Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative) was one of my favorite reads from 2014 (and it came out in 2014!). You may recall that I once read a book called Contempt of Court by Mark Curriden that was about a black man living in the south who was (in all probability) wrongly accused of attacking a white woman and shoved onto death row for it. Contempt of Court was a true story of an important court case from 1906. Just Mercy tells many people’s stories, but the main story, the story that threads the entire book, is about a black man named Walter who was wrongly accused of killing a white woman in the south and quickly put on death row for it. Only this time it happened in 1988. And he was at a local church fish fry (I think hosted at his house) and had, like, 20 people around him the whole time the murder took place. He spent years on Alabama’s death row. Eventually Bryan Stevenson met him and represented him.
If you’re poor, or a person of color, or mentally disabled and have been convicted of a crime, it can be difficult to get quality representation. Stevenson tries to help people these people. Unlike Walter, some of the people he represents are guilty of their crime and have been punished too harshly. There was a really moving story about a young boy, 13 years old I believe, who shot and killed his mother’s repeat abuser and was sent to prison for life with no parole. And he was sent to an adult facility instead of a place for juveniles. Yes, the boy was guilty, but should he really spend the rest of his life in prison? I say no, Bryan says no. One of the main ideas in this book is that you are more than the worst thing you have ever done. Guilty people should be punished, but we shouldn’t be too hasty to dish out the harshest punishment possible, and we need to watch our prejudices. Just mercy. Boom.