Just Mercy (w6)

The novel Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson follows the author’s story as lawyer in his hunt for justice and redemption for death row and underprivileged inmates in Alabama. Throughout the novel he discusses the broken justice system of the south, along with the broken people who are incarcerated within that system. Through first hand experiences, Stevenson proves how America has fallen short within the realms of incarceration and basic civil rights.

Stevenson formulates his novel around notion of allowing his readers to draw up their own opinions about the various situations in which he writes about, especially the topic of the death penalty. The question that Stevenson keeps coming back to throughout his novel is “Do we deserve to kill?” Though he gives us the facts of the various case and people he has represented, he leaves this question, along with many others, open-ended. He does this based off of the reasoning that:

“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. 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. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

Through this quote he puts into perspective how becoming close with the inmates allows a person to become humbled by the life they now live behind bars. By his personal interaction, Stevenson was able to change his perspective on the entire justice system, and strive to make a change.

In order to make this change, Bryan Stevenson had to have an understanding of the brokenness that the inmates feel and experience each day. He was properly able to do so based off of his upbringing as a child. Growing up in southern Delaware, Stevenson faced racial inequality at a young age. As he grew older, the segregation laws became banned, but there were still inequalities that he experienced each day. Though the inequalities he faced sparked a desire for change, the ignition for change came as a result of the murder of his grandfather in Philadelphia. Though he has come to terms with the whole situation, it morphed him into the person he is today. With this experience, he was able to truly understand brokenness and strive for change. He writes:

There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”

Through understanding brokenness that people experience, Stevenson writes one can properly show mercy to the individual and situation.

Mercy is a common reoccurring theme throughout Stevenson’s Just Mercy. Though he is surrounded by injustice on a daily basis, he still remains hopeful for change. He writes:

“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. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.”

By having mercy for his clients and taking an unbiased approach to the situation they are in, Stevenson is successful in their representation. He shows through his work that if we had more compassion and showed more mercy to those who are incarcerated, the judicial system would be more fair.

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