Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
“Passion, commitment, justice, brutality, the defense of the condemned. In Just Mercy, Brian Stevenson–he’s been called America’s Nelson Mandela, America’s Atticus Finch–sears the reader in his telling of his fight as a young lawyer for social justice on behalf of the poor and the disadvantaged. Just Mercy grips you like the best of novels, bringing you into the lives of the most desperate of people caught in systems of imperfect justice. Stevenson makes us despair that just mercy is beyond our reach, but fills us with glimmers of hope that it is also always within our grasp. Just Mercy is about human suffering and guilt, about the morality of punishment, about poverty and the law, and about the possibilities for heroic action in an imperfect world.”
—ALAN TANSMAN, Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, member of the 2016 On the Same Page faculty selection committee
Here are some representative quotations from student reviewers:
“This book was absolutely wonderful and woke me up to an issue I had not previously thoroughly considered. It woke me up to the racial and socioeconomic discrimination that pervaded and still pervades the nation. It made me finally think critically about corrupt legal systems, incarceration, the prison-industrial complex, and the death penalty. Just Mercy made me reevaluate my political priorities, something few books have done.”
” It is a very interesting story. I finished the book in 1 sitting. Bryan Stevenson is a fantastic writer.”
When asked what kinds of students they could imagine engaging with Just Mercy, students had this to say:
“I think students of all backgrounds and all political ideologies can engage wholeheartedly in this book. I wasn’t very interested in the American criminal justice system, and now I am. I even urged my Rhetoric R1B teacher to read it, and now she hopes that it will be chosen for next year’s On The Same Page Book so she can teach it to her students.”
“Any students interested in engaging with a topic relevant to current events, students interested in sociology, racism, and social justice, and students interested in criminal justice.”
And when asked if they would recommend this book to their freshman roommate, they told us this:
“Yes: Absolutely. They both are people who care about justice and care about exposing wrongs done to innocent people.”
“Yes: It’s an absolutely gripping read and it feels like an essential part of a well-rounded college education.”
“Yes: It’s an amazing book that sheds light on our justice system which isn’t just sometimes. It deals with racism, which is something that a Berkeley student should be aware of and know how to battle against it.”
Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu has called Stevenson “America’s young Nelson Mandela.” His work on individual cases has generated national attention and his efforts have reversed death penalties for dozens of condemned prisoners. Stevenson’s remarkable twenty-minute TED Talk on the subject of injustice has been viewed over 2.35 million times on the TED website and another 299k times on YouTube; The New Yorker named it one of five essential TED Talks.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1985, Stevenson moved to the South, a region on the verge of a crisis: the states were speeding up executions, but many of the condemned lacked anyone to represent them. On a shoestring budget he started the Equal Justice Initiative, a law practice dedicated to defending some of America’s most rejected and marginalized people. The cases he took on would change Stevenson’s life and transform his understanding of justice and mercy forever.
Stevenson is the recipient of numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant and the NAACP Image Award for Best Non-Fiction, and was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People for 2015. Stevenson is a tenured law professor at New York University School of Law.
News and Resources
Just Mercy Supplemental Materials and Reading List
The Henderson Center at Berkeley Law offers you this list of additional reading and viewing materials, from books to speeches to films to articles, to support members of our community who want to wrestle with these tough questions after reading Just Mercy. Each item is available at the Berkeley Law library behind the circulation desk, campus libraries, or online as noted.
UC Berkeley Library Guide: On the Same Page 2016: Just Mercy: About/General Resources
The UC Berkeley teaching librarians have put together this useful Just Mercy research guide for anyone working on research projects on topics related to the book.
We Too Belong: Resource Guide of Inclusive Practices in Immigration and Incarceration Law & Policy
The Haas Institute for for a Fair and Inclusive Society has published a major report titled We Too Belong. This resource guide highlights inclusive policies and practices, supplemented by case studies centered at the intersection of immigration and incarceration in the United States.
On the Same Page Keynote Lecture: American Injustice: Mercy, Humanity and Making a Difference
Featuring author Bryan Stevenson
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Our featured author, Bryan Stevenson, will deliver this year’s keynote lecture. The event is free and open to everyone on a first-come, first-seated basis.
After the lecture, attendees will be invited to join Mr. Stevenson in the lobby for a reception, where light refreshments will be served.
