Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 7

Zuniga 1

Mariela Zuniga

Professor Lasley

16 November 2018

Capital Punishment’s Crime

The implications of time, social class, and language in writing are all topics that Amy

Robillard discusses in her article, “It's Time for Class: Toward a More Complex Pedagogy of

Narrative.” Her purpose in this article is essentially to manifest the idea that lower class students

in a college classroom setting are often prevented from developing their form due to the fact that

their writing style is not up to par with their middle class counterparts. Narratives, an analytical

strategy whose significance tends to be dismissed or ignored, are typically used by students who

have not had the privilege of learning traditional methods of analyzation- the accepted ones at

least. Thus, they are more likely to be left behind by the rigor of the composition. Much like the

students that Robillard focuses on, Bryan Stevenson in his novel “Just Mercy” highlights the

injustice that many individuals, predominantly people of color and of low socioeconomic

backgrounds, face at the hand of the American justice system. The negligent professors are

analogous to the even more negligent Judiciaries and prosecutors, meanwhile the students left

behind are analogous to the inmates who have fallen through the cracks, confined within the

borders of overcrowded prisons. Essentially, by using Robillard’s essay, we are able to

understand the repercussions of socioeconomic disparity within the American Justice system that

Stevenson communicates.

Robillard, throughout her essay argues that there are implications of social class within a

college classroom setting, where working class students are, more often than not, left behind by

an academic system that fails to facilitate their learning process. This can also be applied to the
Zuniga 2

prison system in our country seeing as how the majority of death row inmates, or inmates in

general, come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. “Presumptions of guilt, poverty, racial

bias, and a host of other social, structural, and political dynamics have created a system that is

defined by error…” (Stevenson 16) Just as race plays a large role in the incrimination of

individuals, the common denominator for inmates, whether brown or white, is their

socioeconomic status. The perpetuation of class distinctions are prevalent in Just Mercy seeing as

how many poor families trying to defend their loved ones often are simply not able due to

monetary restrictions. For example, one of the men who supported the exoneration of Walter

said, “We don’t have any money. We gave it all to the first lawyer” (Stevenson 98). Lower class

individuals are more likely to end up in prison due to the fact that many cannot afford to pay for

a lawyer, let alone an affluent one. “George’s lawyer said there would be no appeal because his

family didn’t have the money to pay for it” said regarding an innocent child on death row

(Stevenson 158). The inability to defend oneself as a result of insufficient funds demonstrates the

United States’s defective justice system, which prioritizes a person’s wealth over their humanity.

Stevenson furthers his argument that social class directly affects the livelihood of

individuals by discussing how the system targets and punishes those who cannot help themselves

financially. Along with not being able to pay for a lawyer or for the necessary appeals to prove

one’s innocence, the economically disadvantaged struggle with law enforcement, specifically the

mentally disabled. As Stevenson states, “The inability of many disabled, low-income people to

receive treatment or necessary medication dramatically increased their likelihood of a police

encounter that would result in jail time or prison time,” there is a disproportionate social

advantage for people with money where those without it have to suffer (Stevenson 188).

However, this social trend stretches far beyond the walls of a prison or jail cell; working class
Zuniga 3

students also have to suffer the consequences of not having learned the privileged form of

analysis as a result of their low social class. The educational system simply adds onto this

punishment by expecting them to adjust to the rigorous composition instead of allowing them to

develop their writing form through narratives. Robillard highlights this when she states, “Patricia

R. Webb argues that the reason narratives hold so little value in the academy is that ‘those in

authority have already determined how students should learn and how they will continue to

learn’” (76). This is why narratives are so important, because without them, people in all sectors

of the world cannot overcome the economic barrier they were born into.

