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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014)

by Bryan Stevenson

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The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compassion in American justice.
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"We are all broken by something." ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
“Each one of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” That is one of the key messages from this book. It’s an amazing read from an attorney who works with prisoners on death row. The main story focuses on Walter—an inmate who was condemned and imprisoned on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. The author goes back and forth between telling the story of how they sought to overturn Walter’s conviction with the stories of other individuals who received harsh punishments for crimes (for example, a 13-year old who was tried as an adult for killing his stepfather following a domestic violence incident). The stories are heartbreaking—and sometimes infuriating—but hearing about this work and the progress being made in our justice system gives me hope. While the alternating between stories is sometimes distracting, the ultimate message of this book is not lost. And its core message—that we are more than our worst mistake—will stay with me for a long time. ( )
  bentleymitchell | Aug 27, 2021 |
Sandy Hochman / Cynthia Stone strong rec
  wordloversf | Aug 14, 2021 |
A very moving, upsetting, truth-telling book. The author's kindness extends to the reader as well as to all the people he describes interacting with. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
This book, a first-hand account of the work of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative, is by turns maddening, depressing, and inspirational. Stevenson went to work at the Southern Center for Human Rights after earning his law degree from Harvard University. He recounts the shaky beginnings of the early attempts to provide legal remedy for people either wrongly convicted or subjected to inappropriate sentences for their crimes. As Stevenson remarks early in the book, he quickly learned the meaning of capital punishment: those without the capital get the punishment. It’s hard for me to imagine the courage is must have taken to face hostile judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs. Or the times he and his co-workers must have felt bone-weary; worn-down by the enormity of their task.
What impressed me about the book however is that, although it is told first-hand, the author does not make himself the focus. Instead, he creates unforgettable portraits of the individuals such as Walter McMillian he has striven to help, sometimes successfully.
Sustaining him as well were the encounters with veterans of the civil rights battles of the fifties and sixties, such as the elderly man who listens impassively as Stevenson speaks at a church, then asks for a word with him afterward. His body bore the marks of the beatings he’d endured, but he said they were not scars, but medals. I was equally moved, however, by the change of heart of the most menacing prison guard he’d encountered.
The author’s humanity shines through in his conviction that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done. And I was haunted by his insistence that the crucial question about capital punishment is not whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit, but do we deserve to kill?
As the postscript in the edition I read records, some progress has been made in recent years. Juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide can no longer be housed in adult prisons. Nor can they be executed or sentenced to life without parole. Even in states that have not yet banned execution, such as California, there is a moratorium on carrying them out. Yet there are also steps back: the current administration has resumed carrying out executions of federal prisoners.
It remains true that the United States has a shamefully high incarceration rate compared to other nations and that, among them, the number of poor people and people of color is disproportionately high. There’s still plenty to do. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
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Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument. -- Reinhold Niebuhr
In memory of Alice Golden Stevenson, my mom
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[Introduction] I wasn't prepared to meet a condemned man.
The temporary receptionist was an elegant African American woman wearing a dark, expensive business suit--a well-dressed exception to the usual crowd at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC) in Atlanta, where I had returned after graduation to work full time.
[Postscript] On a warm Good Friday morning, I walked out of a Birimingham jail with an innocent man who had been condemned on Alabama's death row for nearly thirty years.
[Author's Note] With more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, an additional six million people on probation or paraole and an estimated sixty-eight million Americans with criminal records, there are endless opportunities for you to do something about criminal justice policy or help the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated.
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The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compassion in American justice.

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