Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson is a phenomenal book. I don't usually put much stock in books being "#1 New York Times Bestsellers," but this book truly deserves that title. I usually fly through books, and putting a book down or making slow progress usually indicates that I won't finish it because the plot or the writing just isn't drawing me in. But this book... It took me a little over a month to read. Part of the reason was because I was reading 2 other books at the same time, but really, the issue was that it's too real to read through in one sitting.
I learned my lesson when I binged watched the Kalief Browder story on Netflix, and Mr. Stevenson's book is full of true stories highlighting the same faults in our criminal "justice" system. The overarching story is that of Walter McMillian who was wrongfully convicted of murder through shady practices and sentenced to death in Alabama. Mr. Stevenson, a young lawyer just beginning his career, started the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to assist people like Mr. McMillian, and quickly became engrossed in the case. As Mr. Stevenson recounts the long, hard journey to establish true justice for Mr. McMillian, he weaves in the stories of countless other clients he was able to claim justice for. From wrongly accused men on death row to adults who had been imprisoned with life sentences as mere children, we get a glimpse at how unfair the system is to minorities and to the poor.
I had to put the book down every few pages because the injustice was so unsettling. There were times I wanted to quit reading; after all, I know our justice system is rigged. I couldn't, though. It was unsettling to read, but think how unsettling it is to live. Can you imagine knowing you're innocent but being on death row? Watching people leave, smelling their flesh burning from the electric chair knowing you'll never see them again, and knowing that one day it could be you? That's what many of the people highlighted in this book lived through.
The book isn't just about justice, though. It's also about mercy. Sometimes people do commit crimes and sometimes they should be punished for what they did. However, mercy is must come with the judgment. Mercy must be the final outcome. After someone has paid their debt to society, mercy must be granted. Rehabilitation and reintegration into society is no small feat, but it must take priority to avoid reentry to prison or suicides like that of the young Kalief Browder.
...Walter had taught me that mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven't earned it, who haven't even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion. Walter genuinely forgave the people who unfairly accused him, the people who convicted him, and the people who had judged him unworthy of mercy. And in the end, it was just mercy toward others that allowed him to recover a life worth celebrating, a life that rediscovered the love and freedom that all humans desire, a life that overcame death and condemnation until it was time to die on God's schedule.
While I'm 100% positive that the book will always be better, there is a movie in the works. Michael B. Jordan will star as Bryan Stevenson and Jamie Foxx will star as Walter McMillian. It is scheduled to be released on January 17, 2020.
Nonetheless, I highly recommend reading this book, and I also encourage you to check out the Equal Justice Initiative, which is still working to provide justice to those society has condemned and forgotten.
- Benjamin Weiser. "Kalief Browder’s Suicide Brought Changes to Rikers. Now It Has Led to a $3 Million Settlement.". NY Times. January 24, 2019
- "Just Mercy (2020)". IMDb; visited March 2019
- "Get Involved". Equal Justice Initiative; visited March 2019