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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

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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.

349 pages, Paperback

First published October 21, 2014

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About the author

Bryan Stevenson

22 books2,596 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 23,707 reviews
Profile Image for John Grisham.
Author 414 books73.8k followers
October 15, 2014
Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God's work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.
Profile Image for Jennifer Masterson.
200 reviews1,103 followers
October 24, 2016
Re-read. This time via audio. Bryan Stevenson is in the Netflix documentary the 13th. I just watched it. I highly recommend it!

I'm late to the party so there is not much for me to say about this book that has not already been said. What I will say is that This is a Very Important Book! If you have not read it you must!!! It should be required reading for high school. I had no idea the injustice that occurred in this country when it came to death row. I live in a state in which the death penalty was abolished. I still can't get it out of my head that a judge in Alabama can override a jury's verdict for life in prison to a death sentence to this very day!

Bryan Stevenson is an incredible man for all that he has done for death row inmates. They are making this into a movie. I'm so glad they are!

Put it at the very very top of your to read list! It's that important!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,850 reviews34.9k followers
January 10, 2020
UPDATE....
I just stepped out of the theater seeing this film!!!
It’s absolutely extraordinary… Incredible…
I can’t recommend it highly enough. I hope it wins best picture of the year… Best actors… Best everything!!!!!

Bring Kleenex!!!
HONESTLY....
.....it was DEEPLY POWERFUL!!!!


“We must 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".

"Capital murder requires an intent to kill, and there was a persuasive argument that there was no intent to kill in this case and that poor healthcare had caused the victims death.
Most gunshot victims don't die after nine months, and it was surprising that the state was seeking the death penalty in this case."
INJUSTICE!!!!

Bryan Stevenson's book "JUST MERCY. A Story of Justice and Redemption" is written by a sincere caring man... ( HE WALKS THE WALK THAT HE TALKS).

A couple of years ago I read "The New Jim Crow": MASS INCARCERATION in the Age of
Colorblindness. It was maybe the most revolutionary book -- ( an opening for transformation),
to date on the subject...but I had such a challenging time getting past the authors style of writing. Her delivery was very harsh...very cold .. and she seemed to be bitching half the time
of not wanting to writ the book...( busy with her kids at home), and making 'me' feel wrong.
I felt attacked at times ...and didn't appreciate her 'delivery'. At the same time 80% of the people in my local book club, ( 30 people), thought her book was the greatest book to date on this subject.
Maybe it was.

Yet... I think THIS book shows MUCH MORE sincere heart and compassion. Barry Stevenson is
Sensitive - caring .....and there is nothing egotistical about it

The stories in here can make you tremble- and cry. It's a sad disturbing fact of our life...
People have been sexually and physically abused as children, poor medical care for victims, drug addictions, trauma, humiliation, wrongly accused... ( dangers & dysfunctions in our prisons)...
We live in a society 'still', with injustice, ignorance, and bigotry. People are fearful and angry.

Many blessings - ( THANK YOU ...THANK YOU.. *Bryan*), for your life dedication and work.
Not many people would do the work that he does. It's not only this book which is
AMAZING -- AMAZING... ( very easy & engaging to read), but it's Bryan's life work that
must be acknowledged.

Once again... "WE MUST REFORM A SYSTEM OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE THAT CONTINUES
TO TREAT PEOPLE BETTER IF THEY ARE RICH AND GUILTY THAN IN THEY ARE POOR
AND INNOCENT."

**Thank you to my several Goodreads friends who read this book before me... and sharing your
Thoughts... feelings ... ( pain & passion on this subject).
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 9 books863 followers
March 22, 2020
Compared to average white folk, I would consider myself more aware of, and sensitive to, the relentless injustices that plague our country. Still, this book got me fired up.

It’s pretty straight forward. Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer for Equal Justice Initiative, casually describes some of the situations he’s been in and cases he’s represented. His legal practice focuses on defending the wrongly condemned, unusually condemned, or otherwise victims of the state. Many of the cases described are the result of intentional racism, but many others are just examples of the disgusting criminal justice laws that continue to exist. Race isn’t always a factor. Children, women, poor whites, and many others are also mixed up in this world of capitalist imprisonment.

This isn’t a book solely on the bygone errors of 50+ years ago, although some history certainly plays into it. By and large it’s extremely current, extremely relevant, and horrifying.

Major kudos to Stevenson, by the way, for not degrading these accounts with personal rants. He doesn’t shy away from pointing out the blatant errors of our nation’s laws, but overall the book reads very calm. And I suppose that makes sense. For him, this is his daily life. Representing innocent people who may have spent decades behind bars or on death row is his bread and butter. It’s probably not even all that shocking to him any more that this happens.

To be fair, it’s probably not that shocking to persons of color either. These injustices are so common in marginalized communities that this isn’t new information. It’s just life. The best thing about this book is probably that it got popular enough that privileged classes are reading it. I think we probably all know that our criminal justice system is a joke, but until you start reading about the individual people destroyed by it, it’s hard to understand how deep the problems run.

The only slight negative I’ll say is that, structurally, it’s somewhat difficult to keep track of everyone. Walter is the main story, and I suspect the central focus in the movie (although I haven’t seen it yet), but intermixed with him are many others who sometimes jumble together. Listening to the audio version made it easier to keep track I think, and Bryan does a flawless job narrating his own book. But I have read some others critique the structure, and I would tend to agree with them on that.

Still, overall, a must-read. Even for those who think they already know how bad our system is.
Profile Image for Lawyer.
384 reviews822 followers
June 29, 2015
Just Mercy: Following the Road Less Taken

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption was chosen as a Group Read for June, 2015, by On the Southern Literary Trail. My special thanks to Jane, my good friend who nominated this selection.

 photo Stevenson_zpsjykyqcqm.jpg
Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson has written a compelling memoir with Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. This is an important work which should be read by any individual who is concerned with the concept of Justice and incidents of Injustice that merit compassion and mercy.

Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and its Executive Director, is a committed advocate opposed to the imposition of the death penalty, an advocate for unjustly imprisoned children, and an iconic American citizen at the forefront of discussing racism as reflected in the Judicial System. It is a book that will surprise you, shock you, and appall you. Simply put, read this book, one of the Ten most noted books of 2014 by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and numerous other literary reviews.

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


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption revolves around the case of an innocent man, Walter McMillian, a black man who had a white girl friend in Monroe County, Alabama, framed by the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and convicted by a Jury for the murder of a clerk in a dry cleaner's shop. Condemned to die. The Sheriff and the District Attorney ignored the evidence that exonerated him. Manufactured the dirty evidence that convicted him and placed him on death row. Incredibly, though no law provided for it, the Sheriff succeeded in McMillian being held on death row prior to trial within the Alabama penitentiary system. McMillian was held on death row for a total of six years.

 photo McMillian-Arms-Up_zpsf0wghyqp.jpg
Walter McMillian, Exonerated

Although the case occurs in the home town and county of Harper Lee, the community which has gained fame from Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, there is no Atticus Finch to implore the Jury, "For the love of God, do your duty."

Bryan Stevenson surfaces as a real life Atticus Finch who ultimately gathers the evidence, uncovers the chicanery and political machinations that imprisoned McMillian. Stevenson who was a young fledgling attorney not long out of law school. He has argued cases before the United States Supreme Court five times.

Walter McMillian is a man to cheer for. Stevenson is a man to be emulated by so many others in the Justice System. But Stevenson does not gleefully celebrate his victories, the exoneration of the innocent. A bubbling anger appears to roil within him at the injustices he has continued to attempt to right in those years following McMillian's exoneration.

That anger, for me, is understandable yet disturbing. I have to wonder if Stevenson bears a burden that prevents him from having faith in any system responsible for the administration of justice. Whether it is difficult for him to approach any adversary opposite the court room without feeling there is the possibility of fairness.

I was a prosecuting attorney for almost twenty-eight years. I spoke for vulnerable populations. Abused children, victims of sexual assault, both women and men who were undeniable victims of domestic violence. I directed our County's Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program for almost four years. I began the private practice of law and for nearly two years, represented children as a Guardian Ad Litem, and Adults charged with Criminal Offenses. The years finally took their toll. I am thankfully retired. The Equal Justice Initiative Office is only ninety odd miles away. I owe Bryan Stevenson a vist. Maybe a little volunteer work.

 photo Yellow-Mama_zpsoyhgg5xk.jpg
Alabama's Electric Chair, currently stored in the attic of Holman Prison.

