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Bryan Stevenson – Just Mercy

Posted in Book reviews, and Non-fiction

I love Goodreads for various reasons. One of them are my friends there, who help me discover new, brilliant books of genres I would maybe not pick up by myself – just as it happened with Just Mercy, one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.

Usually, I don’t speak about the authors themselves, maybe because I choose a book according to its theme rather than its author, but of course there are authors I love and then I just want to read all of their books. This time, however, I consider necessary to say that Bryan Stevensson is the founder of Equal Justice Initiative, lawyer, social justice activist and professor at New York University School of Law.

Stories he shares in Just Mercy are moving and disturbing at the same time. The book is about Bryan’s start of Equal Justice Initiative, work with his clients and another related cases. The main story in focus is about Walter McMillian, who spent six years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Although his first trial happened years ago, even now there are ongoing events reminding racial bias in criminal justice.

It’s very easy to condemn people in everyday life, though Just Mercy shows how putting wrongly condemned individuals in prisons/on death rows, can be sometimes equally easy. This realization is scary itself, but even more while reading stories of both children and adults with all background facts, necessary for understanding the complexity of the issue. There are not many of us who want to think whether a prisoner was wrongly condemned, as we suppose all of them will try to convince us about their innocence. Suddenly, nothing else matter but the commited crime. But things are not only black and white. As Bryan puts it:

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.”

Another important factors are wealth and health of the condemned. It describes situations of mentally or physically handicapped prisoners, children in prisons for adults. The experiences of various kinds of abuse were part of their everyday life. It reminded me few stories I read about transwomen in men’s prisons, another widely accepted injustice which my mind simply can’t understand.
Poverty and desperation are well-known triggers of criminal acts. But not every poor is a criminal, albeit not every poor prisoner deserves to be on the death row just because he didn’t have enough money to pay a good advocate.

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” says Bryan regarding this issue.

Just Mercy is not a memoir in the true sense of word – there is very little about author himself, his life apart from his professional life. Even there there is more focus on each case and related issues, than Bryan’s own dillemas, for example. It could be interesting to read more about his feelings and thoughts.

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