Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Publication Date: 2014
The Short Version:
The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative tells how he got started and some of his most compelling cases.
Why I Read It:
A friend of mine who is a bookseller in Montgomery, Alabama was talking about an event the bookstore where she works was hosting for the author. That got me started reading about it and I requested it from the library that same day.
From the publisher:
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.
This was a very powerful book. It made me angry about what can and has happened within the criminal justice system. It also made me thankful that organizations such as Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative exist and are doing what they can to right the wrongs perpetrated in the name of justice.
The book alternates between chapters telling the primary story of Walter McMillian and chapters devoted to many other cases he and his organization have represented. Not all of them are death penalty cases. Some are children sentenced to life without parole. Others are cases where people with clear mental health issues have been abandoned into the prison system.
The story of Walter McMillian reads like a mystery novel but because it all really happened it’s gut wrenching.
I learned a lot about things I didn’t want to know existed. Stevenson tells how he first became involved in working with death row prisoners and how changing the way sentencing and imprisonment are carried out became his passion.
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.
This is not an easy book to read but it’s also not completely depressing either. Stevenson and others have made great strides in changing things. But there is much work still to be done.