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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and…

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

by Bryan Stevenson

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    Dead Man Walking by Helen Prejean (5hrdrive)
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Author is attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center (?), works with condemned people to get them either freed or off Death Row. Does a good job; the book focuses on the story of a few. Heartbreaking in places. ( )
  JeanetteSkwor | May 25, 2017 |
I have been meaning to read this for a while and glad I finally got around to it. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer and advocate for those unjustly (or harshly convicted). This includes death row inmates, poor people without good representation, juveniles, mentally ill convicts, etc. He explores the complex dynamics of a broken legal system and systemic racism. The poor and innocent have harsh sentences will the rich and guilty walk free.

Full of stories from his legal career, the central story tells of a death row inmate he represented and his friendship with him.

Heavy stuff but enough hope in Stevenson's tale to make for a compelling read. ( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
Good book on race and wealth being factors in justice in legal system, especially concerning the death penalty and lifers. ( )
  broreb | May 11, 2017 |
I finished Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy while I was sitting in the waiting room at the clinic today. Here’s some solid advice, read this book at home. I didn’t follow that advice and the tears were streaming down my face as I read the incredibly moving story of a woman whose grandson was murdered but who felt no joy when the teens who killed him were sentenced to life in prison without parole. Seeing their lives laid waste compounded her sorrow and she cried and a woman, a stranger sat with her while she cried. So for fifteen years she has come to the courthouse for families of victims and defendants. “ I guess I just felt like maybe I could be someone, you know, that somebody hurting could lean on.”

It is rare compassion in a book full of cruelty and inhumanity. Bryan Stevenson is the founder of Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that primarily represents people on death row and children who have been sentenced as adults to absurdly long sentences. He is the lawyer whose appeals to the Supreme Court ended LWOP for juvenile defendants.

While every other chapter focuses on his work freeing Walter McMillian, an egregious case of racist police, prosecutor, and judge railroading an innocent blackman because he offended the community by having an affair with a white woman. In an absurd kind of irony, this all happened in the town Harper Lee is from, the town of To Kill a Mockingbird. The community had a huge industry around this book about an innocent black man being sentenced to death and yet had no problem doing that very thing. The level of malfeasance is hard to believe, except of course, he was a black man with ineffective counsel.

Ineffective counsel is pretty much the norm for poor people and it gets worse all the time. Gideon v. Wainwright may guarantee people a right to counsel, but the Supreme Court has been lax about making it a reality and states and the federal government have cut funding to the bone. In one capital case that Stevenson worked appealed, the state provided $1000 for two lawyers who spent all their time arguing about who would get the money. When the defendant said there was a pay check that could prove his mental illness (This makes sense in context.) The lawyers got the check, cashed it and took the money and did not present it in evidence. The litany of bad faith in defending people, in expert testimony, in prosecution is heartbreaking.

A good lawyer needs to be able to construct a compelling narrative and Stevenson is a good lawyer. Just Mercy is a book that is hard to put down, except sometimes, I had to put it down just because the level of injustice and heartbreak is too much to bear. When he tells of his clients who were sentenced to life without parole at 13 and 14 years, including a 14 year old girl who set an accidental fire lighting matches as she moved through a dark house in order to see. She’s still in prison. This book is filled with heartbreaking stories that are woven around the narrative of freeing Walter McMillian.

Just Mercy is a call to action. I thought about my mother while I was reading this. She loved poetry and memorized a lot, but her favorite memorized piece was the soliloquy from The Merchant of Venice and she would recite its entirety any time she got a chance. I can remember her rolling out pie crust and reciting, “The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes…It is an attribute to God himself; and earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.

We live in a punitive society, our criminal justice system is oriented toward retribution, not rehabilitation. Reparative justice and reconciliation are perceived as weak, though there is nothing weaker than the fear that drives retribution. This is compounded by racism which is endemic, most particularly in the criminal justice system, and poverty which is perceived by many as a moral failing, making poverty easy to criminalize through poor access to counsel. Many of the side effects of poverty such as lack of health care are used as evidence to condemn people. Stevenson is clearing the Aegean stables trying to shovel faster than the injustice system. We all of us are complicit in this injustice, perhaps by reading Just Mercy people will be inspired to help.

I was provided a promotional copy of Just Mercy by the publisher through Blogging for Books.

http://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/9780812984965/ ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | May 1, 2017 |
My book club chose this as one of the selections this year. I had never heard of it before but I volunteered to review it. I always go a little crazy doing the research on the author, but I really enjoyed finding out all I could about Bryan Stevenson and the subject of the book.

