Julie Christine's Reviews > Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
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“… 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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Quotes Julie Christine Liked

Bryan Stevenson
“Today, over 50 percent of prison 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.”
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Bryan Stevenson
“The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.”
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption


Reading Progress

February 24, 2015 – Shelved
February 24, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
March 26, 2015 – Started Reading
March 27, 2015 –
page 103
30.65% ""...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.""
March 28, 2015 –
page 203
60.42% ""For years, we've been the only country in the world that condemns children to life imprisonments without parole; nearly three hundred thousand juveniles have been sentenced to die in prison.""
March 29, 2015 – Shelved as: best-of-2015
March 29, 2015 – Shelved as: bio-autobio-memoir
March 29, 2015 – Shelved as: history-non-fiction
March 29, 2015 – Shelved as: read-2015
March 29, 2015 – Shelved as: social-political-commentary
March 29, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)

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Iris P Thanks for your passionate review Julie. "Just Mercy" really touches a nerve, doesn't it?
On the issue of Capital Punishment we seem to be going backwards recently with some states bringing back the firing squad as an available method of execution for example. I am also afraid that perhaps many people that would benefit greatly from reading Mr. Stevenson's great memoir won't be inclined to do so...


Julie Christine Iris wrote: "Thanks for your passionate review Julie. "Just Mercy" really touches a nerve, doesn't it?
On the issue of Capital Punishment we seem to be going backwards recently with some states bringing back th..."


So true. Yet if all who do care raise their voices, I believe we can keep moving forward and make the change . . .
Rene Denfeld, who is a death penalty investigator in Oregon and author of The Enchanted, one of my favorite books of the past year, wrote this in response to Utah's move to reinstate a firing squad. Of course, it's in a British newspaper http://www.theguardian.com/commentisf...


message 3: by Melanie (new)

Melanie I had no idea any states were reinstating firing squads. Holy cow. Just goes to show how poorly most of us are probably informed about the goings on in our own country. Yikes.


message 4: by Suzy (new)

Suzy I'm glad this has been brought to my attention by your 5-star review, Julie. It looks excellent - I'm on the waiting list at the library!


message 5: by Iris P (last edited Mar 30, 2015 05:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Iris P Julie wrote: "Iris wrote: "Thanks for your passionate review Julie. "Just Mercy" really touches a nerve, doesn't it?
On the issue of Capital Punishment we seem to be going backwards recently with some states bri..."


I think that Denfeld hits the issue right on the head on this article Julie and by the way before I read this I didn't know there was such thing as a "death penalty investigator"!. For a while now I have come to the understanding that the death penalty is not about justice and fairness but about exacting revenge and yet this an issue that is hardly addressed by the media or politicians in this country. Do we have the right to take a human life, even if we prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this person is guilty of committing a horrific crime? That to me is indeed the question that is at the heart of this issue.
I admit that there are crimes so horrific that is really difficult to feel any sympathy for the criminal. But perhaps instead of looking at the death penalty as the ultimate form of justice we should considered this matter from the perspective of what is says about us as a society and what are losing in the process...


Julie Christine Melanie wrote: "I had no idea any states were reinstating firing squads. Holy cow. Just goes to show how poorly most of us are probably informed about the goings on in our own country. Yikes."

Melanie, I think it's so hard to track on every issue. We're just bombarded with things we know we should care about and be informed of- it's so hard. I only just learned that Washington state, where I live, has a bi-partisan bill before the state legislature to abolish the death penalty. So now I know I can write my local representatives and push them to support this bill. And just heard this morning that there is another state bill to reduce the amount of time a mentally ill person can be detained in jail awaiting a competency hearing, from indefinitely to seven days. After reading Just Mercy and The New Jim Crow, my ear and brain are tuned to absorb this information. But I know I can't absorb it all.


Julie Christine Iris wrote: "Julie wrote: "Iris wrote: "Thanks for your passionate review Julie. "Just Mercy" really touches a nerve, doesn't it?
On the issue of Capital Punishment we seem to be going backwards recently with s..."


I cannot agree more. I recently learned from a friend who advocates for children in crisis that a baby was brutally abused and ultimately murdered by a parent. It's hard for me to separate myself from the base emotional reaction that I would like to see this parent torn limb from limb. But I know that we will never have a just world if we murder the murderers. We will fail to reach those in crisis, we will fail to save our most vulnerable if revenge is the point of our justice system, if our punishment is structured to destroy criminals who could be rehabilitated.

You know, I think I was aware of death penalty investigators, if only the title, but I had no idea what they really did until I read The Enchanted. Rene is amazing.


Julie Christine Suzy wrote: "I'm glad this has been brought to my attention by your 5-star review, Julie. It looks excellent - I'm on the waiting list at the library!"
Suzy, it's just so moving. And really, very well-structured-he does an excellent job of building tension into the narrative, of telling a story, which makes you care even more about these lives and the outcomes. I eagerly await your reaction.


Carol Excellent- it is indeed timely!


Debbie "DJ" Wonderful review Julie! So glad you included that last paragraph, so true.


Jessica Our temple just chose this book for our social justice book discussion this winter.


Julie Christine Jessica wrote: "Our temple just chose this book for our social justice book discussion this winter."
I'd love to be a part of that discussion.


Carol Jessica wrote: "Our temple just chose this book for our social justice book discussion this winter."

Let us know what observations your group has.


Carol Jessica wrote: "Our temple just chose this book for our social justice book discussion this winter."

Let us know what observations your group has.


Jessica Julie wrote: "Jessica wrote: "Our temple just chose this book for our social justice book discussion this winter."
I'd love to be a part of that discussion."


That will require you to come to Minnesota in January. :)


Julie Christine Jessica wrote: "Julie wrote: "Jessica wrote: "Our temple just chose this book for our social justice book discussion this winter."
I'd love to be a part of that discussion."

That will require you to come to Minn..."


I miss snow like crazy. Could happen.


Jessica Julie wrote: "Jessica wrote: "Julie wrote: "Jessica wrote: "Our temple just chose this book for our social justice book discussion this winter."
I'd love to be a part of that discussion."

That will require you..."


The discussion is Jan. 31.


Julie Christine Jessica wrote: "Julie wrote: "Jessica wrote: "Julie wrote: "Jessica wrote: "Our temple just chose this book for our social justice book discussion this winter."
I'd love to be a part of that discussion."

That wi..."


Yargh. There's this little matter of my book launch on Feb 2, first event for which is happening in Seattle on Feb 1. I probably should be there! I mean, here! :)


Jessica I suppose that is kind of important. :)


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