The Red Couch: Just Mercy Introduction

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A_BOOKCLUB-LEIGH

I had jury duty for the first time about five years ago. Initially, I was irritated when the summons arrived in the mail. I was preparing to move out of state and the timing could not have been worse. But then I figured it was part of my patriotic duty to serve and crossed my fingers it would only last one day.

In the end, I was picked as a juror for a personal injury case. Though I’d studied 12 Angry Men in high school English, though I’d studied the criminal justice system from many angles as a sociology major and subsequent Master of Social Work, I learned a lot by actually being on a jury. The twelve of us, more men than women, heard the same testimony but we all brought our different backgrounds and vantage points to the table. I was glad I could weigh in with my perspective. I believe justice was served.

Yet because of my studies and my previous career in social work, I know justice is not served as often as we want to believe. Or, to put it another way, justice is more likely to be served if you’re white or if you’re rich. This is something many of us (white people) like to overlook.

The justice system is broken.

Nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in this month’s powerful selection Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. This is a book I wish everyone would read. It’s a game-changer.

Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)in Alabama almost the minute he received his law degree. He shares how EJI came to be and what becomes of their clients. EJI serves the poor, the downtrodden, the marginalized. They help those who did not receive justice in the court of law. They seek freedom for the innocent men and women on death row. They advocate on behalf of the mentally ill behind bars. They ask for mercy on behalf of children who are punished more than their crimes warrant.

While Stevenson bases his practice in Alabama, he has served clients all over the United States. The book centers on the US justice system, but you need not be American to relate to these struggles. No country has successfully managed to eradicate crime and ensure true justice was served in the process.

As you read, you will find countless examples of injustice but you will also encounter stories of hope. It may be very eye opening in certain parts. I encourage you to pay close attention to how this makes you feel. Angry? Helpless? Looking for more of the story? Ready to rationalize? Hopeful? Maybe all of the above.

As John Legend noted in his Oscar acceptance speech for Glory, “The struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world.”

Stevenson’s book gives us an inside look as to why this is true and raises troubling questions in the process. Why are more than half of those incarcerated people of color? Why do the vast majority of executions occur in Southern states? Why were over 150 exonerated death row prisoners on death row in the first place? How do we decide who receives the death penalty instead of life in prison?

We won’t read Just Mercy in a vacuum. Perhaps you know someone in prison or have spent time there yourself. Perhaps a loved one was the victim of crime. You may believe the death penalty should be abolished or that it’s a fitting and necessary punishment. You may believe certain crimes warrant life in prison. You may be skeptical of claims regarding racism, discrimination, and mistreatment in the US justice system. You may be appalled by the system but question what you can do about it.

Your views might be challenged or they might be affirmed. I ask simply for you to read with an open heart and mind.

I am grateful for Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative, and every other lawyer who have represented indigent defendants and prisoners who were denied fair treatment in the legal system. I applaud the work they do and I dream of a day when we can say all people have received fair and just treatment in our legal system.

The justice system is broken but because of Bryan Stevenson and his comrades, there is hope.

Come back Wednesday, April 29 for our discussion post with Cara Meredith. Join the Facebook group to share quotes and discuss the book throughout the month. REMINDER: our May book is The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything by Brian McLaren.

The Nightstand at SheLoves Magazine

*Recommended by Leigh Kramer and Kelley Nikondeha

Are you reading Just Mercy with us? Share your thoughts so far in the comments.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Leigh Kramer
Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee, followed by San Francisco, quit steady job as a social worker to chase her dreams of writing, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.
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  • Sandy Hay

    I watched the youtube and started the book yesterday. I want to keep reading and reading and reading but I know to really process what Bryan writes I must read slowly and not much more than a chapter at a time. In one respect in seems like fiction. In another respect I want it to be fiction. Sadly it’s not.

  • I absolutely LOVE this book, even though it made me cry over and over. Everyone should read it. I’m actually reviewing it on my blog tomorrow, so I’ll add a link to The Red Couch and encourage others to participate in your dialogue.

    Just last Friday (ironically, Good Friday), Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative were responsible for freeing an innocent man in Alabama who had been on Death Row for almost 30 years with totally insufficient evidence. These kind of stories haunt me after reading Just Mercy. As they should.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Lisa! Thanks in advance for mentioning The Red Couch in your post tomorrow. We talked about Friday’s news in the FB group- there are no words for what he’s suffered.

  • Ashley

    This is now on my must-read list. I can’t wait!

  • Saskia Wishart

    I am so glad I took the time to read Just Mercy. Thank you for introducing us to it Leigh!

    • Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Discussion Day, Saskia!

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  • sgibsonneve .

    Yet again, you have shared a book that wasn’t on my radar but should be. This book reminds me of Dead Man Walking, which I read years ago and did so much to remind me what it TRULY means to be Pro-Life. Human relationships are complex and messy and when we try to fit human beings and their complex circumstances into easy little boxes, there is more injustice than justice. I’m about half way through and don’t imagine I will get much sleep until I am finished reading!

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