#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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, as seen in the HBO documentary True Justice
“[Bryan Stevenson’s] dedication to fighting for justice and equality has inspired me and many others and made a lasting impact on our country.”—John Legend
SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING MICHAEL B. JORDAN AND JAMIE FOXX • Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Seattle Times • Esquire • 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.
Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction • Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction • Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award • Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize • Finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize • An American Library Association Notable Book
“Every bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird, and in some ways more so . . . a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields.”—David Cole, The New York Review of Books
“Searing, moving . . . Bryan Stevenson may, indeed, be America’s Mandela.”—Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
“You don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man. . . . The message of this book . . . is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.”—Ted Conover, The New York Times Book Review
“Inspiring . . . a work of style, substance and clarity . . . Stevenson is not only a great lawyer, he’s also a gifted writer and storyteller.”—The Washington Post
“As deeply moving, poignant and powerful a book as has been, and maybe ever can be, written about the death penalty.”—The Financial Times
“Brilliant.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
|Publisher:||Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University Law School. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.
Read an Excerpt
The temporary receptionist was an elegant African American woman wearing a dark, expensive business suit—a well-dressed exception to the usual crowd at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC) in Atlanta, where I had returned after graduation to work full time. On her first day, I’d rambled over to her in my regular uniform of jeans and sneakers and offered to answer any questions she might have to help her get acclimated. She looked at me coolly and waved me away after reminding me that she was, in fact, an experienced legal secretary. The next morning, when I arrived at work in another jeans and sneakers ensemble, she seemed startled, as if some strange vagrant had made a wrong turn into the office. She took a beat to compose herself, then summoned me over to confide that she was leaving in a week to work at a “real law office.” I wished her luck. An hour later, she called my office to tell me that “Robert E. Lee” was on the phone. I smiled, pleased that I’d misjudged her; she clearly had a sense of humor.
“That’s really funny.”
“I’m not joking. That’s what he said,” she said, sounding bored, not playful. “Line two.”
I picked up the line.
“Hello, this is Bryan Stevenson. May I help you?”
“Bryan, this is Robert E. Lee Key. Why in the hell would you want to represent someone like Walter McMillian? Do you know he’s reputed to be one of the biggest drug dealers in all of South Alabama? I got your notice entering an appearance, but you don’t want anything to do with this case.”
“This is Judge Key, and you don’t want to have anything to do with this McMillian case. No one really understands how depraved this situation truly is, including me, but I know it’s ugly. These men might even be Dixie Mafia.”
The lecturing tone and bewildering phrases from a judge I’d never met left me completely confused. “Dixie Mafia”? I’d met Walter McMillian two weeks earlier, after spending a day on death row to begin work on five capital cases. I hadn’t reviewed the trial transcript yet, but I did remember that the judge’s last name was Key. No one had told me the Robert E. Lee part. I struggled for an image of “Dixie Mafia” that would fit Walter McMillian.
“ ‘Dixie Mafia’?”
“Yes, and there’s no telling what else. Now, son, I’m just not going to appoint some out-of-state lawyer who’s not a member of the Alabama bar to take on one of these death penalty cases, so you just go ahead and withdraw.”
“I’m a member of the Alabama bar.”
I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, but I had been admitted to the Alabama bar a year earlier after working on some cases in Alabama concerning jail and prison conditions.
“Well, I’m now sitting in Mobile. I’m not up in Monroeville anymore. If we have a hearing on your motion, you’re going to have to come all the way from Atlanta to Mobile. I’m not going to accommodate you no kind of way.”
“I understand, sir. I can come to Mobile, if necessary.”
“Well, I’m also not going to appoint you because I don’t think he’s indigent. He’s reported to have money buried all over Monroe County.”
“Judge, I’m not seeking appointment. I’ve told Mr. McMillian that we would—” The dial tone interrupted my first affirmative statement of the phone call. I spent several minutes thinking we’d been accidentally disconnected before finally realizing that a judge had just hung up on me.
