April 12, 2017

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

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Release Date: October 2014
Publisher: Random House; Spiegel & Grau
Pages: 336 pages
Source & Format: Library; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
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.

Thoughts on Just Mercy
Although it's a New York Times bestseller, I don't think I would have discovered Just Mercy if it wasn't for Facebook. It ended up on my radar after I saw it repeatedly mentioned (and highly recommended!) in the comments on a post about empathy. And this book wrecked m, so I would have missing out if I'd never read it!

Just Mercy is written by a lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most in need. In the US, those are the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children. By sharing the stories of the people he has defended, Stevenson paints a profound and moving picture of our shared brokenness and the power of mercy:
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.
I'm slow to read non-fiction, and a book about prison and the justice system is not something that would typically pique my interest. But I requested a copy from the library, assuming I'd try it and likely return it. Y'all, I was immediately gripped by what I was reading and couldn't put it down. I read passages aloud to my husband, highlighted numerous quotes, and could not stop talking about what I was learning. I had no idea our justice system was so flawed, so harsh for the poor or people of color, and so easily abused.

Although it's well written and full of compelling stories, it's a difficult read because it's so shocking and depressing. A significant portion of the book focuses on Walter McMillian, a man who was sentenced to die for a murder that he insisted he didn't commit. Reading about Stevenson taking on his case - and learning what he uncovered in the process - left me flabbergasted. That case anchors Stevenson's book, but there are so many other stories interspersed throughout. And truthfully, they left me speechless.

Stevenson writes, "The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned." And he makes a compelling case for truth of these words in his book. It was eye-opening and heartbreaking, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I finished. And honestly, I wish it was required reading for everyone. Stevenson writes with passion, and I loved his conviction that we all need mercy, justice and unmerited grace.

So Quotable
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.”

1 comment:

  1. Wow. This sounds like an incredibly powerful read! I'd never heard of it before your post, but I think I may have to add this to my list of books to check out.

    ReplyDelete

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