I’ve been trying to get back into reading as a hobby, not just as a requirement for class. Picking up Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption over winter break was exactly what I needed. In his book, Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard-educated lawyer, eloquently depicts the lives of people on death row, while giving them their respect and humanity back.
The people currently residing on death row were not written about. Stevenson allows us to view these individuals not solely through the lens of dangerous criminals, but rather as people that had made a mistake or had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He allows the reader to get to know his clients by retelling his visits and conversations with the inmate themselves, as well as communications with the inmates’ families. These stories give the reader the capacity to empathize with the inmates and to see beyond the crime they were convicted of. By choosing to include stories from both clients that had actually committed the crime they were accused of, as well as clients that were innocent, Stevenson shows readers that they can search beyond horrific mistakes and that the justice system, though we are taught to hold it in high regard, is deeply, deeply flawed.
Stevenson is able to highlight the deep societal issues surrounding unjust sentences and how they were (and still are) allowed. He examines corruption within a police force, political alliances, the wants of a community, coercion to wrongfully testify, the lack of mental health resources, and the disadvantages lower income and communities populated by racial minorities face in the justice system. All of these issues, as well as the lack of compassion and adequate facilities in prisons, combine to create the unjust system we currently maintain and experience within the United States of America. Stevenson explained his experiences attempting to fight these injustices through his work — describing how difficult, exhausting, and disappointing the work is. However, when he (and his firm) are successful, it’s incredibly rewarding.
Just Mercy also serves as a wonderful introduction to legal terminology and expectations. The vocabulary used is not too elevated; it’s easy to understand in context. Since there aren’t too many legal terms used, the ones I picked up were easy to retain. Now I can recall the meaning of them the next time they pop up, which contributes to my personal learning.
I flew through reading Just Mercy, finishing it in just three days. I found myself re-evaluating my opinions on death sentencing as well as the criminal justice system as a whole. I also ended up doing some additional research to further educate myself. Though I don’t want to go into criminal justice law, I found the introduction to legal jargon and Stevenson’s way of working with clients very helpful in understanding the field of law in general. I highly, highly recommend Just Mercy to any and all students looking at law school or just wanting to better educate themselves on these pervasive issues in society. Just Mercy gifts you a front row seat to the injustice in the United States criminal processing system.