I was in my late twenties and about to start my fourth year at the SPDC when I met Walter McMillian. His case was one of the flood of cases I’d found myself frantically working on after learning of a growing crisis in Alabama. The state had nearly a hundred people on death row as well as the fastest-growing condemned population in the country, but it also had no public defender system, which meant that large numbers of death row prisoners had no legal representation of any kind. My friend Eva Ansley ran the Alabama Prison Project, which tracked cases and matched lawyers with the condemned men. In 1988, we discovered an opportunity to get federal funding to create a legal center that could represent people on death row. The plan was to use that funding to start a new nonprofit. We hoped to open it in Tuscaloosa and begin working on cases in the next year. I’d already worked on lots of death penalty cases in several Southern states, sometimes winning a stay of execution just minutes before an electrocution was scheduled. But I didn’t think I was ready to take on the responsibilities of running a nonprofit law office. I planned to help get the organization off the ground, find a director, and then return to Atlanta.
When I’d visited death row a few weeks before that call from Robert E. Lee Key, I met with five desperate condemned men: Willie Tabb, Vernon Madison, Jesse Morrison, Harry Nicks, and Walter McMillian. It was an exhausting, emotionally taxing day, and the cases and clients had merged together in my mind on the long drive back to Atlanta. But I remembered Walter. He was at least fifteen years older than me, not particularly well educated, and he hailed from a small rural community. The memorable thing about him was how insistent he was that he’d been wrongly convicted.
“Mr. Bryan, I know it may not matter to you, but it’s important to me that you know that I’m innocent and didn’t do what they said I did, not no kinda way,” he told me in the meeting room. His voice was level but laced with emotion. I nodded to him. I had learned to accept what clients tell me until the facts suggest something else.
“Sure, of course I understand. When I review the record I’ll have a better sense of what evidence they have, and we can talk about it.”
“But . . . look, I’m sure I’m not the first person on death row to tell you that they’re innocent, but I really need you to believe me. 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—”
His lip began to quiver, and he clenched his fists to stop himself from crying. I sat quietly while he forced himself back into composure.
“I’m sorry, I know you’ll do everything you can to help me,” he said, his voice quieter. My instinct was to comfort him; his pain seemed so sincere. But there wasn’t much I could do, and after several hours on the row talking to so many people, I could muster only enough energy to reassure him that I would look at everything carefully.
I had several transcripts piled up in my small Atlanta office ready to move to Tuscaloosa once the office opened. With Judge Robert E. Lee Key’s peculiar comments still running through my head, I went through the mound of records until I found the transcripts from Walter McMillian’s trial. There were only four volumes of trial proceedings, which meant that the trial had been short. The judge’s dramatic warnings now made Mr. McMillian’s emotional claim of innocence too intriguing to put off any longer. I started reading.
Even though he had lived in Monroe County his whole life, Walter McMillian had never heard of Harper Lee or To Kill a Mockingbird. Monroeville, Alabama, celebrated its native daughter Lee shamelessly after her award-winning book became a national bestseller in the 1960s. She returned to Monroe County but secluded herself and was rarely seen in public. Her reclusiveness proved no barrier to the county’s continued efforts to market her literary classic—or to market itself by using the book’s celebrity. Production of the film adaptation brought Gregory Peck to town for the infamous courtroom scenes; his performance won him an Academy Award. Local leaders later turned the old courthouse into a “Mockingbird” museum. A group of locals formed “The Mockingbird Players of Monroeville” to present a stage version of the story. The production was so popular that national and international tours were organized to provide an authentic presentation of the fictional story to audiences everywhere.
Sentimentality about Lee’s story grew even as the harder truths of the book took no root. The story of an innocent black man bravely defended by a white lawyer in the 1930s fascinated millions of readers, despite its uncomfortable exploration of false accusations of rape involving a white woman. Lee’s endearing characters, Atticus Finch and his precocious daughter Scout, captivated readers while confronting them with some of the realities of race and justice in the South. A generation of future lawyers grew up hoping to become the courageous Atticus, who at one point arms himself to protect the defenseless black suspect from an angry mob of white men looking to lynch him.
Today, dozens of legal organizations hand out awards in the fictional lawyer’s name to celebrate the model of advocacy described in Lee’s novel. What is often overlooked is that the black man falsely accused in the story was not successfully defended by Atticus. Tom Robinson, the wrongly accused black defendant, is found guilty. Later he dies when, full of despair, he makes a desperate attempt to escape from prison. He is shot seventeen times in the back by his captors, dying ingloriously but not unlawfully.
