Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson begins, “I wasn’t prepared to meet a condemned man.” Stevenson, a Harvard Law School graduate, founded the Equal Justice Initiative. The book shows the stories of many individuals who were condemned to die unjustly. The story of Walter McMillan, a young man sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit, weaves through the book.
This was an extremely powerful book full of show not tell and brought me to tears many times. Micah 6:8 says He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This is something that Stevenson has worked tirelessly for over 25 years to make happen for countless individuals in the prison system on death row.
In Walter’s case, and in many others, Stevenson fights against injustice and its affects.
- “From what I could see, there simply was no commitment to the rule of law. no accountability and little shame.”
- “This one massive miscarriage of justice had afflicted the whole community with despair.”
If one part of our community is afraid of injustice, then our whole community is not healthy.
- “My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth: the opposite of poverty is justice…The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”
- “We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated….the closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice and – perhaps – we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
People who are in the justice system are often full of histories of brokenness and are faced with no good choices daily. “There but for the grace of God go I “is an attitude that Stevenson encourages.
- “We’re supposed to sentence people fairly after fully considering their life circumstances, but instead we exploit the inability of the poor to get the legal assistance they need – all so we can kill them with less resistance.”
- “We tend to be dismissive of the needs of the [mentally] disabled and quick to judge their deficits and failures. To completely disregard a person’s [mental] disability would be unfair in evaluating what degree of culpability to assign and what sentence to impose.”
- “Why do we want to kill all the broken people? What is wrong with us, that can think a thing like that can be right?….For the first time I realized that my life was just full of brokenness. I worked in a broken system of justice. My clients were broken by mental illness, poverty, and racism. They were torn apart by disease, drugs and alcohol, pride, fear, and anger. I thought of Joe Sullivan and of Trina, Antonio, Ian , and dozens of other broken children we worked with, struggling to survive in prison. I thought of people broken by war, like Herbert Richardson; people broken by poverty, like Marsha Colbey; people broken by disability, like Avery Jenkins. In their broken state, they were judged and condemned by people whose commitment to fairness had been broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice.”
- “We are all broken…We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and as a result, deny our own humanity.”
Being a Stonecatcher
When we’re so busy casting stones at others, we forget that we also need grace and mercy.
- “I decided I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.” Refers to the woman accused of adultery who was brought to Jesus. He said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
- “Walter had taught me that mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving…Walter genuinely forgave the people who unfairly accused him, the people who convicted him and the people who had judged him unworthy of mercy. And in the end, it was just mercy toward others that allowed him to recover a life worth celebrating.”
This is book #10 in my Project 52 for 2016. I continue to work on my photos of books to make the photos themselves interesting. Other posts include: