In what is the most moving book I have ever read, Bryan Stevenson exposes readers to the harsh reality that the “opposite of poverty is not wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice”. As a Harvard educated lawyer, Stevenson has dedicated his life to protecting and defending the poor. In a powerfully written anecdote, readers learn that Stevenson easily became the victim of a power structure that treats races differently; benefiting some and severely oppressing others. 1 in 3 black males is expected to end up in jail or prison. The majority of people on death row are men of color, and practically all are poor. Most of them cannot afford legal representation, and tragically, without legal assistance, whether innocent or not, avoiding execution becomes a near impossibility. In this country we don’t execute murderers through our justice system, we execute the poor. This book is an absolute necessity to anyone considering law school. It is equally important, dare I say, to every American. Racism and segregation is alive, it manifests in the justice system, it manifests in mass incarceration, and it manifests in laws.
The stories told inside this book have given me a new-found appreciation for life.
Although seduced like any other by the lure of cursing at the circumstances of my life, I am reminded that existence is inherently beautiful. Existence is a worthy enough reason to struggle in all your struggles. For some of us, it may take learning about men on death row and how they desperately fight to draw breathe on this Earth, to appreciate our lives.
As humans, I think we feel the need to ‘soften’ peoples’ suffering. Men on death row find that just before they are executed, they get the entire world wanting to “help them”. Is there anything I can do for you? But where are all these people when you really need them? “Where were all these helpful people when Herbert was three and his mother died? Where were they when he was seven and trying to recover from physical abuse? Where were they when he was a young teen struggling with drugs and alcohol? Where were they when he returned from Vietnam traumatized and disabled?”, Stevenson writes with disdain about Herbert, one of the many in death row he represents. This phenomenon reminds me to offer my assistance, help, love, whatever it is to anyone whether the offering – on the surface – appears needed or not.
Although these are maddening realities, Stevenson inspiringly reminds us “that there is light within this darkness” and that “each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done”. This book is a reminder that through mercy we find salvation from the evil and pain that surrounds us. Infuriating, saddening, but ultimately inspiring.