Walter McMillian, like Tom Robinson, grew up in one of several poor black settlements outside of Monroeville, where he worked the fields with his family before he was old enough to attend school. The children of sharecroppers in southern Alabama were introduced to “plowin’, plantin’, and pickin’ ” as soon as they were old enough to be useful in the fields. Educational opportunities for black children in the 1950s were limited, but Walter’s mother got him to the dilapidated “colored school” for a couple of years when he was young. By the time Walter was eight or nine, he became too valuable for picking cotton to justify the remote advantages of going to school. By the age of eleven, Walter could run a plow as well as any of his older siblings.
Times were changing—for better and for worse. Monroe County had been developed by plantation owners in the nineteenth century for the production of cotton. Situated in the coastal plain of southwest Alabama, the fertile, rich black soil of the area attracted white settlers from the Carolinas who amassed very successful plantations and a huge slave population. For decades after the Civil War, the large African American population toiled in the fields of the “Black Belt” as sharecroppers and tenant farmers, dependent on white landowners for survival. In the 1940s, thousands of African Americans left the region as part of the Great Migration and headed mostly to the Midwest and West Coast for jobs. Those who remained continued to work the land, but the out-migration of African Americans combined with other factors to make traditional agriculture less sustainable as the economic base of the region.
By the 1950s, small cotton farming was becoming increasingly less profitable, even with the low-wage labor provided by black sharecroppers and tenants. The State of Alabama agreed to help white landowners in the region transition to timber farming and forest products by providing extraordinary tax incentives for pulp and paper mills. Thirteen of the state’s sixteen pulp and paper mills were opened during this period. Across the Black Belt, more and more acres were converted to growing pine trees for paper mills and industrial uses. African Americans, largely excluded from this new industry, found themselves confronting new economic challenges even as they won basic civil rights. The brutal era of sharecropping and Jim Crow was ending, but what followed was persistent unemployment and worsening poverty. The region’s counties remained some of the poorest in America.
Walter was smart enough to see the trend. He started his own pulpwood business that evolved with the timber industry in the 1970s. He astutely—and bravely—borrowed money to buy his own power saw, tractor, and pulpwood truck. By the 1980s, he had developed a solid business that didn’t generate a lot of extra money but afforded him a gratifying degree of independence. If he had worked at the mill or the factory or had had some other unskilled job—the kind that most poor black people in South Alabama worked—it would invariably mean working for white business owners and dealing with all the racial stress that that implied in Alabama in the 1970s and 1980s. Walter couldn’t escape the reality of racism, but having his own business in a growing sector of the economy gave him a latitude that many African Americans did not enjoy.
That independence won Walter some measure of respect and admiration, but it also cultivated contempt and suspicion, especially outside of Monroeville’s black community. Walter’s freedom was, for some of the white people in town, well beyond what African Americans with limited education were able to achieve through legitimate means. Still, he was pleasant, respectful, generous, and accommodating, which made him well liked by the people with whom he did business, whether black or white.
Walter was not without his flaws. He had long been known as a ladies’ man. Even though he had married young and had three children with his wife, Minnie, it was well known that he was romantically involved with other women. “Tree work” is notoriously demanding and dangerous. With few ordinary comforts in his life, the attention of women was something Walter did not easily resist. There was something about his rough exterior—his bushy long hair and uneven beard—combined with his generous and charming nature that attracted the attention of some women.
Walter grew up understanding how forbidden it was for a black man to be intimate with a white woman, but by the 1980s he had allowed himself to imagine that such matters might be changing. Perhaps if he hadn’t been successful enough to live off his own business he would have more consistently kept in mind those racial lines that could never be crossed. As it was, Walter didn’t initially think much of the flirtations of Karen Kelly, a young white woman he’d met at the Waffle House where he ate breakfast. She was attractive, but he didn’t take her too seriously. When her flirtations became more explicit, Walter hesitated, and then persuaded himself that no one would ever know.
