Book Review: How to Rescue Those Who the System Fails

This is a book review of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. The review was written by Esther Kaufman. 

“Mercy is most empowering, liberating and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving,” writes author Bryan Stevenson in his book, Just Mercy. This is a concept that is difficult but perhaps essential to embrace as the media constantly divides people and societies into heroes and villains. I was born to immigrant parents who fled anti-Semitism and praise America as the land that gave their families mercy when no other state could. Yet, Bryan Stevenson’s portrayal of the American criminal justice system revealed injustices that disrupted all of my preconceived notions regarding America’s inherit goodness.

A Fight for Justice

Stevenson tells the story of a wrongly convicted inmate on death row, and his relentless battle to obtain justice. As he carries the reader along, he seamlessly intertwines numerous other legal cases that also impacted him throughout his career. A number of these cases involved children who were incarcerated, specifically children who were given life sentences. Ian Manuel was one such minor whose confinement to an adult prison at the age of thirteen led to a quick decline in his mental health. Yet, the correctional system responded to his poor health by keeping Ian Manuel in solitary confinement for eighteen years. As a college student, after even a few hours of concentrated study time, I find myself itching for human interaction. The mental impact that days, that turn to months, that turn to years, of solitude must have on an individual is hard to fathom. Bryan Stevenson’s personal fight for justice and equality for many victims, including Ian Manuel, left me feeling both astonished and amazed.


Walter’s Pain, My Pain

Still, the injustice went even deeper with regard to Walter McMillian, the wrongly convicted death row inmate. In his case, deep-rooted racism was the only basis for his conviction. There was no clear evidence that tied Walter McMillian to the murder he was accused of. Yet, the leaders of the community in which he lived conspired to falsify evidence, and the media portrayed him as a danger based solely on the color of his skin. I found myself shocked to hear the story of an entire judicial hierarchy that was so easily corrupted by racism. Still, just as shocking was Walter McMillian’s power to forgive his community, and show mercy to the many who wronged him after his release.

Hope Through Mercy

Despite the despairing stories of cruel racism and inhumane conditions of American prisons, Bryan Stevenson brings a sense of hopefulness through his stories. It is the story about the man who is moved to reverse his racist behavior, and the family who, although grieving, still advocated for their attacker’s right to live. Bryan Stevenson’s relentless dedication to fight for even the most desperate cases gives inmates and their families hope while also driving change in American prison reform. He began his work by accident, a college graduate simply searching for a passion, and today his work is honored internationally. For giving mercy and believing in humanity in its darkest moments is powerful enough to inspire change.


About the Author:

img_3242-1-qmtxxt-150x150Esther Kaufman is an undergraduate student studying Economics at the University of Maryland with a minor in Global Terrorism Studies.  She is interested in the effects of economic policy on issues such as equality, welfare and radicalization of individuals in society.


Photo Credits: benoit.moser Flickr via Compfight  

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