Sunday Morning Coming Down: a Reader's Reflection

I'm having a most unusual Sunday morning. I'm listening to the music of Dale Watson, led there while contemplating Capital Punishment. I'm having a cup of coffee. I've been thinking. A lot.

Reading takes you on strange journeys.

"Yellow Mama" was the name given to Alabama's Electric Chair. Although the Alabama Legislature had authorized death by electrocution in 1923, there was no way to carry out that sentence until 1927.

 photo Kilby_zpssrypkuzp.jpg
Kilby Prison, 1922-1969, Montgomery County, Alabama

Alabama needed a way to electrocute Horace DeVaughan for a double murder committed in Birmingham. Inmate Ed Mason, an English cabinet maker by trade who was serving 60 years for theft and grand larceny, built Yellow Mama. The chair was painted with yellow paint from the nearby Highway Department. The same paint used to paint lane indicators on State roads. The inmates named the new chair.

While well built, the chair didn't work too well. On April 8, 1927, Horace DeVaughn was the first human being to experience "riding the lightning." It was a long ride.

"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))

Horace Devaughn was a black man. Two weeks later, Virgil Murphy, a veteran of World War I who was convicted in Houston County of murdering his wife, became the first white man electrocuted in the chair. Before the state's use of the electric chair, executions generally were carried out in the counties by hanging. (The Alabama Department of History and Archives)
 photo Tuscaloosa Old Jail_zps2mbzzvwk.jpg
Tuscaloosa County "Old Jail," where the gallows were

So here I am listening to music by a Birmingham, Alabama, native singing about sitting in that chair. Most of my professional career it was my duty to uphold the imposition of the death penalty. No easy burden. It's a lot to think about when you ask a man's jury of his peers to kill him. I have the utmost respect for Stevenson, though we would have been on opposite sides of the court room had we ever met in one.

I have tried my share of Capital cases. The verdicts in each case was guilty. However, the Jury's sentencing recommendation in all but one Life in Prison Without Parole. Those Defendants will never walk out of prison alive. Unless the Legislature changes the law regarding Life Without Parole. It's quite possible. The State is going broke. The prisons are overcrowded. There is a growing geriatric population in our prisons.

The law prevents an Alabama Prosecutor from telling a Jury that the Legislature could one day allow the possibility of parole in a Capital case. Were a Prosecuting Attorney do that, it would be reversible error.

In each Capital case I have tried, the Judge presiding followed the Jury's sentencing recommendation. In each case, I did not ask the Judge to override the Jury's recommendation. In my opinion the Jury had spoken. The verdict was Just. When the Jury recommended Mercy, I believed Justice had been done.

There is that one case, though. The case where I sought the death penalty, the verdict was guilty. I strenuously argued to the Jury that the only appropriate sentence was death. The Jury's recommendation was death. The Judge presiding imposed the death sentence. That was fourteen years ago. The case remains somewhere in the seemingly endless series of Appeals.

The Defendant murdered his two month old son. Beat and shook him to death. The child had two rib fractures on his chest. The child had eight rib fractures on his back. Picture holding a baby in front of you. Your thumbs gently resting on his chest, your fingers cradling each side of his back. The weight of the baby supported underneath his arms by the flesh between your thumbs and forefingers.

Think of the amount of force necessary to break the cartilaginous ribs of a two month old child. Consider it the same degree of force as the impact of two vehicles colliding each travelling at sixty miles an hour. Consider that the baby's brain was shaken so hard that his brain swelled within his soft skull to the degree the pressure became so great his brain shut down all autonomous nerve processes.

The verdict was just. I have no, absolutely no reason, to be ashamed of the verdict I sought, the sentence I sought. Yet I live with the fact I asked twelve men and women to kill another human being. It will bring you down. But it the life denied a child who will never have the opportunity to grow up that haunts me. I do believe there are cases where the denial of mercy is just.

But. There is always the possibility of a "But." I agree with almost every word Bryan Stevenson wrote.

Surprised?

Two Diverging Roads

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


Bryan Stevenson and I started out on the same road. Neither of us intended to become lawyers.

Each of us felt the compulsion to do something meaningful. As Mr. Stevenson decided he could not help others by continuing his studies in philosophy by philosophizing, I decided not to be a teacher of history, a professor of Classical languages, or even a psychologist, though I took my undergraduate degree in that field.

Actually, I attempted to bluff the Chair of the Department of Psychology into allowing me to undertake my graduate studies in his department a semester earlier. I told him, "Well, if no assistance-ships are available, I'll apply to Law School." It seemed a good idea at the time. I had been tutoring the daughter of a Law Professor in her Latin studies. When the Chair smiled and answered, "We must all do what we must do, Mr. Sullivan," I nodded, swallowed, left his office and applied for entrance to Law School.

I was offered a Graduate Assistant-ship by the Department of Psychology the same day I received my acceptance to the School of Law. In my youthfulness and arrogant pride I turned down the offer and entered the study of Law.

Bryan Stevenson and I also agree about the traditional Law School curriculum. It is esoteric, It is a tortuous experience being the victim of the "Socratic" method of teaching. Students of the law are drilled in the art of confrontation and argument. To me, the desire to "Win" and not "Lose" is instilled in the student of Law. And, therein, lies the danger of Hubris in an adversarial process where the possibility of pride overtakes principle.

Perhaps, I have greater faith in our Judicial system that Stevenson. Or, perhaps I have too much.

There is the point at which we took the road the other did not.

The Tragedy of Walter McMillan

The behavior of two Monroe County District Attorneys primarily contributed to Walter McMillian's conviction and unlawful imprisonment. There should be consequences. Sanctions. The paramount duty of a District Attorney is not to secure a conviction, but to do the right thing. As prosecutors, we are lawyers just as those who are engaged in the private practice of law. I sport a tee shirt that defines a Prosecutor as a lawyer held to a higher standard. I personally always believed that, practiced that.

On June 11, 2015, retired District Attorney Charles J. Sebesta, Jr. was disbarred by State Bar Association of Texas for professional misconduct in obtaining a conviction of Robert Graves for a Capital Murder of six people on the basis of testimony he knew to be perjured. Further, Sebesta flagrantly withheld evidence proving Graves innocence. As a result Graves, an innocent man, was imprisoned for eighteen years for a crime he didn't commit.

It has been fundamental constitutional law since 1963 that prosecutors have an absolute duty to disclose evidence exculpatory to the Defendant. In other words, evidence which might be favorable to the Defendant. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215) https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremeco....

In its opinion disbarring Sebesta, the Texas Bar Association found he had violated his ethical duty by: eliciting false testimony from Robert Carter, a Co-Defendant;

failing to disclose the exculpatory evidence of Carter’s statement the night before trial, clearing Graves’ of involvement in the crime;

eliciting false testimony from a Texas State Ranger regarding Carter’s statements about Graves’ involvement;

threatening an alibi defense witness with prosecution for the same murders, when he had no evidence to support her involvement, apparently causing her to decide not to testify on Graves’ behalf;

failing to disclose that a prosecution witness was under felony indictment by Sebesta’s office at the time of his testimony.

See http://www.prosecutorialaccountabilit... (2015).

That's simply as it should be. Stevenson's blistering memoir makes me cringe.

Bryant Stevenson attributes many of the problems he confronted to the lingering affects of slavery. Statistics do not lie. That racism exists is undeniable. Stating racism is the primary cause for the manner of imposition of Capital Punishment doesn't work for me. I initially intended to be a Defense Attorney. I cut my chops on the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. My legal literary mentors were Clarence Darrow, Louis Nizer, Melvin Belli and allen dershowitz.

My take on McMillian's case hinges on the base instinct to win at all costs. The very instinct to which law students are subjected throughout their education, whether that is the intent of Law Schools or not. It is a weakness of human nature to submit to the will to win whatever the cost.

Just Mercy isn't perfect. Following is an excerpt from the Sunday Review of Just Mercy, Ted Conover, The New York Times, October 17, 2014.

“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.”


William Faulkner sums it up for me.

“Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash: your picture in the paper nor money in the back either. Just refuse to bear them.”-Gavin Stevens, Intruder in the Dust, 1948.

Extras!

"Yellow Mama," Dale Watson, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y44B2...

"The Death of the Death Penalty," DAVID VON DREHLE, Time Magazine, May 28, 20i5" http://time.com/deathpenalty/

"The Death Penalty Information Center," http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/

"The Equal Justice Initiative," http://www.eji.org/














February 6, 2017
4 stars! What a powerful and inspiring book! Please note, if this was a review of the author, Bryan Stevenson's, career and life story, my rating would be 5+ stars. Words cannot adequately describe how I feel about this selfless man who has spent his career fighting for justice for those who need it most. My rating of 4 stars is simply my review of this book (which is obviously what this site is about). My impression of and respect for Bryan Stevenson as an individual is extremely high and would go well beyond a 4 star rating.

