Bryn’s Books: “Just Mercy”


Credit: Elizabeth Zhong

In the latest installment of “Bryn’s Books,” sophomore guest writer Bryn Leonard reviews “Just Mercy” and details the most prominent factors of the novel.

Bryan Stevenson, a black lawyer who graduated from Harvard law school, dedicates his life to exonerating people falsely accused of crimes or those who are unfairly punished by the court system. Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S. since 1989. He wrote an autobiography in 2014 titled “Just Mercy” that illustrates his journey as a lawyer helping economically and socially disadvantaged people on death row while facing racism and prejudice.

“Just Mercy” explores the stories of prisoners on death row and how uncivil the death penalty is in the laws of human rights. The story mainly focuses on the case of Walter McMillian, a black man accused of the murder of a white 18-year-old girl in Monroeville, Alabama in 1986. At the time of the murder, McMillian was at a church-related gathering with multiple other witnesses. McMillian was put on death row before his trial, and his case was entirely based on a white felon’s testimony, Ralph Myers, whom officials bribed with a lesser sentence if he gave false testimony. Stevenson worked all hours of his time in an attempt to prove McMillian’s innocence while encountering the racial injustice and the flaws of the criminal justice system in America.

I didn’t know much about the criminal justice system before reading this story, but Stevenson’s powerful stories about his clients are profoundly moving and significantly shaped my views on the cruelty of the criminal justice system. The book delves into the horrors prisoners face on death row and the severity of the death penalty, which is still legal in 28 states. Since the 1970s, states have executed 1,533 prisoners, some of whom were innocent. Studies show that out of every nine prisoners sent to death row, one is falsely accused, which is an alarming rate of fault. The problem with the death penalty is that the court can never reverse executions that shouldn’t have happened, and it has been Stevenson’s goal to abolish the practice altogether.

I don’t need to critique this book. “Just Mercy” is well-written, the message is clear, and the stories are captivating. I read “Just Mercy” in two days because I was stunned by Stevenson’s struggles with trying to obtain relief for his clients. There is also a movie under the same title that was released in 2019 with Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, which I watched while writing this review. Although the film doesn’t explore much of the other stories except for McMillian’s and doesn’t go as much into the logistics of the criminal justice system, I enjoyed it just as much as the book. I strongly urge everyone to read this essential book or watch the movie.

Bryn’s rating: 5/5