1/52: Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson

It's hard for me to write about this book because all I want to say is "EVERYONE MUST BE REQUIRED TO READ THIS BOOK," which can come off as quite abrasive. But truly, I really think everyone should read this book and be aware of the realities of our criminal justice system. 

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who started the non-profit The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). EJI works to reform our criminal justice system, educate the public on race, and exonerate the innocent from death row. A good portion of this book follows the story of Walter McMillian, a black man who was sent to death row for a crime he didn't commit in Monroe County, Alabama. Monroe County is the same county where To Kill a Mockingbird was set; and the irony couldn't ring louder throughout the book. Stevenson becomes Walter's lawyer and from there begins the gruesome, uphill battle through the criminal justice system. 

There were some facts I read that were so shocking I couldn't believe they were true. Stevenson, probably knowing how unbelievable some of these facts could be, put a note section at the end, citing all the facts he made throughout the book. What shocked me most was how recent some of the facts were. For example, in 2002 the Supreme Court banned the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities and in 2005 the Court banned the death penalty for children. The closeness of those dates to our present time irks me. Stevenson shows those of us who think we've made progress how much farther we have to go. 


"I was developing a maturing recognition of the importance of hopefulness in creating justice... The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong."

"Between 1990 and 2005, a new prison opened in the United States every ten days. Prison growth and the resulting "prison-industrial complex" -the business interests that capitalize on prison construction- made imprisonment so profitable that millions of dollars were spent lobbying state legislators to keep expanding the use of incarceration to respond to just about any problem... like drug addiction, poverty... child behavioral disorders, managing the mentally disabled poor, and even immigration issues generated responses from legislators that involved sending people to prison."

"We've become so fearful and vengeful that we've thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and the weak -not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us look tough, less broken... But simply punishing the broken -walking away from them or hiding them from sight- only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity."

"I began thinking about what would happen if we all just acknowledged our brokenness, if we just owned up to our weaknesses, our deficits, our biases, our fears. Maybe if we did, we wouldn't want to kill the broken among us who have killed others. Maybe we would look harder for solutions to caring for the disabled, the abused, the neglected, and the traumatized."

"Our self righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion... we have to be stonecatchers." 

This book was as moving as it was infuriating. There were times where I had to put it down and just rant and scream, and then there were times where it brought me to tears. It is a beautiful book, give it a read if you can.

Buy it here or borrow it here*

*I will be putting in links to buy books from local bookstores. You can order them online and have it shipped to you if you don't live nearby. The link to borrow books will be through WorldCat which is a cataloging system that will connect you to your local library.