Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer in Alabama that focuses on the wrongly condemned. He founded the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative to support his efforts. This book is a memoir of his work freeing wrongly convicted inmates from death row.
This book is not for weak hearts. While the primary focus is Walter "Johnny D." McMillian, there are plenty of side stories of his other cases. As an Alabama native myself, this book was fascinating and troubling. There is so much to unpack here, from Bryan Stevenson's personal life to righting bad convictions.
A couple stories that stuck out to me: Bryan Stevenson wrote about when he was confronted in his car by a SWAT team. He was told at gunpoint to get out while another officer just blatantly illegally searched his car. What was Bryan doing? He was a black man relaxing in his car listening to his radio after a long day.
Another time he was told to get out of the courtroom because it was for staff and attorneys only. He forced a chuckle and apologized for not introducing himself. He is the lawyer waiting for his client. The others joined in chuckling. What an amusing misunderstanding? (groan). He had to laugh because he wanted to keep it nice for his client.
Bryan Stevenson's clients are completely broke and forgotten. He works long hours with limited resources trying to save the lives of innocent people about to be executed, and it is all against a system that obviously hates everything he is doing. They call him on the phone and beg. He says, "I don't have the resources." They reply, "I am about to be killed."
Bryan Stevenson has a lot of criticism about the justice system in this book. I thought the horrific conviction of Walter was bad enough. The last half of the book focused on trying to overturn the convictions of minors. This was completely new to me. Alabama has children, some as young as 14, serving life sentences.
I knew from an intellectual standpoint that children get frequently charged as an adult. I always thought this was wrong. The state needs to decide: "Are they kids, or are they adults?" I always thought that if they are too young to join the military, vote, or buy booze, then they are too young to face the same kind of punishment as adults. Bryan Stevenson agrees. He decided to have his firm represent ALL children with life sentences without parole, and he took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court: And won.
There are many instances in this book that have Bryan Stevenson fighting the long hard fight, and eventually winning. By midway through the book, you find yourself cheering him on as he overturns more cases and makes more arguments to the Supreme Court (both the U.S. and of other states).
My only complaint is the very end where he gets a bit too preachy. He has a long sermon about feeling broken, and then there is another sermon about casting and catching stones. I can't get too mad. He has been fighting such a hard system for so long that standing on a soapbox could be cathartic. Unfortunately, the people that need to hear his sermons are likely not reading his book.