I felt like I was in a constant state of shock while reading the never-ending examples of case law describing people being mistreated and wrongly convicted due to racism and/or to appease law enforcement personnel and goals. I felt sickened reading about the abuse that happens to men, women and children within the prison system. The prison personnel sometimes doing things considered way worse (in my opinion) to these prisoners than what the prisoners were actually incarcerated for. I had a hard time accepting the statistics of how many children under the age of 18 get life sentences without parole for non-homicide crimes and end up being abused in adult prisons (some children only 13 or 14 years old). Add onto this, the overwhelmingly high percentage of prisoners who are mentally ill without a chance of getting the proper help they need within the prison system. And one of the main themes of the book, proved with endless examples, is the "criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent". While all of these examples and stories are shocking and upsetting, it was inspiring to learn that Bryan Stevenson was working toward making changes. 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." Bryan Stevenson's attitude, work ethic and goals were the "light" and positivity shining throughout this book. People like him are what make this world a better place!

I had to be in "full concentration mode" while reading this book as it is very factual, with a lot of statistics and examples. I needed time to fully absorb the details. While I felt these examples provided an eye-opening experience of how extremely unjust the U.S. Justice System can be, I also felt it was slightly overwhelming and hard to keep track of. At times, I felt lost in the case examples as they are referenced back to throughout the book. I understand why Bryan Stevenson would choose to bombard the reader with endless examples - this is what proves and solidifies his points and theories. It's just a lot to take in.

Overall, this was an informative, well-written account by a caring, driven and compassionate man. I think everyone could learn a thing or two from Bryan Stevenson.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
651 reviews825 followers
February 1, 2021
“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.”

Author Bryan Stevenson on Achieving Equal Justice

Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the U.S. justice system (or curious about why some people don’t feel they receive equal treatment under the law). In Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson presents what could be dry statistics or empty outrages as stories about real people. However, these stories aren’t just about people, but the towns and cities where horrible crimes were committed (sparking cries for justice) and the flawed mechanisms we have for delivering justice (from law enforcement to our courts). How can we as a country improve our justice system? This is something we should all consider if we care to strive for the ideals under which our country was founded. First, though, prepare to be angry. If you read this book (and you should), anger is nearly unavoidable. What to do with that anger is another question entirely. I would urge hope over fatalism and do everything possible to hold lawmakers accountable to fix our broken system.
Profile Image for Carol.
822 reviews477 followers
May 25, 2015
I often think that my grandparents and parents lived in interesting times. They saw so many things come about in their day. Theirs were exciting times. Women won the right to vote, slaves were freed, and medical advancements were plenty. It was the time of The Industrial Revolution, electricity, the telephone, planes, trains, and automobiles so to speak. I tend to downplay the important breakthroughs of my life and times, Television, Computers, a second industrial revolution of Technology, several wars, the quest for Space, and The Civil Rights Movement.

I have always gone back and forth in my opinion about capital punishment and the death penalty. The older I get, the more I read, the more I lean to the correctness and reasoning for its abolishment in our state. I haven’t come to this decision lightly; it’s a real struggle for me. Perhaps this conflict of soul is why books such as Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption interest me so much.

Bryan Stevenson didn’t start out walking the path to where he is today. While a student at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, he thought he might choose a career in music or sports. He majored in political science and philosophy and eventually decided on law school. While a student at Harvard in the early 80’s, Stevenson participated in an internship in Atlanta, Georgia with The Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC), relating to race and poverty. During this time he spent many hours seeking appeals for inmates on death row.

”I wasn’t prepared to meet a condemned man.”

"I had never seen the inside of a maximum security prison and certainly had never been on death row.”

Steve Bright, the head of the project, met his plane. He told Bryan

”Capital punishment means ‘them without the capital get the punishment.’ We can’t help people on death row without help from people like you.”

It came time for Stevenson to meet one of the men in a case they were working on. Can you imagine this inexperienced, twenty-three year old driving himself to this high security prison to meet with a man convicted of murder and sentenced to die? Stevenson knew little about capital punishment and had not taken a class in criminal procedure. He wasn’t even certain he wanted to be a lawyer or confident that he could make a difference in the race or poverty issues that motivated him thus far. It is here that his course is set and his lifetime work begins, even if he was not quite aware of the full impact as yet. His mission was to be to assure the inmate that he could not be executed anytime soon. He meets Henry and ends up apologizing, admitting he is just a law student. After the initial awkwardness they go on to talk for three hours about anything and everything. When it’s time to leave Henry just asks that Stevenson come back again. As Henry leaves the visitation room he sings a part of the hymn On Higher Ground:

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.


After finishing his degree, Stevenson begins taking on cases. One that is documented in detail is that of Walter McMillan, a black man accused of murdering a white woman. There are many others. In my experience of listening to the author narrate his book I couldn’t help but shake my head at the wrongness of many of the convictions. There were times when I had to stop listening and needed to wipe away the tears at man’s inhumanity to man. Mental illness, children tried as adults, poverty and race played a large part in many of the cases explored.

Joe Sullivan was one of the cases of a sentence of life imprisonment without parole given to a juvenile. Joe was just 13 when convicted in Florida to death. His case did not involve a killing, though it was a serious crime. In preparing Joe for his appeal trial Joe wants to recite a poem but can’t remember the last line. After much time he finally says

”Oh wait. I think the last line…actually, uh; I think the last line is just what I said. I think the last line is just “I’m a good person.”” So is Bryan Stevenson.

Another case reviewed is that of Louis Taylor, just 16, in a moment of poor choice visits a happy hour in a local hotel. An article in The Washington Post The State of Equality and Justice in America: The Presumption of Guilt outlines what happens after Taylor serves 42 years in prison.
Bryan Stevenson establishes The Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit in Montgomery, Alabama that represents wrongful convictions and has won many exonerations.

This is a book that will stay with me. It is an important book. Though I listened, I plan to purchase a hardbound edition for our local library. It is one we should own. I also plan to make a donation to The Equal Justice Initiative. That just seems right.

In the end it became more a matter of just justice than just mercy for me. That is all I wanted, Just Justice!






Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews319 followers
December 7, 2014

Well, I suspect it'll drag you kicking and screaming from your happy place, but I defy you to read Bryan Stevenson's remarkable Just Mercy and not come away affected in some way. If you are at all interested in racial and/or sociopolitical injustice, specifically as it applies to our country's (and more specifically, my adoptive home state, Alabama's) seriously flawed justice and penal systems, this is the book for you. Absolutely haunting, heartbreaking, and unforgettable.





Profile Image for Liz.
1,917 reviews2,353 followers
July 1, 2018

“Mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given.”


Let me be honest. I would never have picked this book to read on my own. But it was my church book club selection.

This is a powerful, scary book. A young black lawyer takes on death penalty appeal cases in Alabama. And he does this because Alabama didn’t provide public defenders for those appeal cases. The book delves into all the aspects of the legal system. It also speaks poignantly on the effects of the larger community when someone is unjustly found guilty. When “evidence, logic and common sense” are ignored it makes everyone question whom could be next. It puts to lie the idea we are a democracy as opposed to an elitist society. And don’t think it’s just the south. My home state, Pennsylvania, is cited for its laws on sentencing juveniles to life in prison. (Even after the US Supreme Court ruled life without parole couldn’t apply to juveniles, Pennsylvania said it didn’t apply to those already convicted. The State Supreme Court didn’t reverse that ruling until 2017).

Stevenson even describes his own run in with the Atlanta police department for doing nothing more than sitting in his car outside his apartment.

I read The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist earlier this year. These two books will shock and dismay you when you read the total incompetence or corruption of the southern police force. The fact that men can be found guilty when numerous witnesses place them somewhere else boggles the mind.

In the past, I have struggled with whether capital punishment was the correct outcome for the guilty. Too often, when a horrific crime happens, my attitude towards the killer is to “hang them high”. But this book has cemented in my mind that there are too many reasons that require me to be opposed to it. As Stevenson says, “the real question of capital punishment in this country is “Do we deserve to kill?””

This is a sad book and it is not an easy read. But I still highly recommend it. The existence of the Equal Justice Initiative does provide a bit of hope that there are individuals willing to give up a lucrative job to work on behalf of Justice and Mercy. They are the stonecatchers.