After a few weeks, it became clear that his relationship with Karen was trouble. At twenty-five, Karen was eighteen years younger than Walter, and she was married. As word got around that the two were “friends,” she seemed to take a titillating pride in her intimacy with Walter. When her husband found out, things quickly turned ugly. Karen and her husband, Joe, had long been unhappy and were already planning to divorce, but her scandalous involvement with a black man outraged Karen’s husband and his entire family. He initiated legal proceedings to gain custody of their children and became intent on publicly disgracing his wife by exposing her infidelity and revealing her relationship with a black man.
For his part, Walter had always stayed clear of the courts and far away from the law. Years earlier, he had been drawn into a bar fight that resulted in a misdemeanor conviction and a night in jail. It was the first and only time he had ever been in trouble. From that point on, he had no exposure to the criminal justice system.
When Walter received a subpoena from Karen Kelly’s husband to testify at a hearing where the Kellys would be fighting over their children’s custody, he knew it was going to cause him serious problems. Unable to consult with his wife, Minnie, who had a better head for these kinds of crises, he nervously went to the courthouse. The lawyer for Kelly’s husband called Walter to the stand. Walter had decided to acknowledge being a “friend” of Karen. Her lawyer objected to the crude questions posed to Walter by the husband’s attorney about the nature of his friendship, sparing him from providing any details, but when he left the courtroom the anger and animosity toward him were palpable. Walter wanted to forget about the whole ordeal, but word spread quickly, and his reputation shifted. No longer the hard-working pulpwood man, known to white people almost exclusively for what he could do with a saw in the pine trees, Walter now represented something more worrisome.
Fears of interracial sex and marriage have deep roots in the United States. The confluence of race and sex was a powerful force in dismantling Reconstruction after the Civil War, sustaining Jim Crow laws for a century and fueling divisive racial politics throughout the twentieth century. In the aftermath of slavery, the creation of a system of racial hierarchy and segregation was largely designed to prevent intimate relationships like Walter and Karen’s—relationships that were, in fact, legally prohibited by “anti-miscegenation statutes” (the word miscegenation came into use in the 1860s, when supporters of slavery coined the term to promote the fear of interracial sex and marriage and the race mixing that would result if slavery were abolished). For over a century, law enforcement officials in many Southern communities absolutely saw it as part of their duty to investigate and punish black men who had been intimate with white women.
Although the federal government had promised racial equality for freed former slaves during the short period of Reconstruction, the return of white supremacy and racial subordination came quickly after federal troops left Alabama in the 1870s. Voting rights were taken away from African Americans, and a series of racially restrictive laws enforced the racial hierarchy. “Racial integrity” laws were part of a plan to replicate slavery’s racial hierarchy and reestablish the subordination of African Americans. Having criminalized interracial sex and marriage, states throughout the South would use the laws to justify the forced sterilization of poor and minority women. Forbidding sex between white women and black men became an intense preoccupation throughout the South.
In the 1880s, a few years before lynching became the standard response to interracial romance and a century before Walter and Karen Kelly began their affair, Tony Pace, an African American man, and Mary Cox, a white woman, fell in love in Alabama. They were arrested and convicted, and both were sentenced to two years in prison for violating Alabama’s racial integrity laws. John Tompkins, a lawyer and part of a small minority of white professionals who considered the racial integrity laws to be unconstitutional, agreed to represent Tony and Mary to appeal their convictions. The Alabama Supreme Court reviewed the case in 1882. With rhetoric that would be quoted frequently over the next several decades, Alabama’s highest court affirmed the convictions, using language that dripped with contempt for the idea of interracial romance:
The evil tendency of the crime [of adultery or fornication] is greater when committed between persons of the two races. . . . Its result may be the amalgamation of the two races, producing a mongrel population and a degraded civilization, the prevention of which is dictated by a sound policy affecting the highest interests of society and government.
