Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” is a journey through some of the most heartbreaking stories of adults and children who have been sent to prison for life or sentenced to death. What is so unfair is that there were innocent people who did not have a proper legal defense or people who had a punishment that was not proper for the crime they committed. This book had me on the edge of my seat while also grabbing tissues because it really was upsetting.
These stories are not easy to read, in fact, this is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read. There are stories in this book that truly broke my heart. Adults and children sent to prison because it was easier for the officers and judges to do that than try to look for the real culprit, or sometimes simply because the laws set mandatory sentences that the judges couldn’t ignore. I would warn that there is a lot of violence described in this book, stories about difficult childhoods, mental abuse, physical abuse, isolation, and stress. I could feel Stevenson’s stress and anxiety through the page as he goes through all the hoops to get appeals, re-trials, as well as everything crumbles and he is faced the execution of the people he’s trying to help.
I highly recommend that you read this book or even watch the film if you have any interest in this subject at all. The film, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, is filled with great acting but also a lot of heart. Jordan and Foxx take some liberties with their characters but I felt that it was a good story overall, even if it became a bit more Hollywood than documentary. While the movie is not a 100% faithful reproduction of the book, it still translates the main message of the book and does introduce a lot of the issues with the legal system at the time. While some of those issues have gotten better, it’s not yet all great.
I’d also recommend that you check out the Equal Justice Initiative website where you’ll find a lot of information on the current state of the legal system with regards to capital punishment and different ways that you can get involved.