“My short time [serving as an intern] on death row revealed that there was something missing in the way we treat people in our judicial system, that maybe we judge some people unfairly. The more I reflected on the experience, the more I recognized that I had been struggling my whole life with the question of how and why people are judged unfairly.” – Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird and shows the power of fighting for what is right when all seems to be stacked against you. Bryan Stevenson tells his story – that of a young black child growing up in a highly segregated neighborhood in Delaware who grew up to be a profoundly powerful advocate for death penalty inmates. Although he started out as a reluctant lawyer who saw law school as his only career option, after a summer internship working for a nonprofit, he became dedicated to helping those most neglected by the judicial system. Transformed by his experience, Bryan becomes curious about the role that poverty and race play in death row placements.
Stevenson’s life changes dramatically one day, however, when he meets an inmate for whom he must begin the fight of his life. “I was in my late twenties and about to start my fourth year at the SPDC when I men Walter McMillan. His case was one of the flood of cases I’d found myself frantically working on after learning of a growing crisis in Alabama. The state had nearly a hundred people on death row as well as the fastest-growing condemned population int he country, but it also had no public defender system, which meant that large numbers of death row prisoners had no legal representation of any kind.” Recognizing the way in which he can be of influence, Stevenson takes up Walter’s case, and unwittingly begins a legal battle to prove Walter’s innocence in a system that maligns the marginalized.
This book is a powerful read and proves that justice remains a contemporary topic. While Atticus Finch may have been a fictional character, Bryan Stevenson shows that advocates of morality and right still exist.
Book Club Questions:
- Although this is a contemporary story, it still happened a few decades ago. Do you believe that the justice system has changed in any way to avoid similar injustices?
- Stevenson is honest about his views about the death penalty. Based on his insight and recent reporting on the death penalty, do you believe that it is still a solution to address criminal behaviors in the 21st century?
- Should Walter’s youth or upbringing be considered when deciding upon his (or any criminal’s) punishment?