Profile Image for emma.
1,784 reviews42.9k followers
September 27, 2021
i love this book so much, it means the world to me, i would do anything for it, and i have the exact proof.

because one time a guy i was dating (who would prove to be supervillain-level evil, for unrelated reasons that would later reveal themselves) ghosted me.

while borrowing my (SIGNED!) copy of this book.

and when i realized months later that he still had it (long after i had already removed him on everything and deleted his number and paid a witch to cast a spell on him, as all healthy grown-ups do when they get over someone), i re-followed him on instagram.

but he didn't follow me.

so i had to make a group chat with him and my roommate in order to send him this request.

and then i had to SEE HIS STUPID FACE in order to retrieve it.

i did all that for this book. and i'd do it again!

this is a compelling, important, and well-written story. it is my go-to recommendation for writing on race, on the justice system, on systemic bigotry, and on the death penalty. i read this when i was somewhat undecided on the latter, and it set me on a decidedly anti- path. i have never looked back or doubted it. the equal justice initiative is still my go-to charity.

this was also my first-ever college assignment, and it set the stage for my entire post-mandatory education, and it was a blessing and a treat.

if all that didn't convince you of this book's must-read status, i don't know what to tell you. WHAT DO I HAVE TO OFFER YOU BUT THE LAST OF MY DIGNITY.

part of a series i'm doing in which i review books i read a long time ago and embarrass myself on multiple levels in the process
Profile Image for Julie .
3,983 reviews58.9k followers
November 7, 2016
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is a 2014 Spiegel & Grau publication.

This book came to my attention from a couple of Goodreads friends. Their amazing reviews convinced me this book was one I should, and needed, to read.

“We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope of healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity”

This man. Bryan Stevenson. Are there any more like him out there?

This book will be eye-opening and shocking for many, even though some attention has been brought to these subjects since this book was published.

Still, we often tune this information out, incapable of understanding what it all means, or to put faces with the statistics.

These types of death penalty cases, all need someone like Bryan Stevenson, who has the courage to step up on their behalf, calling attention to their plight.

Yet, some seem determined to bury their heads in the sand, refusing to acknowledge corruption, or are in denial when it comes to children sentenced to life in prison or to death, or the stunning statistics regarding mentally ill patients sent to prison. I don’t want to believe it either, but I’ve followed enough cases, some high profile, some not, that I found myself nodding my head, more than shaking it in disbelief.

The statistics, though, are mind boggling, because while we hear of one or two cases here or there, the sheer volume of wrongly convicted people knocked me back on my heels. But, not only that, the horrifying cases featuring children who found themselves locked away for life, and how speedily they were rushed through the system without so much as a blink of an eye, makes you wonder how some people sleep at night.

“Today, over 50 percent and jail inmates in the United States have a diagnosed mental illness, a rate nearly five times greater than that of the general adult population.”

While I understand, capital punishment is a hot button topic, sure to spark heated debate, this book simply points out the dangers of such a judgment. I’m not only addressing the many ways ‘humane executions’ can go horribly awry, but the rush to judgment, the lack of a fair trial, that sends wrongfully convicted people to death row. I don’t think I would want that on my conscience.

It’s a slippery slope, and I understand we have prisons in place for a reason. But, there are simply too many cases where a conviction was overturned after DNA or new evidence exonerated the accused. Sadly, these exonerations have come too late for some, and that sends chills down my spine.

This book weighed heavily on me, but what is so amazing, is how this outstanding attorney, who is so blessed with courtroom presence, and education, and is so well spoken and obviously brilliant, who could have joined a prestigious law firm which would have guaranteed him financial comfort, instead dedicated his life to those who have no hope of fighting against a rigged system. The heartbreak and disappointments he witnessed didn’t leave him jaded, disillusioned, or cynical. Instead, he only doubled his efforts, worked harder than ever, and became even more inspired. His example is exemplary, showing calm, discipline, and taking the high road, even when he is clearly provoked or threatened. Which is why this is a memoir I can get behind.

Stephenson never gets ‘preachy’, or toots his own horn. I realize this book isn’t about Bryan personally, per se, but I came away with so much respect for his steady, strong presence, which held my attention and gave his cause much more credence. His passionate deliverance, told with authority and confidence, drives home the truth he wished to convey to us.

Now that Stephenson has told his story, I hope the attention he’s drawn to so many injustices aimed at the poor, children, and the mentally ill in addition to calling attention to mass incarceration, others will feel inspired by his compassion, will work for those in need, and will raise the level of consciousness, and will inspire all of us to keep our eyes and eyes open, to stay informed instead of looking the other way, and help, in our own way, even if it simply means passing this book along to someone else in order to raise awareness.



5 stars






Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
350 reviews393 followers
April 1, 2015
With all the recent protests across the nation, sparked by the high-profile deaths of several unarmed black men, this is an incredibly timely read.

This book is an account of the author, Bryan Stevenson, and his life calling. Stevenson first began helping death row prisoners, mostly black, who had had no legal defense of any kind. He discovered there were thousands who were completely innocent. This led him to start an organization called the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) which is still going strong to this day. Throughout this book, the focus is on race and property, children in prison, mass incarceration, and the death penalty.

While this book looks at the historical doggedness of injustice and specific court rulings, it also includes deeply personal accounts of those who have lived, and not lived through it. I was shaken to my core reading of our countries many abuses and long standing hostility towards those of color, or in poverty. A quote that rings true throughout this book is; "Capital punishment means ' them without the capital get the punishments.'

While many states are involved, the Deep South is where Stevenson began his work. Most Southern states still have deep-seeded resentments and fear of black men. Many prisoners are never provided counsel. The outlandish false claims against them are never challenged, and if they are, it is still nearly impossible to get around prejudiced judges and court systems. Many, many, children and the mentally challenged are sent to their deaths, or to languish in prisons their whole life where the most egregious acts imaginable are committed.

And, look out if you are a poor woman. Prenatal care is impossible for many to afford, sometimes resulting in still-born deaths. These states are now sentencing many women to death if they cannot prove their baby was delivered stillborn. Two thirds of all women on death row are there because of protecting themselves against abusive men, or not being able to prove a still-born death. Stevenson states, " My work with the poor and incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of property is justice." Powerful words!

I believe one must look at the long history of injustice to gain perspective on today's unrest. This book does just that. Highly recommended.



Profile Image for La Crosse County Library.
546 reviews120 followers
December 22, 2022
Wow, what a life-changing read!

This story follows a lawyer who represents prisoners who have been given very harsh sentences, (some guilty, some innocent) all begging the question of what justice truly is.

What was most difficult for me in this story was to see that such cruel injustice, based on race or poverty, is happening today.

In order for Walter McMillian to be convicted of murder and given the death penalty, the judge, the sheriff, the district attorney, and the jury would need to be on the same page, despite multiple eyewitnesses who said they were with Walter at the time of the murder, and despite witnesses against Walter eventually recanting their statements.

Is it hatred or apathy?

Either way, it can run so deep that convicting an innocent man may feel like justice to others. And the value of a human life is decided as not very valuable. And it makes me reflect on my own heart, where it is easy to protect my own happiness and comfort by not seeing injustice that others say they are experiencing around me.

May I always aspire to bring just mercy to this world.

Bryan Stevenson writes with intelligence, compassion, justice, and mercy. His work is a clear-headed account of his experience as a lawyer working to bring justice to people who have been incarcerated after living in poverty. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in people or in the justice system.

Find this book and other titles within our catalog.
Profile Image for Lauren Cecile.
Author 3 books318 followers
March 30, 2016
Excellent! Especially for readers who care about social justice, inequality in the justice system or abolishing the death penalty. It is already abstractly known that minorities, poor people, mentally disabled and un-parented children are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and Bryan Stevenson gives us an up-close and personal look at many of these people. Judges, police, prosecutors, jailers, politicians, etc. can be very obtuse and uncaring about them and are given "cover" by the popular concept of "law and order." "Just Mercy" shows what happens when the "players" are allowed to abuse and misuse their power and influence and built-in checks and balances are not utilized. Stevenson should be applauded (actually sainted) for his valiant fights and hard-fought, heart-warming victories.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,079 reviews2,608 followers
June 22, 2015
We never read anything in a vacuum. Every book is filtered through the lens of experience, history and daily life.

It may have been a coincidence that I read Just Mercy only days after a horrific mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, but it didn't feel like chance. Having such fresh evidence of racism and violence in the South made the events discussed in this book all the more real.

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer in Alabama who works to defend the poor and the wrongly condemned. This book highlights his personal journey and several of his prominent cases, but more importantly, it is about America's flawed criminal justice system.

