Through the years, I’ve seen several news reports of imprisoned men and women being released after they were proven to be wrongly convicted of various crimes. I was left with two strong feelings: relief that their innocence had been proven, and angry that they had spent years (even decades, in some cases) of their lives behind bars when they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I would only know the little that was reported about their wrongful convictions—usually that their conviction was overturned by DNA evidence or whatever—without knowing how they came to be tried and convicted in the first place. After reading this book, I’m certain that knowing those details would likely have left me feeling horrified, as well.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is a memoir about Bryan Stevenson’s work in the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization he founded in 1994.
The Equal Justice Initiative (or EJI) is a non-profit organization, based in Montgomery, Alabama, that provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes, poor prisoners without effective representation, and others who may have been denied a fair trial. It guarantees the defense of anyone in Alabama in a death penalty case.
Several cases are discussed in the book, such as the case of an African-American man named Walter McMillian. Accused of murdering a white woman, Walter was held on death row PRIOR to being tried and convicted in a trial that lasted less than two days, despite having a solid alibi during the time of the murder—a fact ignored by the jury, who imposed a sentence of life in prison. The Alabama judge disagreed and sentenced Mr. McMillian to death instead. It took six long years of dedicated work for the EJI to prove McMillian’s innocence.
In another case, Marsha Colbey was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment after giving birth to a stillborn child. She spent 5 years in an Alabama prison before her conviction was overturned and she was released.
Several other cases are discussed in the book and, unfortunately, not all of them had successful outcomes.
After I finished reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more innocent men and women are in our prisons. However many there are, I can only hope they find someone like Mr. Stevenson who is willing to fight for them.
I highly recommend reading this one. It’s definitely a Book Worth Reading.
About the Book
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.
New York Times Bestseller | Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Seattle Times • Esquire • Time
Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction | Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction | Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award | Finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize | Finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize | An American Library Association Notable Book
About the Author
BRYAN STEVENSON is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University School of Law. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.