Restorative Re Entry: Reconciling Trauma and Violence through Restorative Processes
Monday, September 12, 2016
134 Boalt Hall
RJ practitioners Malachi Scott (Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth and the North Oakland Restorative Justice Council) and Rahkii Holman (Community Works/One Family) will present their vision of Restorative Re-entry.
What Do We Know About Race and Crime Control?
Monday, September 19, 2016
Banatao Auditorium, Sutardja Dai Hall
Sandra Smith, Professor of Sociology, UC Berkeley
Jack Glaser, Professor of Public Policy, UC Berkeley
Katherine Katcher, Executive Director, Root and Rebound
Elisabeth Semel, Professor of Law, UC Berkeley
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Banatao Auditorium, Sutardja Dai Hall
Alan Tansman, Professor of East Asian Languages & Cultures, UC Berkeley
Lyn Hejinian, Professor of English, UC Berkeley
Amy Jamgochian, Academic Program Director, Prison University Project
Leigh Raiford, Professor of African American Studies, UC Berkeley
System Outsiders: The Experiences of Black Girls and LGBT GNC Youth with Discipline and Punishment
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Toll Room, Alumni House
This panel, moderated by Nikki Jones (African American Studies) will feature short presentations and a discussion among the following presenters:
Patricia Boone, Co-Founder, Compass Blu
Angela Irvine, Vice President for Community Programs, Impact Justice
Monique Morris, Co-Founder and President/CEO of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, Inc
If Bryan Stevenson’s book inspired you to take action, check out some of these opportunities to make positive change:
The Underground Scholars Initiative (USI) is a student group at UC Berkeley that supports all current and prospective students affected by mass incarceration, imprisonment, and involuntary detainment of any kind. One of its defining goals is to ground the academic study of mass incarceration in the lived experiences of UC Berkeley students. USI is also working as a catalyst for the development of a Prison-to-School pipeline within the University of California. If you would like to get involved in USI, start by checking out its website.
Get On The Bus is a program of The Center for Restorative Justice Works, a non profit organization that unites children, families and communities separated by crime and the criminal justice system throughout California.
Teach in Prison is a student-run DeCal class that sends Cal student tutors to work with inmates at San Quentin Prison.
The Restorative Justice Center provides partners with a variety of organizations and courses across campus and in the Bay Area to provide students with field experience in restoratice justice, and offers trainings and restorative circles to strengthen community.
Rooted in the 1999 Ethnic Studies Strike and Agreement, the Multicultural Community Center has had a dynamic history of struggle, student-visioning and vibrant programming in the decade since. Today, the MCC exists as a multipurpose community center where you will find people studying, meeting, engaging in critical dialogue and taking part in various student and community programming. Student internship opportunities are available.
Beyond the Campus
All of Us or None is a grassroots civil and human rights organization fighting for the rights of formerly- and currently- incarcerated people and our families. This organization has partnered with the campus on some of its initiatives.
JusticeCorps provides great opportunities for students who want to gain experience working in law serving low-income communities.
The Ella Baker Center works locally, statewide, and nationally to end mass incarceration and criminalization. It provides advocacy and organizing on issues of mass incarceration, criminal justice, and civil rights, with a focus on building power among poor people and people of color. Co-founded by civil rights leader Van Jones.
The ACLU of Northern California works on racial justice, criminal justice, death penalty and school-to-prison pipeline, among many other equity and justice issues. Check out this organization’s Get Involved page.
Black Lives Matter: This is the central website for the BLM movement. Describes core principles, frameworks and values of the movement, and offers links to events, local chapters (there’s one in the Bay Area), and a great blog.
The RYSE Center is a youth center in Richmond that has worked with UC Berkeley’s ACES program. Its Youth Justice program is especially relevant to this year’s theme: it focuses on support and advocacy for youth in the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems.
Community Works West works to interrupt and heal the impacts of incarceration and violence by empowering individuals, families and communities. It focuses on programs in the jails and community, youth-led advocacy efforts, and public exhibits and performances, with a substantial focus on youth. See this page for jobs and volunteer opportunities.
The Reset Foundation identifies promising young people trapped in the cycles of poverty, court-involvement, and unemployment, and offers them a high-quality residential program, where they learn to work, study, and live in healthy ways. Learn about volunteer opportunities at Reset here.