Stevenson gave a good summary of his mission when he first met civil rights activist Rosa Parks, and she asked about his work:


"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."


I shared that story to make you smile, but be prepared that this book will make you angry, angry, angry. Stevenson has encountered innumerable cases of blatant racism among police, judges and juries, and he himself was nearly arrested because he was black, even though he had done nothing wrong.

Stevenson's story is a powerful one, and I hope this book is read far and wide. Highly recommended for everyone.

Favorite Quote
"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."
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,568 reviews55.6k followers
March 30, 2022
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson

Brian Stevenson started a law firm when he was a young lawyer, defending people who needed help and support more than anyone else. 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 brinkmanship 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.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز بیست و نهم ماه مارس سال2021میلادی

عنوان: پرونده‌های طبقه‌ی پایین؛ نویسنده: برایان استیونسون؛ مترجم: ملوک (شادی) دانشمند؛ تهران، فکر برتر، سال1399؛ در368ص؛ شابک9789646979789؛ موضوع سرگذشتنامه وکلا از نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده21م

کتاب «پرونده های طبقه پایین»، اثری نوشته ی «برایان استیونسن» است، که نخستین بار در سال2014میلادی منتشر شد؛ «برایان استیونسن» در زمانی که وکیلی جوان بودند، شرکتی حقوقی را بنیان نهادند، که به دفاع از افرادی میپرداخت که بیش از دیگران، نیازمند یاری و حمایت بودند؛ یکی از نخستین پرونده های «برایان استیونسن»، از آنِ «والتر مک میلیان» مردی جوان بود، که به اتهام قتلی هراس انگیز که خودش اصرار داشت مرتکب نشده، به اعدام محکوم شده بود، این پرونده، «استیونسن» را وارد جهانی از توطئه ها، دسیسه های سیاسی و حیله گری های حقوقی کرد، و درک او را از انسانیت و عدالت برای همیشه دیگر کرد؛ کتاب «پرونده های طبقه پایین»، شرح واقعی و فراموش نشدنی تلاش وکیلی جوان برای دست یافتن به عدالت راستین است

نقل از متن: (هر کدام از ما، بیشتر از بدترین کاری که تا به حال کرده ایم، هستیم)؛

نقل دیگر: (تجارب من از کار با تنگدستان و زندانیان، مرا مجاب کرده که نقطه ی مقابل فقر، ثروت نیست؛ نقطه ی مقابل فقر، عدالت است)؛

نقل دیگر: (ملاک حقیقی شخصیت ما، چگونگی رفتار ما با انسان های فقیر، ستمدیده، مورد اتهام، زندانی و مطرود است)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 09/01/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Perry.
630 reviews497 followers
January 19, 2020
The Force of Forked Lightning

Author and civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson has some hard bark on him: for dozens of years now, traveling into the backwater towns of Alabama (and other places in the South) to defend and save the lives of inmates, many of whom were railroaded onto death row. He centers his soul-sparking memoir on the especially egregious case of Walter McMillian in Monroe County, AL, interspersed with brief sketches of examples nationwide proving particular types of injustices in our criminal 'justice' system, such as death sentences for juveniles, and the flagrant sentences of juveniles and those with severe mental disabilities to life without parole.

Stevenson captivates the reader with a narrative that fuels his anti-death penalty argument with the force of forked lightning.

Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews202 followers
February 9, 2017
Just Mercy A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
"I…believe that in many parts of this country, and certainly in many parts of this globe, that the opposite of poverty is not wealth… I actually think, in too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice… Ultimately, you judge the character of a society, not by how they treat their rich and the powerful and the privileged, but by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated. Because it's in that nexus that we actually begin to understand truly profound things about who we are"
Excerpt from Bryan Stevenson's 2012 TED Talk

Bryan Stevenson photo Bryan Stevenson_zpsxjw7ippw.jpg
Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)
and a professor at NYU Law School


Bryan Stevenson has written an extraordinary memoir in which he describes his career as a lawyer and activist. For more than 30 years, Mr. Stevenson has taken on the mantle of defending the poorest among us. On this book, he skillfully chronicles his relentless fight to raise public awareness of the biases and racism that are so embedded in the United States Justice system, a system that at times seems unable or unwilling to correct even its most glaring mistakes.

His clients include prisoners in death row, neglected children prosecuted as adults and placed in adult prisons as well as mentally disabled people unable to receive attention to their special needs.

This book will probably shock, maybe even make you mad, but by the end it'll also leave you with a sense of hope and optimism after you learn how activists like Stevenson continue to tirelessly work on improving and helping correct important aspects of the legal system in the United States.

After reading some of the cases described on this memoir, it would be easy to let cynicism and bitterness set it, but as the extended title of the book suggests, this is also a story of "Justice and Redemption". The author explains how in the middle of finding so many indignities and injustices, as well as plenty of obstacles and hostility towards his cause, he's also found compassionate and sympathetic people willing to help in surprising and unexpected ways.

For a book that’s non-fiction, “Just Mercy” it’s a real page turner. It is written in simple, accessible language and although it’s categorized as a memoir, Stevenson spends little time on the book talking about himself or his background. The majority of the book is dedicated to recounting the details of some of the cases he’s been involved in throughout his career.

The book stars in 1983, when as a 23 years-old, Harvard Law student Stevenson takes an internship at the Atlanta-based Southern Prisoners Defense Committee. It’s there where he’s first introduced to death row prisoners and these first experiences helped propelled his decision to become an advocate instead of choosing a more profitable career path.

The electric chair at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y., in 1953. Credit Associated Press photo 19ConoverSUB-articleLarge1_zps1xngknab.jpg
The electric chair at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y., in 1953/ Credit Associated Press/ I was surprised to learn that although the use of the electric chair as a method of execution has been in declined since the 1990's, it is still being employed by some States

There’s a passage in the book where Stevenson recounts how, after recently moving to Atlanta, he was questioned by the police just for sitting in his car listening to music in front of his apartment. He actually ends up with a gun pointed to his head and was let go only after proving that this was his place of residency.
In 1989, he moved to Alabama, a state with some of the harshest and severe capital laws in the United States. He then founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit organization where he still serves as its Executive Director today.

Although “Just Mercy” details more than a dozen cases, it focuses in particular on Stevenson’s fight to free Walter McMillan, an African-American man, who was falsely accused and convicted of killing Ronda Morrison, a young store clerk, white woman.

McMillan’s crime was basically having an affair with a another white married woman. When the community grew impatient with the lack of developments in the case of Morrison’s death, the police found in McMillan, who was a man married himself, a perfect suspect. They ignored that McMillan had not connection or knew the victim, had an alibi in the form of several people that were with him at the time of the crime, and was, the romantic affair non-withstanding, a well-liked and exemplary citizen with no criminal record.

Ironically and in almost poetic justice, these events took place in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Walter McMillian’s trials and appeals took place in the 1980's and 1990's, not in the 1930’s, but one can’t help drawing parallels between Bryan and Walter and their fictional counterparts Atticus and Tom. But unlike Harper Lee’s fictional character and fortunately for McMillan, Stevenson did win the case to free him. The road to get there though was certainly a long and painful one.

During the next few years, Stevenson and his colleagues investigated the McMillan case and, in the process exposed how corrupted authorities at every level conspired to build a false case.

Here’s a sample of some of the many rules and laws that were broken in the case of McMillan:

•McMillan was placed in death row 15 months before his trial.
•Police officers coerced witnesses into fabricating false testimonies in order to build a case.
•The Jury selection process was clearly racially discriminatory.
•Prosecutors failed to provide defense lawyers with crucial exculpatory evidence.


Even in the face of all these new evidence and facts, the trial Judge denied Stevenson’s motion requesting a new trial.

It wasn't until CBS's 60 Minutes and other national news outlets called attention to the story, that the State Prosecutor decided to open his own inquiry. After re-examining the case, the investigators concluded that “There is no way that Walter McMillan killed Ronda Morrison”. Six weeks later the Alabama Appeals court reversed McMillan's conviction and shortly after dismissed all charges.

It would be easy to dismiss the case of Walter McMillan as something of an anomaly, but as the case of McMillan unraveled throughout the book, Stevenson also exposed the disgraceful ways in which our Justice system treats minors.

Here are some interesting facts about the execution of juvenile offenders in the US***

•Beginning with the first in 1642, at least 366 juvenile offenders were executed. Twenty-two of these occurred during the current era (1973-2005), constituting 2.3% of the total of the 949 executions during this period.

