Why Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is still the best book I've ever read

Why Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is still the best book I've ever read

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with millions behind bars and millions more on probation or parole. Every year we use lethal injection, shooting, hanging, gassing, or electrocution for those condemned to death row. Scholars have drawn searing parallels between slavery and racial lynching to today's mass incarceration and capital punishment.

No book on this topic has haunted me more than "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson.

Just Mercy is a deeply horrific yet remarkably hopeful work of nonfiction that blends Stevenson's moving storytelling with a critique of America's flawed criminal justice system and its use of the death penalty.

Stevenson's words still echo in my mind: "The death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is, Do we deserve to kill?"

Stevenson humanizes those on death row, revealing their resilience, compassion, and humanity. He reminds us that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Through his work with his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Stevenson tirelessly fights against corrupt legal practices, racial bias, and inadequate representation that lead to wrongful convictions and death sentences. Shockingly, for every eight executions, one person is exonerated—a chilling reminder of the system's fallibility.

For those who prefer watching movies, Just Mercy was adapted into a gripping 2019 film starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, focusing on the true story of Walter McMillian. McMillian was wrongly sentenced to death despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence and Stevenson fights for years to get him released (as he does for so many clients). Like the book, the movie made me sob uncontrollably multiple times, a testament to the way the story is told.

For me, the impact of Just Mercy extends far beyond its pages; it has profoundly influenced my perspective and actions. Stevenson's advocacy inspired me to delve deeper into the issues of America's prisons and the experiences of those on death row, reading books like "The Sun Does Shine," "American Prison," "The New Jim Crow," "Writing My Wrongs," "Solitary," and many others.

I've also been a steadfast supporter of the Equal Justice Initiative since 2016, donating money every month, attending one of Bryan’s lectures, and visiting their museums in Montgomery, Alabama—a journey that has profoundly shaped my understanding of justice and compassion.

2017 Bryan Stevenson Lecture Ticket and Brochure


Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), founded by Bryan Stevenson, is a national non-profit that champions justice by providing legal representation to individuals illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused within state jails and prisons. Their mission extends beyond legal advocacy; they challenge the death penalty and offer re-entry support to formerly incarcerated individuals.

Additionally, EJI is reshaping America's racial narrative. In 2018, they unveiled The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, pioneering efforts to confront the legacies of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation.

The Legacy Museum—once a haunting slave warehouse—now stands as an educational powerhouse, unraveling the complex threads of slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, and capital punishment. It's undeniably one of the most powerful and informative museums I've had the privilege to visit.

And then there's the National Memorial—a solemn acknowledgement and tribute to those who were unjustly lynched all the way through the 1950s. It is heart-wrenching, jaw-dropping, and painfully beautiful.

My nephew described it best:

"The EJI National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a visceral experience. The front garden of radiant flowers leads to a pavilion atop a lush hillock. Inside the pavilion it quickly becomes a confining maze of these rusted steel columns, each with an etching of a US county and the names of African Americans lynched there. As you progress, the floor sinks and the columns hoist upwards—a foot from the floor, a foot more, your eyes level with their bottoms, and then they're so high you'd never be able to reach them. In some sense, you're free—out of that steel jungle. But, in another way, you wander under a canopy of corpses. Reading the individual names becomes impossible. Even seeing the county names requires straining your neck—a physical representation of the pain to look. Lining the walls are just a few of the stories for why each person was lynched but it's overwhelming. A single death nearly broke me, but the grief of thousands is unutterable…"

Jalen walking through the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

EJI isn’t merely advocating for justice; they are actively redefining it. Brick by brick, exhibit by exhibit, they are building a future rooted in equality. Their recent addition, the 17-acre Freedom Monument Sculpture Park opened in 2024, continues this legacy and I can’t wait to visit again to see this new addition!

I urge anyone and everyone to read Just Mercy and visit Montgomery to experience EJI's transformative work firsthand. There is so much to learn about our history, but also the injustices happening now.

In essence, "Just Mercy" isn't just a book—it's a call to action, a testament to resilience, and a guiding light in our collective pursuit of justice. Bryan Stevenson's unwavering commitment challenges us all to confront injustice and strive for a future where dignity and equality prevail.

What is the best book you’ve ever read and why? Let me know in the comments below! Or if you’ve read Just Mercy, let me know your thoughts.


Read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Read The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton (one of Stevenson’s clients)

Donate to Equal Justice Initiative


With love,

Alison Rose

Social media: @alisonrosevintage


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