Official Synopsis from Amazon: A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
My copy came from: I borrowed the paperback from my mom!
Review: Shocking, disturbing, and powerful. A must-read.
Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy takes us deep into the prison system of the United States of America, and what he says in this book will break your heart. There are tales of young teens sentenced to life without parole, and tales of innocents being executed, or being placed on death row, with many of them being black, and also many of them being poor. Horrific details of the US prison system and the history of race relations in this country. And while I was reading, I was astonished. And then I remembered that this book isn’t fiction. It is truth, and I was overcome with sadness for my country and my fellow Americans who have been hurt by these atrocities.
Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.
Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who specializes in helping those on death row. I’d honestly never thought about it before, but the book states that prisoners on death row have difficultly getting lawyers, especially the prisoners who are poor. And many times you end up in prison based not on whether or not you did the crime, but as to how well your lawyer can argue your case. Which, when you are poor and unable to pay for a lawyer, shocking tales of cases that only last a few hours can be found. Besides death row prisoners, Bryan Stevenson helps those who have been sentenced to life without parole, many of them kids who are forever in the system because of one action when they were very young. And again, many of them are poor and/or mentally ill, with a breakdown in family and a lack of helpful resources.
One of the cases that Stevenson talks about here is that of Walter McMillian, a black man on death row who claims his innocence. Stevenson looks into the case, and what he finds is that Walter is telling the truth. He didn’t commit that crime. And what’s worse is that law enforcement knew it, and put him in prison anyways. Just Mercy details Stevenson’s journey to help Walter, and along the way talks about various other cases and stats that will break your heart.
We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.
Just Mercy was published in 2014, so many of the statistics are current and will shock you. Stevenson mainly focuses on cases in Alabama, but there are cases in California, Florida, and Pennsylvania as well. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in law and is a must-read for all Americans. Just Mercy should be taught in schools and everyone should read this as it details much of America’s difficult racial history and is eye-opening. Since the book is nonfiction, there are some dry sections to the book, but the overall message and statistics are important to read.
This is a difficult read as much of the subject matter is heartbreaking and powerful, but it is a necessary read as every American should know what is happening within our prison systems, which desperately need reform, and what has happened in the past.
Bottom Line: A must read. Go now and read this book.
Here’s a link to a TED Talk that Bryan Stevenson gave, “We Need To Talk About An Injustice“. Many of the points illustrated in the talk appear in his book. It’s about a 20 minute watch, but oh so important.
Have you read Just Mercy? What did you think?