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

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Release date: October 21st, 2014 Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website Publisher: Spiegel & Grau Pages: 336 Description (from Goodreads): A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy  is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice. "The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned." This book is incredible. It is touching, comprehensive, eye-opening, fearless, heartbreaking, inspiring, and so much more. Before you take time to read any more of my thoughts, please take a moment to listen to Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption  wasn't the first book I've read about the criminal justice system in the United States and certainly won't be the last. I suspect, though, that it will be one of the best, if not the best, book out there on the subject of the criminal justice system and its intersections with race and class. "This book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America. It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us." Stevenson's approach to the topic is personal and often quite subjective -- after all, he got close to the people whose rights he was defending and unfortunately often had to say goodbye to those people because there just wasn't enough time and resources to help them. Yet, despite the subjectivity, Stevenson is able to support his arguments with fact and figures. He is clearly a professional in his field and thus extremely credible. Rather than writing about the criminal justice system from afar his approach to the topic through personal stories from his career makes the book so much more effective and page-turning. The way he writes about these people condemned by the system shows love, care, and understanding and makes Stevenson seem like a person you would one on your corner if you ever get caught in the web of the criminal justice system in the United States. (Obviously, though, the color of my skin alone would make me highly privileged in comparison to the people Stevenson writes about. This is the kind of wrong Stevenson wants to try to set right. After all, the system should be equal for everyone!) "In poor urban neighborhoods across the United States, black and brown boys routinely have multiple encounters with the police. Even though many of these children have done nothing wrong, they are targeted by police, presumed guilty, and suspected by law enforcement of being dangerous or engaged in criminal activity. The random stops, questioning, and harassment dramatically increase the risk of arrest for petty crimes. Many of these children develop criminal records for behavior that more affluent children engage in with impunity." Stevenson takes quite a bit of time to discuss the intersections of mass incarceration and mental illnesses, which was not only interesting but also necessary. He brings up statistics to support his arguments and many of the things he mentions left me puzzled. For example, over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates in the US have been diagnosed with a mental illness. This means that the rate of mentally ill inmates is almost five times higher than that of the general adult population in the US. Though the jails and prisons house such a huge percentage of people with mental illnesses the prisons and jails are often unable to treat the inmates in a way that would help them. Rather, they are left alone and often hopeless. Rather than finding ways to rehabilitate the inmates in ways that would make it easier for them to get back to their lives once they have served their sentences, the prisons and jails often do only harm. Though Stevenson takes joy from his victories, there is a clear undercurrent of anger towards the system and the people who use it for their benefit without considering the wellbeing of others. That anger is extremely justifiable and while reading this book I felt like I got a chance to be angry with Stevenson. It is incredibly sad, yet not surprising, that people in positions of power are ready to look the other way in order to keep their status. I was glad to read that some of these people got what they deserved, but unfortunately too many of them are still in power. Just look at the fool who is leading the United States at the moment. "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. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things that you can't otherwise see; you hear things you can't otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us." I wish I would have enough money to buy several copies of this book so I could give a copy to everyone from my family and circle of friends because I honestly feel like this is one of those books everyone should read. While looking for info on the book from Goodreads I noticed that it is on a list called "Books White People Need To Read." I definitely agree with that categorization. I am reminded of the privileges I get just because I am white on a daily basis while reading news/social media updates, etc. All of those reminders are important, but this one is probably one of the strongest reminders I've got in a while. Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. You can find more information about the work they do from here . If you are interested in getting involved in the work they do, you can find more information on it from here . I will end this review with one of my favorite quotes from the book. "The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It's when mercy is least expected that it's most potent -- strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration." Rating:  

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