Includes bibliographical references (pages 319-336).;Introduction : higher ground -- Mockingbird players -- Stand -- Trials and tribulation -- The old rugged cross -- Of the coming of John -- Surely doomed -- Justice denied -- All God's children -- I'm here -- Mitigation -- I'll fly away -- Mother, mother -- Recovery -- Cruel and unusual -- Broken -- The stonecatchers' song of sorrow -- Epilogue. The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compassion in American justice.
Spiegel & Grau
October 21, 2014
x, 336 pages ; 25 cm
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Reviews & Awards
- Booklist starred, 10/15/14
- Kirkus Reviews starred, 09/01/14
- Library Journal, 10/01/14
- Library Journal starred, 07/01/16
- New York Times, 10/19/14
- Publishers Weekly, 09/29/14
- School Library Journal starred, 02/01/15
Booklist starred (October 15, 2014 (Vol. 111, No. 4))
As a young Harvard law student testing himself in an internship in Georgia, Stevenson visited death-row inmates and saw firsthand the injustices suffered by the poor and disadvantaged, how too many had been railroaded into convictions with inadequate legal representation. The visit made such an impression on Stevenson that he started the Equal Justice Institute in Montgomery, Alabama. One of his first clients was Walter McMillian, a young black man accused of murdering a white woman and imprisoned on death row even before he was tried. Stevenson alternates chapters on the shocking miscarriage of justice in McMillian’s case, including police and prosecutorial misconduct, with other startling cases. The war on drugs and tough-on-crime political postures have resulted in hundreds of juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for nonhomicidal offenses. Among the cases Stevenson cites: a 14-year-old condemned to death for killing his mother’s abusive boyfriend and a mentally ill adolescent girl condemned to life in prison for second-degree murder for the death of young boys killed in a fire she started accidentally. Through these cases and others, Stevenson details changes in victims’ rights, incarceration of juveniles, death penalty reforms, inflexible sentencing laws, and the continued practices of injustice that see too many juveniles, minorities, and mentally ill people imprisoned in a frenzy of mass incarceration in the U.S. A passionate account of the ways our nation thwarts justice and inhumanely punishes the poor and disadvantaged.
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Kirkus Reviews starred (September 1, 2014)
A distinguished NYU law professor and MacArthur grant recipient offers the compelling story of the legal practice he founded to protect the rights of people on the margins of American society. Stevenson began law school at Harvard knowing only that the life path he would follow would have something to do with [improving] the lives of the poor." An internship at the Atlanta-based Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in 1983 not only put him into contact with death row prisoners, but also defined his professional trajectory. In 1989, the author opened a nonprofit legal center, the Equal Justice Initiative, in Alabama, a state with some of the harshest, most rigid capital punishment laws in the country. Underfunded and chronically overloaded by requests for help, his organization worked tirelessly on behalf of men, women and children who, for reasons of race, mental illness, lack of money and/or family support, had been victimized by the American justice system. One of Stevenson's first and most significant cases involved a black man named Walter McMillian. Wrongly accused of the murder of a white woman, McMillian found himself on death row before a sentence had even been determined. Though EJI secured his release six years later, McMillian "received no money, no assistance [and] no counseling" for the imprisonment that would eventually contribute to a tragic personal decline. In the meantime, Stevenson would also experience his own personal crisis. "You can't effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it," he writes. Yet he would emerge from despair, believing that it was only by acknowledging brokenness that individuals could begin to understand the importance of tempering imperfect justice with mercy and compassion. Emotionally profound, necessary reading.
Library Journal (May 1, 2014)
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988, Stevenson traveled to Alabama, where speeded-up executions were threatening the very concept of justice as many of those condemned were too poor or disempowered to secure legal representation. To help such people, he founded the Equal Justice Initiative. From a MacArthur fellow and TED talker with a million-plus hits. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Library Journal (October 1, 2014)
In 1983, Stevenson (executive director, Equal Justice Initiative; law, New York Univ.) was doing an internship that involved assisting inmates on Alabama's death row. His memoir, which often reads like a true crime novel, relates his experiences with several of his cases, primarily that of Walter McMillian, who was sentenced to death for a notorious murder that he insisted he did not commit. Working with McMillian, Stevenson was put in contact with other non-death row inmates, and he soon realized that many, especially the poor, were in desperate need of legal help. Times have changed since the 1980s but inequalities still exist. This book is also a passionate rallying cry for people, especially those in law enforcement, to employ more just mercy in dealing with offenders. Stevenson provides readers with numerous examples of how circumstances could have been handled in a more humane way and expresses hope for change. Finally, he hits capital punishment head-on, and ends his last chapter with the thought-provoking comment that justice is not about whether people deserve to die for crimes they commit, but whether we (the nation) deserve to kill. VERDICT A must-read for anyone in the field of criminal justice and for fans of true crime. [See Prepub Alert, 4/14/14.]-Frances O. Sandiford, formerly with Green Haven Correctional Facility Lib., Stormville, NY (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly (September 29, 2014)
With a mandate to serve the poor and voiceless, Stevenson, a professor of law at New York University and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal firm providing services for the wrongly condemned, describes in his memoir how he got the call to represent this largely neglected clientele in our justice system. He notes that, with no parole in some states and a thriving private prison business that often pushes local governments to create new crimes and impose stiffer sentences, America has the world's highest incarceration rate and, at 2.3 million, its largest incarcerated population. In an early case during his career, Stevenson defended Walter McMillian, a black man from southern Alabama, who was accused by a white con-man of two murders, although the snitch had never even met him and was himself under investigation for one of the murders. Through a series of bogus legal situations, police harassment, racism, and phony testimony, McMillian found himself on Alabama's death row, fully aware of the legacy of class and race prejudice that made poor Southern blacks susceptible to wrongful imprisonment and execution. Stevenson's persistent efforts spared McMillian from that ultimate fate, and the author's experience with the flaws in the American justice system add extra gravity to a deeply disturbing and oft-overlooked topic. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal (February 1, 2015)
What is the one commonality of people on death row? If the victim is white, the perpetrator is 11 times more likely to be condemned to die than if the victim is black. When Stevenson was a 23-year-old Harvard law student, he started an internship in Georgia where his first assignment was to deliver a message to a man living on death row. This assignment became his calling: representing the innocent, the inadequately defended, the children, the domestic abuse survivors, the mentally ill-the imprisoned. This fast-paced book reads like a John Grisham novel. One of those profiled, Walter, was at a barbecue with over 100 people at the time of the murder he was accused of, and spent more than six years on death row. The stories include those of children, teens, and adults who have been in the system since they were teens. This is a title for the many young adults who have a parent or loved one in the prison system and the many others who are interested in social justice, the law, and the death penalty. A standout choice.-Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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