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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and…

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

by Bryan Stevenson (Author)

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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.
Title:Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Authors:Bryan Stevenson (Author)
Info:Spiegel & Grau (2014), Edition: First Edition, 352 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Tags:to-read, autobiography, non-fiction, memoir, politics, social-justice, social-issues, law-legal-affairs, Import from Goodreads

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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (Author) (2014)

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It starts off well as a blend of autobiography, the story of one person on death row and some history about the death penalty and prison system in this country. For me the history and context were the most interesting, but the human touches added depth and meaning to it.

About halfway through the narrative and style starts to wander and deteriorate. It's as if the author became distracted at the same time as wanting to cram in a bunch more things they still had on the agenda for the book. So it turns into a sort rambly jumble of story fragments and touching stories. While somewhat informative, it lacks focus and isn't very coherent and moving when compared with the first half of the book.

Some main points-

The death penalty is ...
* on a gradual decline (yay)
* seriously inhumane, both before execution and during (why is this even in dispute?)
* imposed on people who often have the least access to a good legal defense

The author and their related orgs have done good work ...
* getting life sentences for juveniles struck down as cruel and inhumane
* freeing innocent people from death row
* trying to change the legal and prison system in the south

The environment in post-slavery america was (is) a system of persistent terrorism against black people. (which brings to mind, among other things : Terrorism: Theirs and Ours by Eqbal Ahmed)

Closing comment - I know of at least one person who was moved to volunteering work related to prisons as a result of reading this. If the effect of this book is to successfully raise awareness and motivate people to become engaged in various kinds of anti-prison/carceral state work then that alone is a success and gain for society.
( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
This was a really excellent memoir. It was an important but sometimes difficult read; it's hard to read about this kind of oppression, racism, and classism, especially in such recent history and present day.

There were parts of the book that felt a little padded, and didn't (for me) really advance the narrative or add much to the context. For instance, I didn't need to read about the decor of a Swedish high school and the choir who provided a song as a thank you. It was interesting that he met Rosa Parks on more than one occasion, but I'm not sure how important in the overall context of the book that he was invited to sit and listen to these visit and talk with one another.

I also didn't love the use of so many quotations in the book, but I'm not sure what the alternative would have been. Had they been left out, it probably would have turned off a lot of readers, been too dense, and/or sounded like a lecture. And some of it that was quoted is likely from court transcripts and thus an accurate portrayal of those proceedings. My concern is related to the conversations, in quotes, that took place over the course of the last thirty years. Again, probably a personal issue, as I may have too narrow an internal definition of what a quote is (I think of it as being an exact representation of what was said). I just hope those who really need to read this book and be persuaded by its premise--that the death penalty is wrong, that children don't belong in adult courts or prisons, and that there are major flaws and faults in our justice system that keep the marginalized from obtaining justice--don't see the quotations as exaggerations, and question the book's credibility.

The book was released in 2014 and referenced cases that took place in roughly the 30 years prior, but it was interesting to read how similar it is to cases currently in the court system. Most striking (since it's one I'm familiar with) is the resemblance to the case of Curtis Flowers from Mississippi. Stevenson mentions how peremptory strikes have in the past been used to bar Black jurors simply because they are Black. Batson v. Kentucky established that this is unconstitutional, but it still happens, and when Flowers' case was heard before the SCOTUS, the main argument was that the district attorney violated Batson--an argument that proved convincing, because SCOTUS overturned his conviction. (And coincidentally, Flowers' attorney Rob McDuff is mentioned in this book as a friend of Stevenson, and a fellow civil rights attorney in McDuff's home state of Mississippi.)

One quote that was interesting: "The person they interviewed at Holman prison is not the same person arrested... for this murder." That struck me because at this point, McMillian was still on death row. But this quote seems to be useful as an argument against the death penalty. Beyond the problem of innocent people being sentenced to state-sponsored murder, if the district attorney (who stated this in court) believes this, doesn't it suggest that rehabilitation is possible and put into question whether you should execute someone who might drastically change? People are more than a single moment in time, and although it's hard to see that sometimes, the people shown in this book help me to remember that.

Other excerpts that were particularly meaningful to me:

"So many of us have become afraid and angry. 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 seem tough, less broken."

"We've submitted to the harsh instinct to crush those among us whose brokenness is most visible."

"... each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done."

"In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy."

"...if we acknowledged our brokenness, we could no longer take pride in mass incarceration, in executing people, in our deliberate indifference to the most vulnerable."

"The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving."

I hope others who read this book are similarly touched so that we might have a better chance to enter into a era of reconciliation, of reform, and of compassion. ( )
  AeshaMali | Jan 16, 2020 |
So much of Just Mercy went straight to my heart, making me reach for a pencil to underline, grab a pen to jot down a thought in my notebook, want to clutch the arm of the person next to me on the subway and say, "Have you read this book? You should read this book!" This line, from what I think is the most powerful chapter of Just Mercy, stands out to me: "...we exploit the inability of the poor to get the legal assistance they need—all so we can kill them with less resistance."

All of our country's problems with income disparity, race, and violence are distilled in that one little line. Bryan Stevenson's chilling, yet somehow encouraging, account of his casework and personal journey with the Equal Justice Initiative recreates that feat again and again.

I had the honor and privilege of hearing Mr. Stevenson speak at the Brooklyn Book Festival last Sunday; I was about a third of the way through his book at the time. His voice was just as I'd imagined it: warm, urgent, and hopeful. Through all he has seen, through all of the struggle and heartbreak, and victories and losses, he continues to be hopeful. As he said in speech and in Just Mercy, "That 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." ( )
  revafisheye | Jan 10, 2020 |
This book is a memoir describing the experience of Bryan Stevenson and his work as founder of the Equal Justice Institute, an organization which defends the poor and those unjustly convicted of crimes. The author examines one of his first cases, a man who was incorrectly convicted of murder even though there was a large amount of contradictory evidence. While I originally said this was a memoir of the author, the book also describes the circumstances of various people who were convicted of crimes for which they were innocent.
  morningrob | Nov 11, 2019 |
Bryan Stevenson's memoir of his work resulting in the founding of the Equal Justice Initiative. The main story through the book is Walter McMillan, one of Bryan's early clients, who was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct, law enforcement misconduct, and just plain torture and terrorism.

The essence of the book is the degree of injustice to racial minorities and the poor. Bryan is a powerful story teller with a compelling story to tell. I have this as a Kindle book w/ whispersync. Bryan is the reader on the audio. Both the writing and narration are well done. I highly recommend this book. ( )
  tangledthread | Oct 15, 2019 |
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