Halfway through reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption I wanted to hop on a plane and fly to wherever Stevenson was to say, “How can I help?” Stevenson has written an incredibly moving narrative of the injustice that is visited by the justice system on some of the most vulnerable, including:
- children imprisoned for non-homicidal offenses;
- men (predominantly Black) on death-row, some wrongly accused and most without adequate legal assistance and,
- poor women of all races.
We meet these individuals in their full humanity. The prisoners become people on the pages of Just Mercy and the author’s own humanity, humility, compassion, and courage frame every paragraph.
Stevenson provides us with historical detail and maps out the legal landscape in metaphors that make sense to readers without a legal background. We see how slavery, “the racial terrorism of lynching,” convict leasing at the end of the 19th century, and Jim Crow are all linked to mass incarceration. We are confronted with the broken nature of the system and the many broken bodies and spirits it leaves in its wake.
And yet this page-turner also offers hope. The author’s faith in both the power of redemption and the possibility of justice keep him and others like him challenging unjust systems and laws and finding relief and even escape for some on death row.
Just Mercy reminded me of the education system in which I have spent the better part of my life. I reflected on the parallels between the two systems, especially the broken dreams and spirits that some schooling processes leave behind. Through it all, Stevenson keeps our eyes focused and strengthens our determination to work for both justice and redemption in whatever systems we are involved.
I could not put Just Mercy down until I had examined every last endnote, for each one is full of information on a justice system and a social order that need to be transformed.
—Reviewed by Enid Lee for Teaching for Change