Finding Mercy Many Miles from the Office
Page and Palette book store is tucked away on a street corner in Fairhope Alabama, and a short walk from the abundant beauty and serenity of Mobil Bay. It’s also a little over 700 miles from the St. Louis County Public Defender’s Office and a wonderful place to find an actual bound book for a vacation read. This past October I took some time off and spent a week on the gulf coast, walking the beach, exploring lighthouses and visiting cute little book stores in peaceful little towns. As I explored Page & Palette, I strolled past tables of books, fiction and non-fiction, short stories and novels all replete with interesting subjects ranging from the ghost stories of Alabama to social commentaries concerning justice in the South.
As I struggled to avoid subjects related to work, I triumphantly picked up the book about ghosts, confident in my quest to read, to rest and to relax. But, traveling with a parent means accepting their tendency to discuss work, especially when you are trying to leave the stress many miles away. My mother was able to find career relevance in a quaint bookstore in southern Alabama. She tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a book written by Bryan Stevenson. I was so focused on my ghost story book, I paid little attention to my mother’s selection: first thinking it was a book about Justice John Paul Stevens. I quickly agreed to purchase the book on the former justice to deflect my mother’s distracting, yet loving, enthusiasm.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that “Just Mercy” was not a book about the Supreme Court and justices, but about a real lawyer’s career long struggle for fairness and merciful justice. Before I realized, it well past midnight and I had been reading, skimming and generally devouring the book for hours. Despite my reluctance to engage in anything reminding me of work, I was drawn to Professor Stevenson’s story and how he evolved from law student to founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
I was moved by many parts of this book, especially his representation of teenager Evan Miller and his analysis of race, poverty and justice in our society. But it was the story of Stevenson meeting his first client as a young law student that impacted me the most. Reading about his anxiety, nervousness and uncertainty as he prepared to enter the correctional facility caused me to reflect on the professional lives of my offices newest attorneys. I realized this book needed to be seen through the eyes of a new defender.
Upon my return to St. Louis I wasted no time in sharing “Just Mercy” with my colleague and compassionate advocate Rita Florez. After an initial examination of Professor Stevenson’s work, Rita enthusiastically informed me she wanted to write a book review for NAPD.
You will find book reviews of “Just Mercy” in both the New York Times and Washington Post by nationally recognized professors and writers but Rita’s review for NAPD provides the public defender reader with a heartfelt introduction of Stevenson’s work from a talented former journalist who is experiencing the authentic emotions and professional challenges faced by a relatively new Defender. Rita’s review provides a unique relevance and insight for all who toil daily to advance the cause of the Public Defender client. It is my honor to introduce zealous defender Rita Florez and her quality review of Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” to our national Defender community.