Excerpted from "Just Mercy"
Copyright © 2014 Bryan Stevenson.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Higher Ground 3
Chapter 1 Mockingbird Players 19
Chapter 2 Stand 35
Chapter 3 Trials and Tribulation 47
Chapter 4 The Old Rugged Cross 67
Chapter 5 Of the Coming of John 92
Chapter 6 Surely Doomed 115
Chapter 7 Justice Denied 127
Chapter 8 All God's Children 147
Chapter 9 I'm Here 163
Chapter 10 Mitigation 186
Chapter 11 I'll Fly Away 203
Chapter 12 Mother, Mother 227
Chapter 13 Recovery 242
Chapter 14 Cruel and Unusual 256
Chapter 15 Broken 275
Chapter 16 The Stone catchers* Song of Sorrow 295
Author's Note 317
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A special thank you to Random House and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, a powerful, inspiring story and journey of one man’s fight, Bryan Stevenson. Beginning as an intern at Atlanta-based Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in 1983, which would connect and lead him on a path which would not only change his life, but history, and others who needed him desperately to be their voice, in a poor and inadequate criminal justice system. Wow, this is one powerful book, I devoured! As a former whistleblower in one the first SOX cases in the US making it to the federal level in an unprecedented law, I am all about justice and helping those who cannot help themselves, in order to set a precedent and change the course of history. However, unfortunately with any fight, comes obstacles, challenges, time, and despair, as there are some who do not wish misdeeds to be uncovered and brought front and center. Totally captivating, a book, you will not be able to put down. Readers learn the story of Walter McMillian, a black man from southern Alabama, who was accused by a white con-main of two murders, although the snitch had never even met him and was under investigation himself for one of the murders! Through a series of bogus legal situations, police harassment, racism, and phony testimony, McMillian found himself on Alabama’s death row, which unfortunately happened often with poor Southern blacks susceptible to wrongful imprisonment and execution. Fortunately, Stevenson’s persistent efforts, spared this man. As you read, you may think you are reading a work of fiction (similar to the recent book, which I loved, and recommend, The Color of Justice by Ace Collins ; however, Just Mercy, is real, true to life, even though as suspenseful and intense as fiction; it is a non-fiction sad account, which clearly voices the flaws in our American justice system. My heart goes out to Stevenson, as in any fight of this nature, the personal crisis suffered when fighting for equality, power, and justice, as emotionally profound. Bryan Stevenson is a hero, an influential crusader for justice today, and deserves to be supported for his work, and his courage in the writing of this extraordinary memoir. I hope all Americans will support him and his cause, and be a voice to help our country -A positive message for us all with the power to transform. Well Done. Highly Recommend!
I was on edge a good deal of the time while reading Just Mercy, much as I would be while reading a legal thriller, only these were accounts of actual people, actual trials, actual tragedies. Victims of wrongful condemnation. Incarcerated women and children abused behind prison walls. Racism, classism, and other -isms that feed off of insecurity, ignorance, fear. Oh, I was previously aware, on a modest level, of the kind of inequities that Bryan Stevenson’s book brings to light concerning the nation’s criminal justice system, so there wasn’t anything particularly shocking here for me. But my conviction around humanity’s ongoing need for empathy and compassion was strengthened while reading through this compelling, and many times heartbreaking, account. Stevenson’s work makes it quite clear that there’s so much more to be done to advance justice and mercy, which we all need. Yet, even incremental victories bring us closer to something better, and this book’s power is in its carrying and conveying the hope that better is indeed possible when we believe and work for it. This should prove to be a timely narrative for millions of people. __________________ I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program for an honest review.
If you think America's justice system is fair, think again. Bryan Stevenson has spent his life trying to right the horrible wrongs our justice system has inflicted on people. People who also happen to be poor and/or people of color. Bryan Stevenson is my new personal hero. His dedication to helping others is immeasurable. His message that we Americans need to show a little mercy on our fellow Americans is one that needs to spread throughout the country.
I have just finished this book and it absorbed my attention from the first page. I am an older reader and wonder if I will ever get over the wonder of what horror people can inflict on others. Not only mistakes, but willful actions of people in power. A fiction novel couldn't make more of the drama of real life.
This book is incredible. An eye opening story about the abuse and mistreatment of fellow humans and the corruption in our legal system. I applaud Bryan Stevenson for his devotion to helping others.
Amazing. This book captivates you in the first chapter and never let's go.
