I first heard of Bryan Stevenson through his amazing TED talk on injustice in the United States’ criminal system. When I saw that he had a new book out on the same topic, I immediately read it.
Just Mercy is excellent. Stevenson weaves into his narrative the stories of a number of individuals caught in the criminal justice system, along with his efforts to help them. The stories are alternately emotional, heart-breaking, uplifting, and deeply sad. I fully expect Stevenson’s life’s work to be made into a feature film in the next few years. He and his team are the Civil Rights activists of our time. They demonstrate that empathy and social justice can be powerful forces for change.
Below I’ve posted a number of quotes taken from Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.
“Some states permanently strip people with criminal convictions of the right to vote; as a result, in several Southern states disenfranchisement among African American men has reached levels unseen since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” p. 16
“I’ve represented women, whose numbers in prison have increased 640 percent in the last thirty years, and seen how our hysteria about drug addiction and our hostility to the poor have made us quick to criminalize and prosecute poor women when a pregnancy goes wrong.” p. 17
“The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” p. 18
“Even though the restriction couldn’t be enforced under federal law, the state ban on interracial marriage in Alabama continued into the twenty-first century. In 2000, reformers finally had enough votes to get the issue on the statewide ballot, where a majority of voters chose to eliminate the ban, although 41 percent voted to keep it. A 2011 poll of Mississippi Republicans found that 46 percent support a legal ban on interracial marriage, 40 percent oppose such a ban, and 14 percent are undecided.” p. 20
“In debates about the death penalty, I had started arguing that we would never think it was human to pay someone to rape people convicted of rape or assault and abuse someone guilty of assault or abuse. Yet we were comfortable killing people who kill, in part because we think we can do it in a manner that doesn’t implicate our own humanity, the way that raping or abusing someone would.” p. 90
“In 2014, Trina turned fifty-two. She has been in prison for thirty-eight years. She is one of nearly five hundred people in Pennsylvania who have been condemned to mandatory life imprisonment without parole for crimes they were accused of committing when they were between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. It is the largest population of child offenders condemned to die in prison in any single jurisdiction in the world.” p. 151
“Florida had the largest population in the world of children condemned to die in prison for non-homicides.” p. 154
“In 1996, Congress passed welfare reform legislation that gratuitously included a provision that authorized states to ban people with drug convictions from public benefits and welfare. The population most affected by this misguided law is formerly incarcerated women with children, most of whom were imprisoned for drug crimes. These women and their children can no longer live in public housing, receive food stamps, or access basic services. In the last twenty years, we’ve created a new class of ‘untouchables’ in American society, made up of our most vulnerable mothers and their children.” p. 237
“Convict leasing was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century to criminalize former slaves and convict them of nonsensical offenses so that freed men, women, and children could be ‘leased’ to businesses and effectively forced back into slave labor. Private industries throughout the country made millions of dollars with free convict labor, while thousands of African Americans died in horrific work conditions. The practice of re-enslavement was so widespread in some states that it was characterized in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon as Slavery by Another Name.” p. 299