•Of the 38 death penalty jurisdictions in the United States (37 states and federal), 19 jurisdictions have expressly chosen a minimum age of 18, 5 jurisdictions have chosen an age 17 minimum and the other 14 death penalty jurisdictions use age 16 as the minimum age.

•Essentially every other nation in the world has joined international agreements prohibiting the execution of juvenile offenders, with only the United States refusing to abandon its laws permitting the juvenile death penalty.

•Roper v. Simmons was a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court held that execution for crimes committed at an age less than age 18 is prohibited by the United States Constitution.


***Source: “DEATH SENTENCES AND EXECUTIONS FOR JUVENILE CRIMES” by Victor L. Streib Ella and Ernest Fisher Professor of Law -Ohio Northern University-2005


Stevenson points out how as a society, and with the help and advances in Developmental Psychology and Neurology, we have come to the understanding that kids and teens are not responsible enough to vote, drink or smoke, and yet in plenty of cases, we still allowed for the Justice System to charge minors as adults.

In “Just Mercy”, Stevenson also chronicles the stories of many minors, some of whom are guilty of committing serious crimes, including homicide. But he makes a very convincing argument that many of these kids are themselves victims of neglectful and abusing parents, rape, mental disabilities and a lack of access to a decent education system.

Although we have stopped the practice of putting teens in death row, the number of minors that are in jail for life due to crimes other than homicide is still staggering.

Walter McMillan photo Walter McMillan_zps4zanzc77.jpg
Walter McMillian is reunited with friends and family on the day of his release in 2003 following EJI’s campaign. He served six years on death row.


Walter McMillan died in 2013, only 10 years after he was exonerated from death row.
He was in bad health but as Stevenson’s remarks “He remained kind and charming until the very end, despite his increasing confusion from the advancing of dementia”.

Stevenson is today, along with his mentor, Stephen Bright, one of the nation’s most influential and inspiring advocate against the death penalty. He and his EJI colleagues have obtained relief for over one hundred people on Alabama’s death row, and won groundbreaking Supreme Court cases restricting the imposition on juveniles of sentences of life without parole.

Several times while reading this book, I broke down in tears, sometimes due to a deep sense of empathy with so many people that have endured so much pain for so long, the realization that probably many have died without having a chance at receiving justice, but also shame at my own ignorance and indifference to these issues.
And yet reading this memoir gave me hope. As Stevenson’s says “No one is as bad as the worst thing they've ever done”, it is that kind of perspective that makes this such an inspiring read.

At the end of the book, there’s a note where the author provides a link to the EJI’s web site for people that might be interested in working with or supporting his organization.

Here is the link:
http://www.eji.org/

Or your can email them at: contact_us@eji.org

Here’s a link to Bryan Stevenson’s wonderful 2012 TED Talk:
http://www.ted.com/talks/bryan_steven...


This book is recommended for anybody who is interested and cares about equality, reconciliation, racial and social justice in the United States.

******************************************************************************
Update April 4, 2015

Bryan Stevenson and EJI were able to obtain a new trial and eventually the release of Anthony Ray Hinton, an Alabama man that was held in death row for 30 years, accused of two crimes he didn't commit.
Mr. Hilton was released yesterday and was greeted by family and friends.

Here's a link to the story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/mo...

Bryan Stevenson and Anthony Hinton photo Rayhintonwalkingoutofprison2_zpslv1scayd.jpg
Bryan Stevenson walks behind Anthony Ray Hinton after he was released on Friday from an Alabama prison.


******************************************************************************
Update September 7, 2015


I wanted to share this video with my Goodreads friends in which Charlie Rose interviews Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bryan Stevenson.

In their own and but pretty distinct ways, these men are two of the most influential voices we have speaking on behalf of the African American community in the United States at the moment.

Coates, as a younger prominent thinker, journalist and educator and Stevenson as a tireless fighter for social justice and someone who to me, has become the embodiment of decency and compassion.

The two interviews run close to an hour, but I believe if you are interested on these topics, it'll be time well spend.

Here's the link:

http://www.charlierose.com/





Profile Image for Brina.
876 reviews4 followers
February 25, 2020
I was just discussing in one of my goodreads groups, a weekly question is “are you in any face to face book clubs?” I personally am not but my father is in a group that meets monthly and he is one of the coordinators. Always at a loss for what to read, he asks me for titles that he thinks his group will enjoy and gives them choices to vote from. Most of the books read are ones that my mother or I suggested. This time the table was turned. My father had read Just Mercy in his group last year and kept telling me to read it. He noted that this book generated the most discussion for the year and told me that the author is one of those special once in a generation people. For whatever reason, I kept putting this one off until I heard about the movie starring Michael B Jordan, one of the top actors in Hollywood today. As one who has always had a book before movie rule in my house, I finally picked up Just Mercy in anticipation of the movie, and I was glad that I decided to go on this enlightening journey.

Bryan Stevenson comes from poverty in small town Delaware. His grandmother was the daughter of freed slaves and everyone in his extended family never gave up on him, in spite of his impoverished surroundings. Through grades and luck he ended up at Harvard Law School, no small task, and upon graduation moved to Atlanta to work in the Southern Defense Equality Foundation, which as a nonprofit provided defense attorneys to prisoners on death row or life terms for no fee. These prisoners came from low income situations where they often times had little to no money to pay an attorney for their original trial. They were more often than not people of color or whites in low income situations, and in the prejudiced south, the color or financial situation of the client usually lead to conviction. Stevenson’s first case in this book was with a death row inmate named Henry. The two men found a kindred spark in each other, which lead Stevenson to stay in Atlanta and work toward fair treatment to all prisoners. His work at the SDEF lead to him founding the Equality Justice Initiative (EJI) located in Montgomery, Alabama, an organization whose goal is to provide attorneys to all prisoners on death row regardless of their station in life. Even though many of these prisoners are in helpless situations, Stevenson and his legal team were determined to help and provide justice for as many inmates who need their assistance as possible.

Stevenson details statistics of prisoners on death row and many of his findings are alarming. Just the number of teenagers facing life in prison after being tried as adults is eye popping and enough to have a reader reaching for tissues. After Supreme Court verdicts in 2010 and 2012, teenagers would no longer face life in prison and many times have their terms reduced or eliminated. The EJI took on many of these no longer teenagers as clients following the Supreme Court verdict, which resulted in many overturned verdicts, often allowing prisoners who had been imprisoned for twenty to thirty years for crimes done as adolescents to be set free. Two men, Mr Caston and Mr Carter had been imprisoned in Louisiana for fifty years. Following one of the Supreme Court rulings, Stevenson argued for the two men at a circuit court, and they were both set free. At the time the court room was quiet and visitors began to applaud in one of the more emotional moments of the book. Mr Carter had a mother who was nearly one hundred and she stayed alive to see her son go free, and thankfully she was able to live to see that day happen. Just Mercy is full of emotional moments like Mr Carter’s story and had me reaching for tissues on more than one occasion. Sadly, however, Mr Carter was not the most absurd story related by Stevenson.

The centerpiece of the book so to speak is the case of Walter McMillian of Monroeville, Alabama, who was falsely accused of murder. McMillian who was black did not have a fair trial the first time around because local officials were looking to find closure for the family of the victim. Even though Stevenson took on McMillian’s case twenty years after the peak of the civil rights movement, in rural Alabama law makers were still prejudiced against people of color. Sadly, McMillian stood little chance, that is until Stevenson took his case and the EJI uncovered all the miscarriages of justice surrounding it. Walter McMillian’s case reads like a real life A Time to Kill, but, unfortunately, his case is true. McMillian spent over ten years on death row for a crime he did not commit, all the while keeping his sense of humor and dignity. Alabama has the highest number of inmates die by lethal injection in the nation during the modern death penalty era (since 1976), and the percentage that is people of color is overwhelming. Inmates even had a name for the chair- Yellow Mama- because it had been used too many times to count. Yet, EJI did not give up hope and there have been more stories like Walter McMillian’s and the others detailed in this book over the years as the organization has risen to international prominence.

