Dear Fellow Readers,
I would like to strongly urge you to read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. This amazing book is not new but I had not read it until now and I feel like I have been missing out. The book is very powerful.
Let me start at the beginning of how I found this book. I have reviewed a couple of Kelly Corrigan’s books – Tell Me More (https://cecooney.com/2018/01/09/tell-me-more-by-kelly-corrigan/) and Glitter and Glue (https://cecooney.com/2014/02/28/glitter-and-glue-a-memoir/) and had enjoyed them. I had seen some reviews of a new interview show on PBS with Kelly Corrigan. Her first interviewee was Bryan Stevenson. I had never heard of Bryan Stevenson. (I apparently live under a rock.) Since I had read great reviews and vaguely followed Kelly Corrigan for years, I thought I would watch the show. You can watch it (and I urge you to watch it) at PBS.org/video/bryan-stevenson-acdjum/.
It is hard to know where to start in telling you about the book. The book reminds me of the book, Janesville: An American Story. Both books are about hard subjects, but they are written about the people involved in the hard subjects. They tell the story of the people who have been affected rather than just talking about the systems that caused the problem. By humanizing the subject, you are pulled into the story and it is easier to see the problem.
Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard educated lawyer. While he was in law school, he found his passion in working with innocent people on death row and with children who have been sent to adult prisons for life. In the book, he writes their stories and what happens to them. Some he could save and some he couldn’t. While telling you the stories, he also fills in how the attitudes and laws of the time affect the justice system and how they have changed over time. Most of the stories take place in the south, particularly Alabama. One story that threads through the book is the story of Walter McMillian. The story is shocking. In overly simple terms, a young white woman was killed in a small town in Alabama. The police had no idea who had killed her but needed to find the killer. They decided to arrest Walter McMillian for the crime. Walter McMillian was on their radar because he had had an affair with a married white woman. The police and prosecutors then bribed several men into testifying against Walter. Even though Walter had many many witnesses to prove that he could not possibly have committed the crime, he was sentenced to be executed. I am giving you the bare bones of the story. It is more twisted than this.
“Walter’s case taught me that fear and anger are a threat to justice; they can infect a community, a state, a nation and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous. I reflected on how mass imprisonment has littered the national landscape with carceral monument of reckless and excessive punishment and ravaged communities with our hopeless willingness to condemn and discard the most vulnerable among us. I told the congregation that Walter’s case had taught me that the death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in the country is, Do we deserve to kill? “Bryan Stevenson
In between Walters’ story, we learn about other cases that Mr. Stevenson worked and how the views of the courts have changed over time.
The book itself is easy to read and moves quickly. The subject is incredibly hard but very important. The book humanizes the subject and makes it much clearer.
And yes, if you are much quicker than I am, the book was made into a movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. Obviously, I have not seen the movie.
If you have any questions about whether or not you want to read this book, I urge you to watch the Kelly Corrigan interview with Bryan Stevenson. Also, you can watch Kelly Corrigan’s show, Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan. There are three episodes all available on PBS.org. She also has a new podcast, Kelly Corrigan Wonders.
Thanks for reading!