Just Mercy

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson traces his journey as a young idealistic lawyer establishing a legal practice dedicated to defending the most underrepresented and his path through the judicial system with one of his first cases. That client, Walter McMillan, insists that he’s innocent. Bryan quickly finds convincing evidence that he is telling the truth. Getting that evidence through the courts, runs into one boondoggle after another.

The book reads like a long episode of Law and Order with side issues along with the main story. The tension builds as almost, nearly, and not quite run a thread throughout. I found myself wanting to shout encouragement to hang in there and hoping for that forty-five minute mark reprieve.

Some favorite quotes from the book:
•    On capital punishment: “I couldn’t stop thinking that we don’t spend much time contemplating the details of what killing someone actually does.”
•    “Jackie’s name was always followed by ‘She’s in college.’ I had begun to think of her as Jackie ‘She’s in College’ McMillan.”
•     “I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.”

The trouble is this is not fiction where one is confident that the good guys will win in the last fifteen minutes and all will be well. While the writer gives signs of hope in his last pages for our justice system, much still hangs in the balance. Striking to me was how often those with criminal tendencies had experienced horrific abuse as children. Perhaps our interventions need to begin much sooner.

This was not a comfortable read but a compelling one. The meaning of the title becomes clear toward the end in a paragraph that brings closure and includes another favorite quote, “The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving.”

Just Mercy is a book for those who care and are willing to hear what Bryan Stevenson ultimately learned from that early client over their long association, “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.”