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Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

2014, Spiegel & Grau

A Story of Justice and Redemption

Julia lent me this book which she read for a law class.

Bryan Stevenson is a civil rights lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which seeks to defend the poor and wrongly condemned in the United States.

Compared to Nelson Mandela (Nicholas Kristof, The New York Time), "perhaps the most influential crusader for justice alive today" according to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow*, Stevenson's memoir Just Mercy is rivetting, heartbreaking and hopeful. *,

Stevenson tells the stories of people he has worked with, like Walter McMillian, sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. While fighting for Walter and others like him, Stevenson encountered the corruption and indifference of a legal system that treats “people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent”.

But rather than become bitter, he concludes that all humans are broken, and to save ourselves we need to show compassion, which brings hope: We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and as a result, deny our own humanity.

Capital punishment:

…the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to Kill?


…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, 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.


What You Can Do to Help

Author's Note (message from Bryant Stevenson at end of his book):

With more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, an additional six million people on probation or parole 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. If you have interest in working with or supporting volunteer programs that serve incarcerated people, organizations that provide re-entry assistance to the formerly incarcerated or organizations around the globe that seek reform of criminal justice policy please contact us at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. You can visit our website at or email us at .



See the new film:

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18 mars 2021

I just saw the movie the other night--it was really good! When you think of all the innocent people on death row who manage to get released and, like Walter, are full of mercy and not incredibly bitter and angry, I don't know how they do it.

Thank goodness the death penalty is on its last legs (apart from that lame duck rampage of last-minute federal executions under Trump and Barr😡) in large part due to activists and European drug companies; I'm skeptical Biden can make good on his campaign promise to eliminate the death penalty, but I hope that he at least commutes the sentences of all the inmates on federal death row. And then he and Congress should…

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