Review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
“Walter made me understand why we have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.”
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson sheds light on one of the biggest problems in American society today, and one that is not often considered as such. The book exposes the corruption of the U.S. incarceration system through the stories of affected people, each more heartbreaking than the last. This book is perfect for fans of The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. Those who want to dive even deeper into the technical laws of the country, and the flawed logic behind why things are the way they are would definitely love this book, as well as the fans who simply want to learn more about why the accused need a voice too. Readers of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, or viewers of the movie adaptation, should read this book if they want some evidence about the injustices of America’s justice system to back up her anecdotal one.
The majority of Just Mercy follows the case of Walter McMillian, a black man, and the murder of Ronda Morrison, a white woman who worked at a local dry-cleaner. Walter was innocent, however, due to the false testimony made against him by Ralph Myers, he was convicted of the crime and sent to death row where he would spend the next six years of his life, preaching his innocence. At around the same time, Bryan Stevenson created his program, the Equal Justice Initiative, which was dedicated to helping those with unjust sentences, those like Walter who were facing some form of life imprisonment.
While Walter’s case is the driving plot of the book, Stevenson also devotes chapters to other aspects of the corruption of the incarceration system in America. These chapters were a hit or miss for me. Many will continue to stick with me forever, while others were a bit dry and, I hate to say it, but forgettable. However, the chapters that I did enjoy exposed problems in America that I never knew existed, and I am forever grateful for that.
“Mother, Mother” was the chapter that stuck out the absolute most to me. It discusses a problem that I wasn’t aware of, and one that is still not resolved today. Stevenson recounts the stories of several women who were given life sentences for the “murders” of their children, when in reality, these women were simply poor and suffered through stillborn births outside of the hospital. “Capital punishment means ‘them without the capital get the punishment,’” as Walter put it. Once these women were falsely convicted of these crimes, they were sent to jail and nearly all of them were raped by the prison guards. Some, in a cruel twist of fate, even became pregnant again. This still occurs in dozens of women’s prisons across the nation, and almost nothing is being done to stop it.
More people need to read Just Mercy, or even this one chapter alone, because the incarceration system in America is a real problem, and it is not being solved. I went into this book thinking it would simply preach the immorality of the death penalty, but luckily, I was very wrong. It was so much more. Just Mercy preaches the morality of helping people and giving each other a chance. Not only does Stevenson explore this in his work, but he also details his journey with the Supreme Court to get several of the country’s cruel laws changed. Stevenson’s hard work and dedication to not just this book, but the U.S. itself, is extraordinary.