"Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done."
A good nonfiction is indeed hard to find. Even harder? One that permeates our sheltered lives and upends our worldview. If there was a required reading list for life, Just Mercy would be on it. Bryan Stevenson shines an unadulterated light on the destructive effects of mass incarceration, a broken judicial system, and the devastating consequences when we reduce the worth of a human soul to "the worst thing [they've] ever done." This book feels like a clarion call—one that pleads, as Maya Angelou once said, "when you know better, do better."
At the heart of this story is one of Stevenson's first cases: Walter McMillian, a man sentenced to die for a notorious murder he didn't commit. During the hearing, Stevenson found there were some in McMillian's own African American community whose support was muted—not because they didn't believe in his innocence, but because he'd had an extra-marital affair and wasn't active in the church. When asked to speak at a regional church meeting about the case, he reminded them that when the woman charged with adultery was brought before Christ, he told those who wanted to stone her to death, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Her accusers retreated and Christ forgave her and urged her to sin no more. Stevenson continued, "But today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion....we can't simply watch that happen....we have to be stonecatchers."
John Grisham wrote: “Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope.” Blessed are the stonecatchers.
P.S. For concrete ways on how we too can be stonecatchers, visit Stevenson's website here.