“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson is about the complete disregard for humanity which occurs in the American justice system. Stevenson stated very early on in the text that , "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, a system in which thousands of innocent people now suffer in prison." Our criminal justice system, is a system in which it condemns children to life imprisonment without parole for crimes their young minds could barely comprehend, a system that makes petty theft a crime as serious as killing someone, and a system that has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people with substance abuse problems by denying them help and leaving them to suffer immensely. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, they are a group of lawyers that offers free legal services to the poor and underprivileged. His book gives you a stark look at the criminal justice system, from the view of people that are affected by this stark and sorrowing reality. This story will take you through many stories of people in the justice system that have suffered due to our countries poor prison conditions. It also tell the harrowing truth of racism in America, and how minorities were persecuted harsher than most.
Amazing book. Well written. You really think feel the plight of Mr. Stevenson's clients. I was almost in tears several times throughout the book.
Bryan Stevenson is an inspiration. His story is both touching and frustrating, but his message is one our country needs today. As his grandmother taught him, you have to get close to feel and understand. Closeness breeds empathy and we can all use more empathy and be more emphatic towards our fellow humans, no matter their circumstance. Thank you Attorney Stevenson
The world in which we live can be changed forever and by far for the better if the powerful truth and compassionate wisdom shared in this remarable book is taken to heart because it reveals the core of what continues to kill America's opportunity to become a great country.
I truly enjoyed reading this book. It had the powerful impact of changing my perspective and providing an education on a topic I knew little about. I will encourage my friends and family to read Just Mercy in the hopes that society will soften its ideas about convicted people and push for reform in our justice system. Thank you Bryan Stevenson, for the work that you and the EJI do to make our country a better place.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson takes an in depth look into the difficult lives of black men on death row. Bryan Stevenson, an attorney for inmates on death rows, grew up poor in a racially segregated area. Stevenson has an inborn sense of justice for those in need and assists those who’re sentenced for death row trying to get the inmates a lesser sentence. Throughout the story, the reader get’s a descriptive and vivid look into what the life of a death row inmate. Powerful imagery and raw emotion are used to convey what it was truly like for Stevenson and the death row inmates. Stevenson explores how corrupt the United States judicial system was and how racial inequality shaped the way people were sentenced. The most influential aspect of Stevenson’s story was how this one specific case that he worked on transformed his views and understanding of mercy and justice as a whole. The way Stevenson shares his story makes his experience that much more powerful and meaningful which, in my opinion, makes Just Mercy an excellent book to read.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson is unlike any other book I have read. Stevenson, a defense attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, shares his experiences helping the poor, the wrongly condemned, women, children, and minorities trapped in jails and prisons. The chapters alternate between the stories of these people and Walter McMillian’s story. As a young man, McMillian was sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, and may have faced the electric chair if not for the help of Stevenson. These inspiring, true events reveal how flawed the criminal justice system is, and the immeasurable power of mercy. Although Stevenson’s commitment to helping people who are unable to help themselves has and continues to affect the lives of thousands of people, perhaps most notable is his involvement with the Walter McMillian case. McMillian, held on death row for 6 years, was accused of murdering a young woman, Ronda Morrison. Despite numerous witnesses claiming that Walter was at a fish fry during the time of the murder, the evidence was ignored and the judge imposed the death penalty. Walter’s attitude throughout his time on death row and after his exoneration show a man worthy of praise and commendation; although he was without doubt bitter about his years wasted in prison, Stevenson describes Walter as keeping a relatively positive attitude and not giving up, even when things became difficult or seemed grim. Not only was McMillian a source of inspiration, but obviously Stevenson was as well. He created EJI even though he struggled to keep up with all his cases and pay the bills, and chose to make a positive difference in people’s lives despite the stress and hardships that it would sometimes cause him. The work that Stevenson has done for less well-known people abused by the criminal justice system is also noteworthy. He exposes the problems that currently plague our prisons, such as children who go to adult prisons or received adult sentences, racial injustice, and mass incarceration. The tone in which Stevenson writes is truly inspiring, and encourages readers to become aware of the issues that we face as a country and to help others and make a change. Many chapters had me sighing in frustration or feeling frustrated defeat for the accused people to which sometimes, little can be done for. Stevenson’s writing not only discusses important and controversial topics, but also makes readers take a stand on them. For example, Just Mercy describes some of the disturbing realities of the death penalty, and asks readers to think upon the benefits of showing compassion to those who have done wrong and are weak. Although I wasn’t expecting a lot when I first picked this book up, I was stunned by Stevenson’s call to readers to be just yet merciful to those who need it most. I would recommend giving this book a read, because not only is it incredibly inspiring and well-written, but it makes you reflect on how to heal the world which we live in.