Besides Walter McMillian and Mr Carter, I must have shed the most tears over Marsha Colby, a mother falsely accused of murder, and Charlie, a thirteen year old tried as an adult and who suffered trauma and abuse in prison. Both of these stories were among Stevenson’s early successes. He notes that since the Supreme Court rulings of nearly a decade ago both the number of deaths penalty deaths and number of people incarcerated nationally have slowly begun to go down. Rather than throw away the nation’s problems and lock the key, first time offenders, especially teenagers, can begin a life of rehabilitation. With organizations like EJI and gifted lawyers like Bryan Stevenson, there is hope for those people who otherwise would have had none. What a special man. It was tough to read this account as the conditions in prison are too inhumane to note in detail. I just hope that Michael B Jordan gives Bryan Stevenson the justice he well deserves.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
August 22, 2015
There is nothing I can write to do justice to this exceptional book. Really, the only thing to say is "Read it!". But here are a few thoughts: Just Mercy is both horrifying and awe inspiring. I listened to the audio of Just Mercy as read by the author, Bryan Stevenson. I listened to it in 40 minute daily increments as I walked to work or for exercise. Each time I had to turn the audio off, I found it hard to disengage from everything Stevenson has to say about his work as the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. The work of EJI is primarily focused on advocating against the death penalty and on behalf of people on death row. But EJI also works on cases involving many types of injustices in the American criminal justice system, including the excessive sentencing and incarceration of African Americans, children, women and people with mental health problems. Stevenson's book focuses on the case of Walter McMillan, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in Alabama and sentenced to death. Stevenson provides a horrifying detailed account of the circumstances of Walter's conviction and the long almost impossible road to get him freed. Interspersed throughout the account of Walter's story, Stevenson talks more briefly about many other cases and provides observations on the fundamental flaws in the system he works in. The basic message is powerful and simple -- racism and poverty have a hugely negative impact on the chances of getting a fair hearing, outcome and sentence, especially in certain southern states. Other powerful messages include: no one should be sentenced to death, children should not be treated as adults, actions stemming from poverty and mental illness should not be criminalized and everyone should be entitled to good legal representation at trial. These messages are conveyed powerfully through Stevenson's anecdotes and observations. But what makes Stevenson's book most powerful is the humanity and dignity that he gives to each of his clients. He describes them with respect in the book and clearly treats them with respect in his work -- often describing how they have touched his life. When hearing about some of the prosecutions in Just Mercy, at times these case sounded like parodies -- coming from Canada, what he describes fit within the worst stereotypes we have of how bad the criminal justice system can be in certain parts of the U.S. But it would be too easy to dismiss the book as specific to the American context. The fundamental messages about the importance of fair representation, justice and dignity are true anywhere. Again, words are inadequate. Just read or listen to Just Mercy.

A note on the audio: it is read by Stevenson himself. Listening to him talk about his work in his own words is very powerful, especially when he describes his reaction to certain situations or gives voice to some of his clients.
Profile Image for Max.
337 reviews288 followers
December 24, 2020
Bryan Stevenson delivers a compelling narrative about his career fighting for those on death row, children sentenced to life without parole and discriminatory justice that fills our prisons with minorities, the poor and the vulnerable. Stevenson grew up black and poor. He decided he wanted to do work that meant something to him personally. Upon graduating Harvard Law School in 1985 rather than look for the high paying jobs other graduates pursued, he chose to work for $14,000 a year with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in Atlanta. He moved to Montgomery in 1989 to focus on death penalty cases in Alabama which was executing more prisoners than other states. Most of those executed and awaiting execution were black and poor people who received summary justice.

Stevenson humanizes the prisoners, even if they have committed an egregious crime. He says “Each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.” Prosecutors dehumanize defendants as part of their strategy to convict resulting in stigmatization in the press and community. In places like Alabama where Stevenson describes many cases, racism plays a big part in prosecutorial strategy. From selecting all white juries, to assuming blacks are lying, to assuming guilt because the defendant is black, to assuming black defendants are worthless so even if the defendant isn’t guilty, who cares. Which brings us to the main case described by Stevenson, that of Walter McMillian.

In Monroeville, Alabama, the town that prides itself for being the site of the fictional book To Kill a Mockingbird, McMillian was sentenced to death for murder in 1988. The jury had recommended life imprisonment, but the judge overrode the jury imposing the death penalty. Stevenson was drawn to the case because of the use of judicial override. When he met McMillan in prison and reviewed the case he was convinced McMillian was innocent. McMillian’s trial in front of an all-white jury lasted a little more than a day. The police coerced witnesses to lie to convict McMillian. Black witnesses who reported McMillian was with them at the time of the murder were ignored. The police were under pressure to solve the murder of a young white woman from a prominent family. Not making any legitimate progress they looked for an available easy target to pin the crime on. McMillian had been dating a white woman making him easy to convict in a small rural Alabama town where white people were aghast at his audacity.

Stevenson spent years accumulating exculpatory evidence and filing motions and appeals finally winning McMillian’s release in 1993. But five years on death row had taken its toll and he was never the same person. The case received widespread media attention with a Sixty Minutes TV show and a movie. Stevenson describes many visits to death rows and the mental anguish of the prisoners as they witness one man after another talk his final walk to the electric chair. The electric chair is gone, but the drug executions that have replaced it are also horrific. Over the many years Stevenson worked to free death row prisoners, many were found to be innocent of the crimes they committed. This fact alone justifies abolishing the death penalty. Yet as I write this in the last days of the Trump administration, it is speeding up executions. With the three federal executions planned for January, 13 federal executions will have taken place under Trump, more than under any president in the last 75 years and more than all the states combined. Why?

In 1995, Stevenson turned his Montgomery operation into the Equal Justice Initiative. Since he began with himself and an assistant or two, more lawyers and legal aides joined his staff. He expanded his work taking on the issue of children given “die-in-prison sentences” that is prison without the possibility of parole. Some of these children were as young as fourteen and some were there for offenses other than homicide. Many were there for being in a gang where another member committed the murder. Such was the case of the man the Trump administration executed two weeks ago (December 10, 2020), Brandon Bernard, who was 18 when another gang member shot and killed two people. Bernard was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1999 even though he wasn’t the shooter. He was the youngest person to receive the death penalty in over 70 years. His execution didn’t take place until the Trump administration decided to clear out death row before Biden came in. Biden has promised to eliminate the federal death penalty.

Stephenson’s accounts of the vulnerable are the saddest part of the book. This includes people convicted as children, those who have suffered significant abuse as children and adolescents, and those with mental illness or limited mental capacity. Many of the people that Stevenson was intervening for because of failed justice were not convicted just because they were a minority and poor. Some came from homes where they and their mother were regularly beaten and they were thrown out on the streets. Some had been sexually abused. Children and adolescents tried in adult courts and sent to adult prisons are regularly sexually abused. Women are raped by male guards. Many of Stevenson’s clients suffered from mental illness or limited capacity. When Stevenson recounts talks with some individuals he and we realize that they have difficulty maintaining attention or grasping what they are being told. They belong in a facility for the mentally ill or a facility that helps those with limited understanding.

This is a wonderful book despite the depressing subject. Stevenson is able to help many individuals, winning new trials, overturning convictions and reducing sentences. He and his Equal Justice Initiative were instrumental in getting the Supreme Court to eventually declare unconstitutional sentencing children to death or life in prison without parole and having that ruling applied retroactively. Stevenson did not win every case. He often has to tell prisoners that his efforts had failed. Most poignant are those moments when he has to tell that to a prisoner about to be executed. Stevenson could have been a highly successful attorney making a lot of money at a big law firm or in a corporation. But he chose a different path and we all are better off for it. Stevenson is a truly remarkable man.
Profile Image for Brandice.
799 reviews
January 28, 2018
Just Mercy was heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. I felt a wide range of emotions while reading it, including sadness, anger, and frustration. I knew our system is broken but I wasn't aware to what extent. It was infuriating to read how far behind the times some states are, most notably, Alabama.

Before reading this book, I was fairly confident in my views re: the death penalty, and punishments by imprisonment in general. This book changed my views on some things. Bryan Stevenson is a great person for his tireless work and continuous efforts - I admire his courage and strength. I highly recommend Just Mercy to anyone - there is something to be gained from this book, for everyone.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,379 reviews11.7k followers
January 17, 2020
This book will make your blood boil.

While I would have preferred some more nuance in this work (the author cherry picks the most outrageous examples of injustice and the most compelling inmates to argue his cause, understandably so, the majority of us don't possess the amount of empathy Bryan has for people, even the most despicable ones), what Stevenson has done throughout his career to make our world a little bit less awful and a little bit more just, is no less than heroic. His work is hard and so incredibly important. If not for him, children would still be sentenced to death - a travesty of the scope I didn't really have an understanding of before.

