It’s one of my life’s missions to see to it that those with less fortunate backgrounds have the opportunities they deserve.

It is my firm belief that all professionals, whether they be lawyers, accountants, hairstylists, economists, or doctors, should spend some of their time serving those in need.

I have blogged a lot of such people, who have achieved greatness, but still make time to work with less privileged. This is the essence of my TEDx talk on Sawubona: We See You.

One such person is American lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who has made it his life’s work to defend the rights of the poor. We Need To Talk About Injustice, a TED talk by Bryan Stevenson, was the first time I heard of him.

This book is a strong and moving analysis of the inequities and biases that plague the American criminal justice system, as well as the urgent need for reform to ensure that everyone receives fair treatment.

The Equal Justice Initiative’s founder and lead attorney, Bryan Stevenson, discusses his time representing prisoners on death row, many of whom were black, impoverished, and innocent.

In this book, Stevenson sheds light on the many flaws in the American judicial system, such as racial discrimination, excessive punishment, and the inability of vulnerable groups to afford competent legal representation.

One of the most poignant stories in the book is that of Walter McMillian. McMillian, a black man, was wrongfully convicted of murdering a young white woman in Monroeville, Alabama in 1986.

McMillian was arrested and accused on the testimony of a convicted felon with a history of lying, who claimed that McMillian had confessed to the crime.

The all-white jury sentenced to death McMillian after his defence attorney failed to offer proof of his innocence. McMillian awaited execution for six years at Holman Correctional Prison,.

After seeing a documentary about Stevenson, a local advocate asked Stevenson to represent McMillian in 1988. Stevenson investigated the case and found that the prosecution had used perjured testimony, pressured witnesses, and concealed evidence.

Stevenson fought for McMillian’s freedom despite local authorities’ threats and intimidation. McMillian was released from death row in 1993 after appealing his conviction.

Stevenson links his personal experience with that of his clients throughout the book, providing readers with a greater knowledge of the human cost of the criminal justice system.

In addition, he discusses the consequences of mass incarceration on families and communities, as well as the necessity for restorative justice to remedy the system’s abuses.

There a many nuggets that can be taken from the book:

  1. The importance of empathy and compassion: Stevenson emphasises the importance of empathy and compassion in working with those who have been marginalised or victimised by the criminal justice system. He demonstrates how these qualities can lead to meaningful change in people’s lives.
  2. The power of storytelling: The book uses personal narratives and stories to illustrate the human impact of the criminal justice system. Stevenson’s storytelling is both compelling and effective in conveying the realities of life for those caught up in the system.
  3. The importance of perseverance: Stevenson’s work is not easy, and he faces numerous setbacks and challenges. However, he emphasises the importance of perseverance and never giving up on those who have been unjustly condemned or marginalised. His dedication and persistence have led to significant changes in the lives of many individuals.



I love the work that Bryan Stevenson does, it’s work that matters, I loved his TED talk, and I loved this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Stevenson’s writing is clear, concise, and powerful. He deftly balances the emotional weight of his clients’ stories with a call to action for readers to get involved in the fight for justice reform.

The book reads very calm, it’s not an angry book, very sober in its approach to injustices. I suppose that makes sense. This is what he does every day. His job is to defend innocent people who may have spent decades in jail or on death row. It probably doesn’t even surprise him much anymore when things like this happen.

His compassion, empathy, and dedication to the cause shine through on every page.

Just minor criticism: the book’s structure makes it a little hard to keep track of all the characters. While Walter’s story is the book’s main focus, there are far too many other characters that can get lost in the shuffle at times.

A must-read anyway. Even if you believe you know how terrible the American justice system is, you might be surprised.

This is one of those books that, as one of our Lora Book Club members put it: “It is a book that gives you a hug.” 🙂

Favourite Quotes:

  • “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
  • “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?”
  • “Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.”
  • “We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation.”
  • “[W]e would never think it was humane to pay someone to rape people convicted of rape, or assault and abuse someone guilty of assault or abuse. Yet we were comfortable killing people who kill in part because we think we can do it in a manner that doesn’t implicate our own humanity the way that raping or abusing someone would. I couldn’t stop thinking that we don’t spend much time contemplating the details of what killing someone actually involves.
  • “Fear and anger are a threat to justice. They can infect a community, a state, or a nation, and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous.”
  • “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. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavoured, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”
  • “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”
  • “I have discovered that most people have a hard time taking responsibility for their own mistakes, but that’s not nearly as difficult as explaining why God would allow innocent children to suffer.”
  • “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 victimisation and victimhood, retribution and suffering.”
  • “Rosa Parks turned to me sweetly and asked, ‘Now, Bryan, tell me who you are and what you’re doing.’ I looked at Ms. Carr to see if I had permission to speak, and she smiled and nodded at me. I then gave Ms. Parks my rap. ‘Yes, ma’am. Well, I have a law project called the Equal Justice Initiative, and we’re trying to help people on death row. We’re trying to stop the death penalty, actually. We’re trying to do something about prison conditions and excessive punishment. We want to free people who’ve been wrongly convicted. We want to end unfair sentences in criminal cases and stop racial bias in criminal justice…Ms. Parks leaned back smiling. ‘Ooooh, honey, all that’s going to make you tired, tired, tired.’ We all laughed. I looked down, a little embarrassed. Then Ms. Carr leaned forward and put her finger in my face and talked o me just like my grandmother used to talk to me. She said, ‘That’s why you’ve got to be brave, brave, brave.’ All three women nodded in silent agreement and for just a little while, they made me feel like a young prince.”

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