrating on my ethical beliefs, leading to truly being a moral, person-centered, and supportive social worker.

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Just Mercy’ Narrative Essay. (2023, December 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/just-mercy-narrative-essay/
“Just Mercy’ Narrative Essay.” Edubirdie, 13 Dec. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/just-mercy-narrative-essay/
Just Mercy’ Narrative Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/just-mercy-narrative-essay/> [Accessed 21 Jun. 2024].
Just Mercy’ Narrative Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Dec 13 [cited 2024 Jun 21]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/just-mercy-narrative-essay/
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