‘Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption’2/17/2016
The community of Monroeville, Alabama takes enormous pride in being the model for “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” fictional town of Maycomb, written by its most famous resident, author Harper Lee. Fifty years after the fictional Atticus Finch defended a falsely-accused black man, Bryan Stevenson came to the aid of a real-life black man from Monroeville who was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he could not possibly have committed.
As a law student at Harvard, Stevenson was uncertain about his commitment to a legal career, but an internship in Alabama changed his life. Invigorated by a calling to defend those most desperately in need, he founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.
In “Just Mercy,” Stevenson describes the struggle to get the Equal Justice Initiative off the ground and tells stories of those he and his associates defended. Some were children sentenced as adults, and some were victims of false charges and/or corruption on the part of police, prosecutors and judges. Many were minorities who received sentences, including the death penalty, which was far out of proportion to the crime committed. In most cases, there were extenuating circumstances that are hard to imagine. Would an approach other than a long prison sentence be of greater value to both the individual and society?
The accounts are infuriating and illustrate that, despite progress, the road to equal justice is a long one. Stevenson acknowledges having moments of despair but describes resolutely forging ahead. In addition to being a brilliant and passionate lawyer, Stevenson is a superb and compelling writer. “Just Mercy” is the moving memoir of an idealistic young lawyer, a suspenseful read and an inspiring call to put equality and compassion over revenge and retribution in our justice system. CV
Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.