Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Paperback)
November 2014 Indie Next List
“The history of incarceration in America is deeply colored by our history of racism and poverty. Stevenson's work providing legal aid to death row inmates exposes truly inhumane, unjust practices and astonishing legal carelessness often fueled by outright prejudice. Just Mercy does not stop at reportage, but examines the costs to the individual, the family, the community, and society at large of these practices. This is a powerful book about one man's efforts to address injustice and a clarion call for reform not just for those imprisoned, but for a society that has lost its way.”
— Sheryl Cotleur, Copperfield's Books, Sebastopol, CA
"I feel like they done put me on death row, too. What do we tell these children about how to stay out of harm's way when you can be at your own house, minding your own business, surrounded by your entire family, and they still put some murder on you that you ain't do and send you to death row?"
This quote from Bryan Stevenson's book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption aptly and appropriately summarizes the frustration and despair of the many affected by wrongful imprisonment and incarceration in the United States.
I first learned about Bryan Stevenson and his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) when I watched the Netflix documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay. I immediately wanted to dive deeper into Bryan's story and how he started down his path to fight for equal justice for the men, women and children wrongly accused or who have received harsh sentences unfitting the level of the crime.
What was most impactful for me were the heartbreaking stories of children and teenagers sentenced to life in prison without parole or awaiting execution on death row. In many cases the horrific backgrounds of abuse and trauma endured or mental disorders are completely ignored when reviewing the facts or in an effort to understand the complexity of the situations they found themselves in. Bryan paints a picture of these individuals that cannot be forgotten. How can a person be judged, punished and sentenced for the actions and decisions made as a child that impacts the rest of their life?
Just Mercy highlights the racial inequities in the justice and legal system and sheds light on the often harsher penalties received by Black and brown people. It's a shocking look at the blatant disregard for the facts of truth, circumstance and innocence. While reading this book there were certainly moments of hopelessness about a case or argument lost, however knowing that there are people like Bryan Stevenson and others at organizations like EJI fighting for the rights of those that don't have the resources available does provide some hope and certainly inspiration.
This is a wonderful book for those looking to educate themselves about the history of mass incarceration, the prison system, and the personalized stories of the men, women and children affected by racial injustice, racism and prejudice. This includes the families, friends and communities torn apart by the trials and outcomes often having lifelong effects of all involved. Through this book, I was able to gain a better understanding of the time, effort, and persistence the work of Bryan Stevenson, EJI and other social justice warriors takes to change the fixed minds of those in power to prove innocence or reduce sentencing.
To have the names and stories behind the many examples of the punishment not fitting the crime makes it impossible to not want to find a way to support change and right wrongs. Stories are amazingly powerful and Bryan is a masterful storyteller.— Erin Dewsbury-Ribeiro, Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center, Ypsilanti, MI
“[Bryan Stevenson’s] dedication to fighting for justice and equality has inspired me and many others and made a lasting impact on our country.”—John Legend
NAMED ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL BOOKS OF THE DECADE BY CNN • Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Seattle Times • Esquire • 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.
Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction • Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction • Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award • Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize • Finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize • An American Library Association Notable Book
“Every bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird, and in some ways more so . . . a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields.”—David Cole, The New York Review of Books
“Searing, moving . . . Bryan Stevenson may, indeed, be America’s Mandela.”—Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
“You don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man. . . . The message of this book . . . is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.”—Ted Conover, The New York Times Book Review
“Inspiring . . . a work of style, substance and clarity . . . Stevenson is not only a great lawyer, he’s also a gifted writer and storyteller.”—The Washington Post
“As deeply moving, poignant and powerful a book as has been, and maybe ever can be, written about the death penalty.”—The Financial Times
“Brilliant.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A searing, moving and infuriating memoir . . . Bryan Stevenson may, indeed, be America’s Mandela. For decades he has fought judges, prosecutors and police on behalf of those who are impoverished, black or both. . . . Injustice is easy not to notice when it affects people different from ourselves; that helps explain the obliviousness of our own generation to inequity today. We need to wake up. And that is why we need a Mandela in this country.”—Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
“Unfairness in the justice system is a major theme of our age. . . . This book brings new life to the story by placing it in two affecting contexts: [Bryan] Stevenson’s life work and the deep strain of racial injustice in American life. . . . You don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man. Against tremendous odds, Stevenson has worked to free scores of people from wrongful or excessive punishment, arguing five times before the Supreme Court. . . . The book extols not his nobility but that of the cause, and reads like a call to action for all that remains to be done. . . . The message of the book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful. . . . Stevenson has been angry about [the criminal justice system] for years, and we are all the better for it.”—Ted Conover, The New York Times Book Review
“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.”—John Grisham
“Bryan Stevenson is one of my personal heroes, perhaps the most inspiring and influential crusader for justice alive today, and Just Mercy is extraordinary. The stories told within these pages hold the potential to transform what we think we mean when we talk about justice.”—Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
“A distinguished NYU law professor and MacArthur grant recipient offers the compelling story of the legal practice he founded to protect the rights of people on the margins of American society. . . . Emotionally profound, necessary reading.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review, Kirkus Prize Finalist)
“A passionate account of the ways our nation thwarts justice and inhumanely punishes the poor and disadvantaged.”—Booklist (starred review)
“From the frontlines of social justice comes one of the most urgent voices of our era. Bryan Stevenson is a real-life, modern-day Atticus Finch who, through his work in redeeming innocent people condemned to death, has sought to redeem the country itself. This is a book of great power and courage. It is inspiring and suspenseful—a revelation.”—Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns
“Words such as important and compelling may have lost their force through overuse, but reading this book will restore their meaning, along with one’s hopes for humanity.”—Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Mountains Beyond Mountains
“Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all. Just Mercy should be read by people of conscience in every civilized country in the world to discover what happens when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy. It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation.”—Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate