“A searing, moving and infuriating memoir . . . Bryan Stevenson may, indeed, be America’s Mandela. For decades he has fought judges, prosecutors and police on behalf of those who are impoverished, black or both. . . . Injustice is easy not to notice when it affects people different from ourselves; that helps explain the obliviousness of our own generation to inequity today. We need to wake up. And that is why we need a Mandela in this country.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
“The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.”
This encapsulates what Bryan Stevenson has worked so hard for all his life. This is a powerful story of the difference one man-made by choosing to stand with those no one else supported. The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) that works to help victims of wrongful imprisonment, prisoners who shouldn’t be on death row and the most vulnerable targets of an unfair criminal justice system – women, children and people of colour in America, is someone truly worth applauding, honouring and emulating.
First encountering a death row prisoner while doing an internship in Alabama as a young law student, Stevenson was appalled when he realised that there were people jailed and killed for crimes they had not committed just because of their race and because those more powerful could do what they wanted with no questions asked. One of his earliest clients, Walter McMillian,a black man, was on death row for the alleged murder of a young white woman he didn’t know, had never met and couldn’t possibly have killed.
The fact that he had a strong alibi with multiple people confirming he was at a family gathering on the very day the crime took place was not considered worthy of note. It took just another desperate criminal’s coached testimony to condemn him to prison to await death without even a trial. A combination of the desperation of law enforcement to pin the crime on someone because justice was being clamoured for, racial prejudice and the sheer indifference displayed by a court of law that failed to be impartial, meant Walter McMillian had no chance of escape. Until Bryan Stevenson intervened and started asking the uncomfortable questions, filing appeals and collecting evidence that showed the gross miscarriage of justice.
Along with this unbelievable travesty of a case, Stevenson was also working on helping children who were sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed when they were as young as 13 and incarcerated with adults who abused them in horrible ways. With no weight age given to the mental condition or circumstances of any of these children, most of them black, keeping them in jail was deemed the only way out. Solitary confinement and disciplinary action damaged them further psychologically until they were barely even human.
Working to change a system that did not give these young offenders, many of whom were inside for petty crimes and crimes committed under great duress, any chance of a meaningful release,Stevenson encountered unbelievable opposition but continued the fight, making a difference not only to dozens of individual prisoners but to the community as a whole by having unfair laws related to legal punishments and death revoked.
This is his account of a life dedicated to showing mercy to those who don’t seem the most deserving, to those who have no voice and no one to advocate for them and to those innocents who most deserve a chance to tell their story to the world.
Hard-hitting with lots of true stories of victims and facts about racism in the legal system in America, it is an engaging read that makes it clear what the origin of prejudice is and how it creates a cycle of viciousness that can only be broken by someone willing to show mercy.
Added 29th June 2020