P.S. Is Alabama the worst place in America? It sure seems so.
Profile Image for Elle.
584 reviews1,253 followers
November 30, 2020
True stories of injustice always seem to be the most difficult to stomach, probably because they’re harder to separate yourself from. It’s not just a hypothetical, however realistic some of those narratives may be, but the reality of the world you’re currently living in. In actuality, some of the most gut-wrenching and nearly unbelievable stories told are the ones that tend to be rooted in fact, for the simple reason that nobody would be able to buy into them otherwise.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is absolutely filled to the brim with those stories. The truth of the criminal justice system in America, from the police departments to the court systems to the correctional facilities, is rife with corruption and distortion of the law and structures in place to protect and enforce those laws. More disturbingly, though, is not the diversions from those laws, but the lawful evils allowed, and even encouraged, under them.

But knowing these realities and truly reckoning with the human casualties are two very different things. I’m not going to patronize further to try and convince people that our system is broken. That should be abundantly clear at this point. What the question is now is what we as a society intend to do about it. Will we re-examine and release those erroneously charged and jailed? Will we elect politicians who make changing harmful laws a priority? (this is my shoutout to President Elect Biden from the entire city of Chicago: DO NOT PICK RAHM EMANUEL FOR ANY JOB, MY GOD.) Will we start to charge and prosecute law enforcement and correctional officials who abuse their power? And most prudently, will we finance the huge overhaul of our systems and payouts to those wrongly convicted and abused so that they can start to move on with what’s left of their lives? Currently as a country we can’t even agree to ban the death penalty, so you’ll forgive me for remaining skeptical of all the police officers taking a knee in front of tv cameras.

As for the author, Bryan Stevenson, he seems to be an ever-flowing supply of productive hope. As the co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson started his legal crusade in Montgomery, Alabama as a nonprofit attorney for those condemned to death row. His practice eventually expands to include many more of the unjustly convicted, including the mentally-disabled, people convicted as children to life sentences, young mothers blamed in the death of their stillborn children and more. Dozens of these cases are discussed, but the one that we follow throughout, the case of Walter McMillian, is one of the EJI’s first and a huge reckoning for Stevenson’s upstart firm.

McMillian’s case is significant not just because it was one of Stevenson’s initial cases or because of the media attention it eventually draws, but because it is a shining example of failure and malicious malpractice in the investigative, correctional and legal professions. Every single person who seems to touch the case inevitably corrupts it more, leaving the EJI with an ever-growing list of misconduct to sort through. It’s such a spectacular and intentional fuck-up that it’s almost impressive. How both Mr. McMillian and Mr. Stevenson don’t lash out at every person they encounter through the process is a testament to their character and a sign of how thoroughly the deck is stacked against them. One wrong move and their entire case could be thrown away like there isn’t a man’s life on the line.

This book was gutting and infuriating, but left so much room for each reader to decide to keep pressing forward anyways. The only thing that can combat the certainty of injustice is the certainty of hope. That hope along with people like Mr. Stevenson who tirelessly chase after it are the best chance we have in making lasting systemic change in America, and I’m choosing to believe that it will happen.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews388 followers
January 14, 2018
An absolute must-read book for anyone interested in the integrity of the justice system in the U.S. This book will make you cry, seethe, and grab everyone you know by their lapels and say to them, "Do you know this is happenening?!?! How can this be?!?!?!"

The author is an attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. The book highlights several cases of people wrongly imprisoned, and sentenced to death, for crimes they clearly did not commit. In other cases, while crimes were committed the punishments far outweighed the magnitude of the crimes.

At the time of the book's writing guess which place had the largest population in the world of children sentenced to life in prison without parole for non-homicidal crimes? It must be some awful third-world dictatorship, right? Nope. It was Florida.

But Florida wasn't alone in its eggregious use of punishment. One of Bryan Stevenson's clients was 14 years old when the state of California sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime in which no one was physically injured.

Through the tireless work of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson brought a case to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that life in prison without parole sentences for children convicted of non-homicidal crimes is unconstitutional.

There is still much to be done. Our system treats people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor/mentally incapacitaed/a minorty and innocent. That is shameful and I'm happy to have read this book and have my eyes opened even more to the injustices in our system.
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews286 followers
June 21, 2015
Content Warning: This is a dark review of a very dark subject. Reader discretion is advised.

Joe Sullivan was thirteen years old when he was arrested.



Mentally disabled, neglected and abused, the product of a chaotic home, Joe could barely read at a first grade level and grew up mostly on the streets.

On May 4, 1989, with two older boys, he broke into an empty house in Pensacola, Florida. Later, the elderly owner of the house was brutally raped. The woman never saw the man who raped her. When the two older boys were arrested one of them claimed that Joe had committed the rape—a charge he vehemently denied. Biological evidence collected from the victim was not presented at trial and was destroyed before it could be subjected to DNA testing. The older boys served short sentences in juvenile detention.

Joe was tried as an adult and sentenced to life imprisonment—in an adult prison—without possibility of parole.



In prison, Joe was repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted. He attempted suicide on multiple occasions. He developed multiple sclerosis, which doctors later concluded might have been triggered by trauma in prison.

Eighteen years later another inmate contacted Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative describing Joe as disabled, horribly mistreated and wrongfully condemned. Joe later wrote to Stevenson in the handwriting of a child, “If I didn’t do anything, shouldn’t I be able to go home now? Mr Bryan, if this is true, can you please write me back and come and get me?”



Over the next three years Stevenson and his legal team at EJI appealed Joe’s sentence and the case was heard by the Supreme Court. Among those filing amicus curiae briefs was a distinguished former U.S. senator, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who as a teenager had multiple run-ins with the law for arson, theft, assault, gun violence, and finally assault on a police officer. In Simpson’s words to the Court, “I was a monster.” After spending a night in prison “in a sea of puke and urine” Simpson vowed to turn his life around. “I was just dumb and rebellious and stupid. And a different person. You're not who are when you're 16 or 18. You're dumb, and you don't care and you think you are eternal.”

On May 17, 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that Joe Sullivan's life sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”



America incarcerates more people, both on an absolute and a per capita basis, than any other nation on earth. More than Russia. More than China. Over two million Americans are imprisoned at a cost of $74 billion per year. But Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is not a book about statistics—it’s a book about human beings and their stories will break your heart. It broke my heart and changed the way I think about crime and punishment.
“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.



For more reading:
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-de...
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,665 followers
May 25, 2015
“… 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?

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption chronicles the founding, growth, and work of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). EJI is “a private, nonprofit that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.

We litigate on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged with violent crimes, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. EJI works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment.” (EJI website).

Its Executive Director since the founding of EJI in the late 1980s, Bryan Stevenson wrote Just Mercy to bring readers close to the issues of mass incarceration and the injustices of a broken criminal justice system that condemns children, the mentally ill, non-violent offenders, and wrongly accused to death from life imprisonment or capital punishment.

Just Mercy centers around the case of Walter McMillan, a black man sentenced to death in 1987 for the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison. Walter was sent to Alabama’s death row before the trial even took place. He would spend six years on death row, before Bryan Stevenson and his team at EJI was able to convince the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals that McMillan had been wrongly convicted. That he was innocent was not in doubt—dozens had tried to testify his whereabouts at the time of the murder; the man who claimed he and McMillan had murdered the young woman recanted his testimony several times; the law enforcement and legal system was blatantly corrupt and racist. But Walter McMillan’s story serves as a representative tale of how the American criminal justice system is still mired in Jim Crow, a massive complex rooted in policies of mass incarceration and structural poverty and racial injustice.

Intertwined with the chapters of Walter McMillan’s story are the cases of men, women, and children around the country that EJI took on, seeking to save lives and reform laws by advocating for the marginalized and broken.

Stevenson posits that there are “four institutions in American history that have shaped our approach to race and justice, but remain poorly understood”: slavery; the reign of terror which followed Reconstruction through WWII, during which African Americans were re-enslaved, lynched, and brutalized; the evolution of Jim Crow, which legalized racial discrimination; and mass incarceration—a deliberate American legal, political, and law enforcement policy, which is chronicled in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Just Mercy is devastating, but as the title suggests, it is not without hope, grace, mercy and compassion, for these are the very qualities that compelled a group of young people, with inadequate funding, staff, and experience, to fight for the most hopeless and forgotten of our society. It is a coming-of-age memoir of a social justice champion.

EJI grew from a staff of two at its founding to more than forty today; Bryan Stevenson is the recipient of multiple honors, including the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" grant, and has tried several cases before the United States Supreme Court; EJI has saved dozens of lives and continues to call for the abolition of the death penalty and draw attention to the ills of a criminal justice system that punishes the poor, people of color, children, and the mentally ill and disabled at rates vastly disproportionate to that of the wealthy and white.

...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.


I implore you to read this inspiring, powerful story. It belongs to us all.
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