I am what you would call an avid reader and one of my favorite type of books to read is one where you learn something. I learned a great deal from reading “Just Mercy”! It’s one of the most interesting if not also heart rending books I’ve read this year. Mr. Stevenson is a lawyer by trade and he “founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system.”* In this memoir of a sort, he tells us the stories of some of his most memorable cases. I was shocked by some of them and I know I should not have been. His organization was founded in the south where, sadly, racism is still wide spread. Being from the liberal North East USA, I am always disgusted and outraged to see that despite all of the work of Martin Luther King Jr and those that came after him as well as before him to establish equal rights for all the people in this country….well it is 2017, reader, and the fight continues. Everyone needs to read this book. It will wake you up. One of the facts he mentioned that stuck with me the most is that the USA is currently ranked #5 in the Highest Infant Mortality Rates by Country in a survey performed by the World Health Organization (WHO). I was completely shocked when I read that. We are not a third world country! But the fact remains that there are people in this country that still do not have access to healthcare. It’s time to change that. The World is watching the USA and things need to start changing. And that is exactly what Bryan Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative (www.eji.org) are trying to do. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. Another must read! *Excerpted from back of book. Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
My Church is using this as a current book to have a discussion group with this book. I've been drawn into it. Our discussions have been very lively
A most informative read.
READ THIS BOOK!! Bringing up issues remotely related to politics is always a tricky situation. It’s hard. It isn’t easy. But, my call to be the light is far more powerful than the fear of “ruffling” feathers of those who follow my ramblings (and thank you for hanging out with me!). Because I believe story is powerful and if we aren’t willing to talk about these stories, especially as believers, we are missing out on being leaders and light to the world. “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin So with that, I present a book I will recommend to anyone and everyone. You know those books that light, stir or blast full flames onto an already existing fire? This is one such book. I’ll warn you, a lot of this book doesn’t leave you with warm fuzzy feelings, but instead lots of anger at injustice. (And if you read it and it doesn’t, then that’s another conversation for us to have) But. This is a story too important not to tell, to read and to pass along because there is good and hope in this world. “Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument.” Reinhold Niebuhr The story itself will captive your attention, with Stevenson deftly weaving history, the case and other important stories. The story of Walter McMillian feels like a novel, that it couldn’t possibly have happened how it did, but this story was true and you’ll be inspired by the work and hope that comes from Stevenson. There’s a lot of work to be done, but stories like this encourage to keep moving forward and fighting the good fight. When blatant corruption exists, mentally ill aren’t given treatment (and instead jailed), when states can legally try 13 year olds as adults and give them life in prison without parole (example, by 2010, “Florida had sentenced more than a hundred children to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, several of whom were thirteen years old at the time of the crime. All of the youngest condemned children – thirteen or fourteen years of ago – were black and Latino. Florida had the largest population in the world of children condemned to die in prison for non-homicides.”), there is something desperately and morally wrong. “Our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis of our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.” Thomas Merton Here’s a few more quotes: “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.” “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.” “It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent – strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering.” “We have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.” Read more at http://booksandbeverages.org/2017/01/05/just-mercy-bryan-stevenson-book-review/
Had no idea the justice system in our country was and is still unjust in its treatment of non-white, poor, or juveniles, being sent to life imprisonment without parole with no chance for rehabilitation.
This is just an awesome story of a lawyer who made it his life’s work to fight for the underdog and do all he can to get them justice. He started a non-profit legal office in Alabama to help people in need of serious legal help like those facing execution, the wrongly convicted, teens sentenced to die in prison and others. He spends long hours working, searching for funding, visiting prisoners, and working on cases. After you get so far in the book, you can see why it’s won several awards, and they are making a movie about this man’s story with top actors, due out in January. The book is well-written and flows easily. I had a hard time putting it down and forcing myself to go to sleep, even after staying up past dawn reading it. He shares different cases he worked on and some things that went on during some that were pretty crazy. I couldn’t help but be moved by it, amazed by it, and impressed by it. It’s a great biogragraphy with a lot of legal discussion.
Loved this book.
Well worth your time.