Up until the Wednesday two weeks ago, I was going to write my thoughts on this book. That was the plan until, well, you know what happened. I don’t have to say anything else. But if anything, writing about this book that I just read is more pertinent with the resignation of Justice Kennedy. This book speaks towards the severe injustice within the American justice system, through racial, socioeconomic, and mentally disabled lines. That is why I don’t just think that “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson is very important to read, but I think it is a must read for anyone, especially for people who call this country home.
I began reading this book after a recommendation from a friend in February, when Stevenson actually visited her school. I knew about his work, and I was so inspired by the museum he helped create, the National Museum for Peace and Justice, but I never heard about the book. So I bought the book in at the beginning of the year and began to read. But as school picked up, I set it aside and didn’t really pick it up until a few weeks ago when I started commuting for an internship. So I just read, and read, and read, and read. And when I finished it, I was truly both horrified and somehow motivated to do something.
The main premise of the book is Stevenson’s journey as an attorney representing clients for free on death row in Alabama. It details how his firm was founded, the Equal Justice Initiative (officially a dream to work there one day), and his relationship in particular with one person on death row named Walter McMillian. I will not mention anything about the specific cases Stevenson and his team tackled throughout the book, as I find the stories far more heart-wrenching if you go in with no expectations, but this is heartbreaking. There are children sentenced life without parole for non-homicide felonies, mentally ill people who are set to die without ever being diagnosed properly for their conditions, and so much more.
The book also shares Stevenson’s experience being a black attorney, not being taken seriously as a lawyer, being refused at times initially from entering a courthouse. What inspires me so much about this book is this necessity to always persevere. Above anything else that may go on in life, Stevenson exemplifies what it truly means to be a human. He is honest about his shortcomings at certain moments, but he explains how he bounced back, how he reinforces within his clients that he will do anything to ensure they will not be imprisoned for crimes unfairly and for crimes they did not commit. I really hope one day I get a chance to meet him and learn from more of not just his work as an attorney, but of his life as a person, as a human.
The single most important thing I took away from this book as a whole is that there never will be true change unless we actually try. There would have never been changes to death row and life without parole policy had Stevenson not worked to help end them, which he did thanks to victories at the Supreme Court. And when there were times when an appeal would not pass, EJI continued to try and try and try again. The only true way for the justice system to ever change is if people are diligent and are willing to take any measures necessary to ensure we administer punishments fairly. We need to work harder to be in a time where people no longer go to prison for crimes they did not commit, and more importantly, no longer receive sentences they do not deserve. And there is one important way that we can change that: vote. Support candidates that we believe have the best interest of the underrepresented, whether it be judges, DAs, or county sheriffs. We need to go out and support these candidates. Will everyone get out to vote? No. But we can get more people to vote, get more people to understand the stakes, that lives are at risk. So read “Just Mercy” and learn even more about how much our justice system really needs to change.
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