One of the finest voices in criminal justice reform.
I’d like to introduce you to a man who has greatly contributed to the criminal justice reform movement. His name is Bryan Stevenson. He is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. He’s dedicated his professional life to fighting for the rights of some of society’s most marginalized people, such as those on Death Row, those incarcerated both wrongfully and rightfully, racial minorities, and those suffering in poverty. You can read more about his bio here.
What I’m most excited about is to recommend to you his amazing book, which is poised to remain among my favorite books of all time. Just Mercy (A Story of Justice and Redemption) is an incredibly personal and powerful look at the Death Row criminal justice system. The book is written in the first person as an autobiographical account of Stevenson’s involvement in a number of capital cases. What he has learned over the years has translated into insightful understanding that looks like this:
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. We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy, and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and perhaps we all need some measure of unmerited grace. – Bryan Stevenson, from the introduction to Just Mercy.
Wow. How’s that food for thought? As early on as the introduction to this book (a section which merits publication by itself), I’ve had Tezi type out for me paragraph after paragraph so that I might refer back to the insight and wisdom – so eloquent, sublime, and important is Stevenson’s writing on criminal justice reform. Moreover, the book has already moved me tremendously in several chapters. One of which is a sobering description of a night where Stevenson was present at the scheduled execution of one of his clients. He recounts the whole evening, including time spent with the convicted man and his family, and what it was like when their time together came to an end and the man had to be all but dragged away from the arms of his sobbing wife, who was herself unwilling to let him go. At last, the man was walked just down the hallway to the electric chair that awaited him, while “The Old Rugged Cross” played.
I recommend this book to everybody, but especially to those people interested in criminal justice reform, constitutional rights, faith, family, and country. I ought to encourage anyone not interested in criminal justice reform, those who might even at this very moment find themselves blissfully unaware of the challenges facing our judicial systems, to read Just Mercy, for it’s these people that need this message the most. Those of you gracious enough to be here reading this and to, from time to time, visit CJReform.info, here’s a fair warning: you’ll likely be seeing lots of Stevenson quotes in the weeks and months to come. Please feel free to skip my writing, but I ask that when you see Mr. Stevenson quoted, take the time to consider his thoughts.
Here’s a man who has spent years and years on the front lines of the criminal justice system, defending and advocating for those without a voice, for those cast off by our society. He has experienced much and has learned much. He shares some of that wisdom in the pages of this superb book and I hope that it inspires in you at least a kindled desire to share the criminal justice reform message yourself with friends and family.
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