Reflections on Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

A few weeks ago, I wrote the following essay for a scholarship contest  The prompt asked me to write about a book that has changed how I see the world. This is what I read. If anyone wants to borrow my copy of Just Mercy  by Bryan Stevenson let me know.


Just Mercy, written by activist Bryan Stevenson has forever changed how I see the the injustice that is built into our criminal justice system. His book is a brilliant commentary on our criminal justice system and specifically our system of sentencing people to death. Stevenson, an attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative, has spent his career defending those who have been condemned to the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. In his book, Just Mercy, Stevenson humanizes those that we as a society have deemed as ‘untouchables’. He challenges his audience and he encouraged me to see the humanity in all people, even those that have been sentenced to death.

Stevenson sets out to tell the story of Walter McMillian, one of many people that Stevenson has represented in his time as an attorney. Unfortunately, McMillian’s story is punctuated by a wrongful conviction. Even more unfortunate, Stevenson tells us that McMillian’s story is not unusual. McMillian was sentenced to death after a trial that lasted a day and a half. He had bad representation but worse, the jury sentenced him even after three alibi witnesses testified that McMillian could not have committed the crime of which he was accused. The book which tells McMillian’s story in great detail illuminates the failings of our justice system.

Beautifully woven between the chapters of McMillian’s story, the audience learns of the countless other areas where injustice rules the justice system. We learn about children, the mentally ill, and women who been discriminatorily sentenced to die. Each story that Stevenson tells is punctuated with the injustice in our justice system.

Just Mercy, changed how I see our justice system. I used to believe that it was fair, that it was just. But I quickly learned about the prejudices that turn a system that is supposed to fair, into one ruled by personal biases and systematic oppression. Stevenson showed me that the people that we deem as criminals in our society have struggled with oppression, abuse, mental illness and poverty. But most importantly, Stevenson shows his audience that all people are broken and that “there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy…we begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us” (p. 290).

Brian Stevenson is absolutely artistic in his ability to inject hope in what honestly seems like a hopeless system. In reading his book, I felt hopeless. I cried tears of frustration and found myself angrily discussing the stories with my friends. But Stevenson reminds us that we all need some “unmerited grace” (p. 18) and that “each and every person is more than the worst thing [they’ve] ever done” (p. 17). These moments of Stevenson’s own grace and his own ability to forgive, remind me throughout the book of the hopefulness and humanity that we do find in the world, even in the face of incredible injustice.





Contentment in the Spring

Every once in a while, I am hit with the inspiration to start a blog. And then I think about how awkward they are to start and how  I would be responsible to write in it regularly, and how people really aren’t THAT interested in my life etc. etc. etc. Then, I don’t write one. I move on and give up.

Today I decided, no more of that. I am starting today, understanding that it will be awkward and that people will probably not read it (other than my close family and friends-thanks guys). But that doesn’t matter because I am writing a blog for myself. I am forcing myself to reflect on my life, what I am reading, what I am learning and what I am experiencing and a blog is the perfect place for reflection. So, here goes nothing:

Something about this time of year really positively impacts my productivity. I know for some people, the nice weather makes doing homework and sticking to responsibilities really difficult, but for me, I revel in the warm weather.  Today, I sat in the sun for over 5 hours and I got more done than I have in the last week…ticking everything off my to do list.

The nice weather envelopes me with a feeling of contentment. Instead of being anxious about all the things I have to get done, I am able to breathe and be mindful of myself and my responsibilities. I have a lot going on in life right now, I am preparing for Norway, running for Student Senate, trying to get stuff ready for voter turnout in the fall (and I guess homework). But today, instead of stressing about my ‘to do’ list, I found myself excited about all the things I get to do. All the opportunities that I have and I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming amount of gratitude.

Mindfulness, purpose, balance-all of these ‘new age’, ‘hippie’ concepts are things that I am trying out right now. I plan to use this blog to push myself to be more mindful, wrestle with my purpose, and document the struggles of balance in the life of a college student-and maybe document some of the adventures on the way.

Thanks for getting this far 🙂