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349 pages, Paperback
First published October 21, 2014
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
"He prayed to Jesus for hours beforehand, and accepted no food, drink or cigarettes on the night of the execution. In his final statement he expressed that he had been forgiven and had no hard feelings toward anyone, and asked for someone to tell his mother goodbye and that his soul was saved. DeVaughan underwent three 2,000 volt discharges between 12:31 and 12:42 AM. At the first 40-second jolt his body surged forward, a thin gray smoke flowed from under the electrode over his head, and the odor of burning flesh was apparent. After the second discharge, flames were seen on his leg, but he was still alive. After the third jolt, he was pronounced dead. Twenty were present as witnesses, included Moore's brother, George, who traveled from Coffeyville, Kansas and claimed a piece of DaVaughn's belt as a souvenir of his visit."(The Montgomery Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, (2002))
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken
“Just Mercy” has its quirks, though. Many stories it recounts are more than 30 years old but are retold as though they happened yesterday. Dialogue is reconstituted; scenes are conjured from memory; characters’ thoughts are channeled à la true crime writers: McMillian, being driven back to death row, 'was feeling something that could only be described as rage ... "Loose these chains. Loose these chains." He couldn’t remember when he’d last lost control, but he felt himself falling apart.' Stevenson leaves out identifying years, perhaps to avoid the impression that some of this happened long ago. He also has the defense lawyer’s reflex of refusing to acknowledge his clients’ darker motives. A teenager convicted of a double murder by arson is relieved of agency; a man who placed a bomb on his estranged girlfriend’s porch, inadvertently killing her niece, “had a big heart.”
"Well, I have a law project called the Equal Justice Initiative, and we're trying to help people on death row. We're trying to stop the death penalty, actually. We're trying to do something about prison conditions and excessive punishment. We want to free people who've been wrongly convicted. We want to end unfair sentences in criminal cases and stop racial bias in criminal justice. We're trying to help the poor and do something about indigent defense and the fact that people don't get the legal help they need. We're trying to help people who are mentally ill. We're trying to stop them from putting children in adult jails and prisons. We're trying to do something about poverty and the hopelessness that dominates poor communities. We want to see more diversity in decision-making roles in the justice system. We're trying to educate people about racial history and the need for racial justice. We're trying to confront abuse of power by police and prosecutors —" I realized that I had gone on way too long, and stopped abruptly.
Ms. Parks leaned back, smiling. "Ooooh, honey, all that's going to make you tired, tired, tired."
“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. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it's necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”There are many excellent articles and books on the subject of America’s prisons but nothing that will touch your heart more profoundly than the stories that Bryan Stevenson tells. Highly recommended.
“… the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to kill?”
...the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.