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.
I read this book of my own accord. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
“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
I first heard of this book about a year ago, when I was at a conference in Montgomery, Alabama. My friends and I visited all of the civil rights museums and monuments that we could during the five days we were there, and the two that stuck out to me the most were The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice ; which are run by the Equal Justice Initiative– which was started by Bryan Stevenson. So basically I was at so many of the places referenced in this book without even knowing about it, and now I have to go back so I can appreciate it properly.
Anyways, this book was phenomenal. I requested it from the library sometime around January, and so the fact that I got it right when racial injustice was such an important issue in our country was perfect. This book made me laugh and cry (which almost never happens), and I spent so many chapters heartbroken at the sheer brokenness of people and our legal system, while simultaneously celebrating the goodness and efforts of the people fighting to make our world a better place.
“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.”
Stevenson did a wonderful job sharing the injustices that our legal system experiences, especially in rural Alabama, where many of his cases took place. He explained how slavery, abolition, Jim Crow laws, and the Civil Rights movement all affect so many people and led to many of the crime statistics we see today. What I loved about his writing, though, is that he did all of this without blaming anyone or creating an “us versus them” mentality. He talked about injustices faced by the African-American community, but he also talked about injustices toward the poor, people with mental health challenges or other disabilities, children, and others who are continually injured by our criminal justice system. And he did so while being respectful to everyone – even those actively working against him. His message educated people on social problems in our society and called everyone to take a stand for justice and mercy for all regardless of race, class, socioeconomic status, mental or physical abilities, or any other factor.
Honestly, I have no complaints about this book. Stevenson’s writing style was incredible, he masterfully used stories from his own life and the lives of others to illustrate his points, and he revealed accounts of inexcusable injustice without blaming or shaming anyone. Yes, this book was about race. But it was about so much more than race. It was about having empathy for all people. It was about respecting human dignity. It was about achieving justice by showing mercy. Because our world could use a lot more of just mercy.
“We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness, even if our brokenness is not equivalent […] Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, foreswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”