I loved this book and if I was teaching any kind of social studies class I would somehow get around to reading this book with the class or at least doing a few of the chapters. There are also great videos of Bryan available for free. There is almost enough content in these videos to allow you to understand this topic without reading the book... but I suggest you read the book, too.

Here are some of my notes from my book club ( I am not including all of them as I would have to be more careful about citations than I was for an oral presentation)

You are welcome to use this info for your book club (as gathered here by me) I hope more clubs read this book. If you are inclined, please share you info with me as I would like to keep up to date on Bryan Stevenson and his work.


From Ted Talk
In 1972, there were 300,000 people in jails and prisons. Today, there are 2.3 million. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We have seven million people on probation and parole. And mass incarceration, in my judgment, has fundamentally changed our world. In poor communities, in communities of color there is this despair, there is this hopelessness, that is being shaped by these outcomes. One out of three black men between the ages of 18 and 30 is in jail, in prison, on probation or parole. In urban communities across this country -- Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington -- 50 to 60 percent of all young men of color are in jail or prison or on probation or parole.
And finally, I believe that, despite the fact that it is so dramatic and so beautiful and so inspiring and so stimulating, we will ultimately not be judged by our technology, we won't be judged by our design, we won't be judged by our intellect and reason. Ultimately, you judge the character of a society, not by how they treat their rich and the powerful and the privileged, but by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated. Because it's in that nexus that we actually begin to understand truly profound things about who we are.

We have to commit to doing things uncomfortable…

The opposite of poverty is justice

Book information

Stories from the book -- gathered from web site of Stevenson's organization

Walter McMillian https://eji.org/walter-mcmillian

Walter McMillian, who is black, was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a young white woman who worked as a clerk in a dry clearing store in Monroeville, Alabama. Mr. McMillian was held on death row prior to being convicted and sentenced to death. His trial lasted only a day and a half. Three witnesses testified against Mr. McMillian and the jury ignored multiple alibi witnesses, who were black, who testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. The trial judge overrode the jury’s sentencing verdict for life and sentenced Mr. McMillian to death.
EJI's Bryan Stevenson took on the case in postconviction, where he showed that the State’s witnesses had lied on the stand and the prosecution had illegally suppressed exculpatory evidence. Mr. McMillian's conviction was overturned by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 1993 and prosecutors agreed the case had been mishandled. Mr. McMillian was released in 1993 after spending six years on death row for a crime he did not commit.

Marsha Colbey https://eji.org/marsha-colbey
Marsha Colbey was released from prison in December 2012, in time to spend Christmas with her family. Ms. Colbey was wrongly convicted of capital murder in 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole when she gave birth to a stillborn baby. EJI challenged Ms. Colbey's conviction and the Alabama Supreme Court reversed and ordered a new trial.

Antonio Nunez https://eji.org/antonio-nunez
Antonio Nuñez is the only child in the country known to have been sentenced to die in prison for his involvement, at age 14, in a single incident where no one was injured. (California)

Joe Sullivan https://eji.org/joe-sullivan
Ian Manuel https://eji.org/ian-manuel
Diane Jones https://eji.org/diane-jones
Robert Caston https://eji.org/robert-caston
Jimmy Dill https://eji.org/jimmy-dill executed

Video and Audio.. Whatever
There are too many videos to list. Here are a few I looked at.

1992 Walter McMillian on 60 minutes
2013 Ted Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/bryan_stevenson_we_need_to_talk_about_an_injustice
2007 Death Penalty and Racism
“Race is the greatest predictor of who gets the death penalty”
2015 Harvard Law School Graduation Speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usbS_hC38GY
**2016 Sermon at the National Cathedral https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0N3g-HdEUw
This is inspirational...

Study Guide

Recent News -- this gets out of date very quickly
Supreme Court Rules against Judges imposing death sentences after jury did not (florida)
Death Sentences Vacated in Florida https://eji.org/news/florida-supreme-court-vacates-over-100-death-sentencesAlabama is still holding out and continues with the executions - ronald smith

Supreme Court strikes down Florida death penalty

Florida is trying to “fix” it’s death penalty law in order to reinstate http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/os-death-penalty-legislature-reacti...

Other Links
Equal Justice Initiative https://eji.org/
List of People executed in Alabama https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_executed_in_Alabama ( )
  honkcronk | Mar 17, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812994523, Hardcover)

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 justice.
Praise for Just Mercy
“Words such as important and compelling may have lost their force through overuse, but to read this book is to feel that they have been restored, along with one’s hopes for humanity.”—Tracy Kidder
“Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela—a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all.”—Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:45 -0400)

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