Not so in this case. From page 1, I was gripped and entranced by the stories - Bryan's and those of the people he encountered.
Bryan Stevenson studied philosophy initially, and realised in his senior year that "no one would pay me to philosophize when I graduated," so he picked up a law degree, because, in America, you weren't required to know anything about law before you studied it as a post-grad. After a one month intensive course on race and poverty litigation which required Bryan to go off campus and do social justice work, his future career was decided, and a pathway forged, in which, somewhat ironically, no one would pay him to work for them either - they couldn't afford to - he would help the poor and the unjustly treated - those on death row, in particular.
The stories of these prisoners are shared honestly from a perspective of a young, compassionate hard-working lawyer, who is humble enough to let his life be transformed by those he encounters, as much as he is able to change the lives of those on death row, and the system of justice in the United States, which seemed to be set up in a way to further inflict pain on those who have already been hurt and damaged by a society determined to root out evil and evil-doers without really caring whether it did that justly, and with mercy. As part of this journey, he also finds the young people, tried in adult courts, and placed in adult jails when they're still juveniles, and those incarcerated for minor crimes, at risk of becoming real criminals because of their unfair treatment and the harshness of the environment in which they're placed.
I'm going to share some powerful quotes, and I realize that too many is going to risk putting you off reading the rest of this review, but I'll take that risk - these are too good not to share.
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
“My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”
“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?”
“The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.”
"Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden born by people of color that can't be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice.”
"The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it's necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
"We’ve become so fearful and vengeful that we’ve thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and the weak—not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us seem tough, less broken."
“There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can't otherwise see; you hear things you can't otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”
“But simply punishing the broken--walking away from them or hiding them from sight--only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.”
The chapter, towards the end, where Stevenson confronts his own brokenness, had me in tears, and later transcribing and memorising the inspiring and memorable words, not only for their eloquence, but for the power within them.
I was deeply moved by the stories, the author's own story, and his plea for compassion in a world where we've largely lost our way. It's powerful and transformative. Read it.
Get it online from Loot.co.za or Takealot.com for around R200, or Amazon for around $13.