Have you ever braced yourself for an impact, then felt a steadying hand on your shoulder?
That’s what reading Just Mercy was like for me. I reserved it from the library months ago out of a sense of duty, because I had heard of the author’s organization the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). I knew of EJI as the people who had proven the innocence of incarcerated people on death row and felt that I should learn more about their work.
When the library’s email came through saying it was available, I felt a certain amount of trepidation. Given the topic, and my own general character, I expected that Just Mercy would leave me completely spent or – at best – angry.
Instead, author Bryan Stevenson left me feeling stronger.
As an attorney, Stevenson argues cases in court to persuade juries and judges, so I expected him to present a compelling story. I expected him to show me that the criminal justice system convicting his clients was fundamentally flawed and often unjust.
He did that, of course. Stevenson shares stories of railroaded clients, convicted on slim, wrongly obtained, or even obviously fraudulent evidence. He introduces readers to people who, from their earliest childhood, seemed preordained by our society to live tragic lives spent inflicting tragedy. He doesn’t spare readers from the sight of what injustice does; he doesn’t win all of these cases. People die when they shouldn’t have, denied a fair trial because of their poverty and race.
He never allows us to miss the fact that each client and case is a person whose life has officially been forfeit.
And yet, somehow, Stevenson’s skill as a writer made me more than a witness. I am not sure what that “more” is, but it feels more capable instead of more desperate, more compassionate instead of more wounded.
I don’t know how this happened, I can only report that it did.
All opinions in this article are those of the author and do not represent official positions of TongassDemocrats.com, the Tongass Democrats, or anyone other than the author.