Looking into a person’s past to understand their present situation is crucial in evaluating

their perception of reality (aka why they do the things that they do). This is made possible

through the use of storytelling and personal narratives; however, when an individual’s past

involves a flawed educational system coupled with economic instability, their ability to express

their past falters. As Robillard states, “we need to pay more attention to social class in

composition, but I think we need to pay attention to it in the classroom with the students we

teach-with all of the students we teach” (Robillard 79). Here, she encourages other instructors to

be more aware of the demographics their classroom is comprised of, in order to prevent people

from falling behind. The bigger issue that Robillard is indicating here is that people are still

falling through the cracks, primarily those who are economically deprived. Stevenson touches on

this issue when he describes the instances where inmates, like McMillian, are unable to absolve

themselves or even attempt to absolve themselves from their penalty. Some of the prisoners in

Just Mercy did not have the luxury of learning correct grammar or language beyond grade

school. Thus, there is a large educational gap within prison systems where prisoners are not able

to tell their stories, much less defend themselves through appealing their sentence. “When
Zuniga 4

Walter, who could barely read or write, failed to file the various pleadings, write, motions, and

lawsuits the other prisoners had advised him to file, they blamed him for his predicament,” and

cases like these are not uncommon (Stevenson 57). Prisoners’ educational background is almost

always disregarded even though it is one of the main reasons that they do not get the assistance

they so desperately need. As Robillard states, “The point of telling stories lies in how one moves

from what happened to what happens” (Robillard 81). Stories are intended to help people build

off of their past; thus, prisoners must reflect on their past in order to determine what their future

is going to look like in prison and out of prison after their sentence has been served. However,

when it comes to death row inmates, their future does not lie beyond the confinements of an

electric chair. “‘My life has been ruined! This lie they put on me is more than I can bear, and if I

don’t get help from someone who believes me-’” Here, Walter cries for help, because this

fabricated past of his is preventing him from living his life without the lingering gloom of death.

In her essay, Robillard extends her argument that there are class based implications in a

compositional writing setting to include the conceptions of time, “I want to establish that there

are different ways of conceiving of time and that these different ways of conceiving of time are

class-based” (Robillard 75). Specifically, she consistently mentions the idea of “delayed

gratification,” where students are encouraged to focus primarily on their future rather than linger

in their past (Robillard 75). Unfortunately, this idea completely disregards the fact that the

working class needs to build off of their past in order to create a future for themselves. This ties

into the varying perceptions of time that people from lower class backgrounds usually have in

comparison to their upper class counterparts. “Time is money,” as Robillard puts it, refers to the

idea that people comprising the working class are much more conscious of the time they have;

thus, delayed gratification dwindles because financial stability is never guaranteed (Robillard
Zuniga 5

85). However, there is no such thing as delayed gratification when you are an inmate in prison.

Time is the often the only possession of inmates when they are incarcerated, thus the only thing

they have to their name is the amount of years they have left to serve. It is commonplace in

America’s prison system to view every inmate as a dollar sign for thriving companies. In order to

line their pockets with money, “Private prison builders and prison service companies have spent

millions of dollars to persuade state and local governments to create new crimes, impose harsher

sentences, and keep more people locked up so that they can earn more profits.” (Stevenson 16)

The idea that delayed gratification is nonexistent in a prison setting is especially true for those on

death row, where all they have left to look forward to is their date of execution. Essentially, time

has a different significance of you are an inmate in prison, a person working to make ends meet,

or a thriving and successful businessman.

Regardless if you are a student writing an analytical paper or an inmate on death row

trying to appeal a capital punishment sentence, narratives are crucial in the evaluation of one’s

morality and intentions. In the case of Herbert Richardson, Stevenson attempted to fight for his

life, suggesting to the court that mental illnesses that Richardson suffered from should allot him a

space on a hospital bed rather than a space on “Yellow Mama,” Alabama’s electric chair. The

help was to no avail, since the justice system has yet to implement an effective way to reevaluate

the cases of death row inmates. Bryan Stevenson knew this, which is why he advocates for

reform and uses his education and intelligence to help those who had been failed by the unjust

justice system. He advocates for inmates by using his voice to tell their narratives and stories,

making the statistics of prisoners more real and impactful and preventing these individuals from

being othered by society. This method is stressed by Robillard in her essay, and rightfully so as
Zuniga 6

narratives tend to be unrecognized, which enables a person’s past to also be unrecognized and

deliberately ignored.

Works Cited

Robillard, Amy E. “It's Time for Class: Toward a More Complex Pedagogy of Narrative.”
College English, Vol. 66, No. 1, Special Issue: The Personal in Academic Writing (Sep., 2003),
pp. 74-92.

Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. First edition. New York:
Spiegel & Grau, 2014.
Zuniga 7