Just Mercy is a eye-opening read about injustices in the legal system and one man's attempts to help
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Award: Several awards and many nominations
Published 2014, 316 pages
I received this book a couple years ago when I announced that I was interested in reading more nonfiction. My niece sent me this book as a gift with her strong recommendation. I had read several similarly themed ones that year so kept putting this one off. I finally moved it to the top of the pile and read it this year.
Eye-opening, heartbreaking, and disturbing on so many levels, this thought provoking book is just as relevant today as when Stevenson wrote it. I admit my ignorance at the numerous ways the justice system is unjust and this book illustrates so many of them. I teared up on more than one occasion.
" An older African American man once said to me, "You make them stop saying that [domestic terrorism after 9/11]! We grew up with terrorism all the time. The police, the Klan, anybody who was white could terrorize you. We had to worry about bombings and lynchings, racial violence of all kinds." The racial terrorism of lynching in many ways created the modern death penalty. America's embrace of speedy executions was, in part, an attempt to redirect the violent energies of lynching while assuring white southerners that black men would still pay the ultimate price."
Just Mercy is the true story of Stevenson's path to creating the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) organization which helps wrongfully convicted people get their freedom, primarily in the south. It's an excruciatingly slow process, especially when the judges and courts actively resist and create roadblocks.
He started on a shoestring, overwhelmed by the volume of work and lack of finances. But he persevered and grew the organization, attracting young talented lawyers who helped free those unjustly imprisoned and also finds time to work on changing the justice system and archaic, unfair laws.
There are statistics and explanations of laws in layman's terms, but those are more than balanced by the real stories of clients he's tried to help. There are sections about the unjust imprisonment of the mentally ill, the life in prison sentences given to children 13-15 years old, the severe sentences given to poor black women for small crimes, and more.
"Today (2014), over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates in the United States have a diagnosed mental illness, a rate nearly five times greater than that of the general adult population. Nearly one in five prison and jail inmates has a serious mental illness. In fact, there are more than three times the number of seriously mentally ill individuals in jail or prison than in hospitals; in some states that number is ten times. And prison is a terrible place for someone with mental illness....."
While the book is filled with plenty of scary and depressing statistics about the laws that allow judges and prosecutors to continue to unfairly target black citizens with no consequences to themselves, what really makes it shine are the personal stories and cases he shares that really put faces and stories to that inequity.
This is a book everyone should read.
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