This was my school’s summer reading book this year. I probably wouldn’t have read Just Mercy on my own based on the title and cover, but I did like it and do plan to teach from it. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who is working to get people off death row. He’s also generally cool like he’d give out his number and card to everyone and he’d take on 100 cases (free of charge–he started a non-profit in Alabama) if they’re all relevant.
So he’s a good guy and a good thinker and writer, and I just wish he was talking about abolition instead of reform. Like all of his logic and all of his examples and stuff are all evidence for the need to abolish the system but he still only uses the word “reform.” Saying that’s what we need. And his story is a story about reforming existing policies–stopping DEATH or LONG sentences, advocating against CRUEL AND UNUSUAL punishment. Like don’t be TOO mean. Don’t do it to KIDS. But in my eyes, also don’t do it to adults…….. Don’t do it at all…….
The book (and he) is effective tho because because he’s doing stuff people would agree on in a way that may lead them down a path of abolition. Really what he does should happen at the same time as actual abolition. Stopping a long sentence by doing a retrial AND not measuring sentences in years. Because that is cruel and unusual. How Stevenson humanizes his clients can be a means of humanizing everyone. Multiple people he gets free say something about the people they feel have been left behind. Everyone would like their case looked at. And that’s because no one (including the reader) would want to be locked up (if they’re not already).
Anyway Stevenson is at his best telling other people’s stories. That 14 year old boy and that guy in the wheelchair–like those are real people living like that and going through that. I love that he emphasizes a person’s upbringing and trauma as a measure of innocence. He is ultimately telling a tragedy. One thing I would have wanted is more about Stevenson and his upbringing. What’s something he’s done wrong? Why’d he go to law school for real? It starts with him clumsily getting into Harvard Law and it’s like okay but what came before that? lol. Just Mercy is more of a professional narrative than a traditional memoir in that way.
Best line: Approximately 75 to 80 percent of incarserated women are mothers with minor children. Nearly 65 percent had minor children living with them at the time of their arrest. -Bryan Stevenson p 236-7