This is the kind of book I wish no one had to write. I wish this book were fiction. I wish all the injustices documented in this book hadn't happened and were figments of some author's imagination.
After graduating from law school, Stevenson went back to the Deep South to represent the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. The stories he tells about a criminal justice system that needs to be reformed are heart breaking.
For example, he writes of a teen girl sentenced to life in prison for a second degree murder. The system was inflexible and did not consider her age, mental illness, poverty, etc. She was raped by a correctional officer. It became known when her pregnancy was evident. The officer was fired but not prosecuted. The teen gave birth while handcuffed to a bed. The baby was taken and put in foster care. (150-151)
Stevenson also tells of successes through his nonprofit law office over the last 30 years. He helped prove some innocent of the crimes of which they had been convicted. He brought cases before the Supreme Court, resulting in more reasonable and compassionate sentences for teens.
Reading this book is a necessary but unpleasant experience. Readers will find that the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with 2.3 million in prison and another nearly six million on probation. The prison system has given up on rehabilitation, education, and services for the imprisoned. (15) It is a system in need of reform.
I highly recommend this book. It will break your heart but also encourage you in knowing that there are people who do come to the aid of the many needing it so badly.
Food for thought: “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” (18)
My rating: 5/5 stars.
Bryan Stevenson was a young attorney when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the criminal justice system. He is the executive director of EJI and a professor of law at New York University Law School. He has argued five times before the Supreme Court and has won national acclaim, receiving numerous awards.
Speigel & Grau (an imprint of Random House), 368 pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.