2017-2018 Selection is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Bryan Stevenson, one of the country's most visionary legal thinkers, social justice advocates, and a MacArthur "genius”, takes us on an unforgettable journey into the broken American criminal justice system in his much lauded New York Times bestselling JUST MERCY. After Stevenson graduated from Harvard Law School he started the Equal Justice Initiative, a law practice dedicated to defending some of America's most rejected and marginalized people, driven by the belief that our society is ultimately judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. Among the first cases he took on was that of Walter McMillian, a black man from Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit. The case would change Bryan's life and transform his understanding of justice and mercy forever.
JUST MERCY follows the suspenseful battle to free Walter before the state executes him, while also stepping back to tell the profoundly moving stories of men, women, and even children, who found themselves at the mercy of a system often incapable of showing it.
Many of Bryan Stevenson’s clients are young kids serving life imprisonment without parole. The United States is the only country in the world where 13-year-old children are sentenced to die in prison. Bryan discusses Trina Garnett, who at the age of sixteen was forced to stand trial for murder in an adult courthouse. She has been in prison for thirty-eight years. There is Ian Manuel, who at the age of thirteen was charged with attempted homicide and sentenced to life without parole. He has been in solitary confinement, living in a concrete box the size of a walk-in closet, for eighteen years. And Antonio Nuñez, who at fourteen became the youngest person in the United States condemned to die in prison for a crime in which no one was physically injured. These cases aren’t exceptional. There are thousands of children like them scattered throughout prisons in the United States. The book follows Bryan’s battle to overturn the cruelest punishments for children – a fight he took all the way to the Supreme Court.
In the United States we are just awakening to the consequences of a period of unprecedented incarceration and severe punishment that has transformed us as a nation. Today we have the highest incarceration rate in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. Spending on jails and prisons by state and federal governments has risen from $6.9 billion in 1980s to nearly $80 billion today. Bryan believes our identity is at risk. “That when we actually don't care about these difficult things, the positive and wonderful things are nonetheless implicated. We love innovation. We love technology. We love creativity. We love entertainment. But ultimately, those realities are shadowed by suffering, abuse, degradation, and marginalization. And for me, it becomes necessary to integrate the two. Because ultimately we are talking about a need to be more hopeful, more committed, more dedicated to the basic challenges of living in a complex world. And for me that means spending time thinking and talking about the poor and the disadvantaged, and thinking about them in a way that is integrated in our own lives.”
This is more than a book about incarceration, it's ultimately a book about how we all need mercy and we all need to show mercy to fully experience our own humanity.
About the Author
Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. He's a professor of law at New York University Law School and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. EJI won an historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Stevenson has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, and has been awarded 21 honorary doctorate degrees.
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