My friend, Michael, read this and liked it. Then my cousin Kari, she of the technicolor hair, posted something on FB about how life transforming this book was to her. I think she might be a recovering Evangelical. So, of course, I had to check it out.
The book tells the story of Bryan Stevenson's work as a defense lawyer for people on death row. Our system of capital punishment is seriously lacking in any semblance of justice. Many of the people Stevenson encounters were clearly innocent, were seriously disabled, were children when convicted, were framed, grew up in seriously dysfunctional environments (poverty coupled with abuse), or multiples of the above. Most of them were people of color as well. The public defender system in most states, certainly so in Alabama, which is the focus of Stevenson's work in this book, is pretty much broken. Public defenders were limited to a fee of $500, which wasn't enough to make any efforts worthwhile. So, mostly, they took their fees and did next to nothing.
The book switches back and forth between various cases on which Stevenson was concerned, and the one case in particular of Walter McMillian. McMillian was essentially framed by the "authorities" in his town, who needed a fall guy on which to hang a murder. The only evidence was false testimony from one person, false testimony that had many obvious flaws. Testimony by other people that McMillian was elsewhere at the time of the murder were ignored. But McMillian was a black man who had had an affair with a white woman, so that was all the "facts" the "authorities" needed. I found it creepy to be spending Holy Week reading the story of an innocent man condemned to death by the "authorities". In McMillian's case, he was eventually exonerated...after several decades in death row. WTF Alabama? WTF good Southern Evangelical Christians?
I've always been opposed to capital punishment because I spent too many years in Sunday School. After all, Moses, King David, and Saul of Tarsus were all murderers, but were redeemed in some way to do great things. So, who am I to judge anyone as not, like one the afore mentioned trio, being another fluke among murderers? But, after reading this book, one can see that our system of capital punishment is clearly unjust, way too many innocents, disabled people, and children are condemned to death in this country. Our system of justice needs serious reform. Of course the folks who think the racist Jeff Sessions is fit to be Attorney General of the U.S. will not have much stomach for reform. Of course, it's not just Sessions' Alabama that's the problem. Here in so-called "liberal" Massachusetts, we now use our jails as holding pens for the mentally ill. As a nation, we'll surely have some serious problems to try to explain away when we meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.