Okay, so this book needs to come with a warning. Or maybe you can just let this be it: you will be broken, shaken and awakened by reading this book and it will hurt.
Bryan Stevenson writes in the opening pages of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption: “This book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America. It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.” (p.13)
I’ve long wanted to read this book and when I did, I found myself so absorbed by the stories that my in-real-life was affected in ways I did not expect. I had trouble sleeping and I was so saddened by the experiences of people who grew up in a different area of the country with a different skin color than me that I spent some days anxious and agitated with the world at large.
Stevenson’s stories of injustice are disturbing at best, maddening at worst, and I was even mad that I could put the book down and walk away for a while when it stirred in me emotions I could not handle. What Stevenson and the folks at EJI have done through the years is nothing short of miracle work, and I applaud their tirelessness.
I’m not sure I will ever forget these words from early in the book:
Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
I mean, what if we lived with that attitude?
At the same time, I’m challenged to be informed about the injustices in our justice system and how much work we have to do. Stevenson’s stories are not all that different than stories we read on social media or in the news today. For whatever reason, his collection of stories and experiences is more shattering to my world view. Maybe that’s the difference a book makes.
I won’t soon forget this book, and I am more convinced than ever that the death penalty is wrong and racism persists in the justice system. As a white woman, I can’t fully understand what it’s like to live with this kind of injustice, but I can continue to increase my awareness of it.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. Opinion of the book is my honest one.