Just Mercy

by Bryan Stevenson

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Student Question

Could the following paragraph about Bryan Stevenson's memoir, Just Mercy, be rephrased?

Just Mercy is a memoir by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and activist whose experiences with the criminal justice system led him to launch an initiative to fight against the injustice and prejudice that undermines the system’s effectiveness. His memoir includes a number of personal stories from his work, but it focuses on the story of Walter McMillan, a young black man wrongly accused and convicted of murdering a white woman. The book chronicles McMillan’s trial and conviction, and it also recounts stories of other people of color who suffered injustice in a system fueled by institutionalized prejudice. Stevenson tells stories of injustices that involve police brutality and racial profiling, and he tells of cases that involved blatant discrimination against veterans, incarcerated children, the mentally ill, and impoverished woman, all of whom were victims of what Stevenson portrays as a sadly broken criminal justice system.

Expert Answers

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The best way to paraphrase a paragraph is to read it several times, then focus on the core meaning of the text both broadly and line by line. In this case, the main idea of the paragraph is that it describes what Bryan Stevenson's memoir, Just Mercy, is about. Even just reading it once, it is clear that there is a central theme here: fighting injustice.

If I were to paraphrase this paragraph, I would begin by stating who the author is and what the theme of the memoir is. For example, "Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy is a memoir about a lawyer's fight for justice within an ineffective criminal justice system filled with prejudice."

I would then read the paragraph again and note that, while the memoir focuses on many of the author's personal experiences as an activist and lawyer defending people against a long list of injustices (something else you should note in your paraphrasing), the main story in the book is about Walter McMillan. I would then write a sentence or two about McMillan's innocence of the crime he was accused of (killing a white woman) and the fact that his guilt was presumed based on his race—something that Stevenson is bringing to light so that something like that never happens again.

The key point of the paragraph is that Stevenson's memoir is about shining a light on a "broken criminal justice system" so that others can see how people are discriminated against due to race, economic status, military background, age, and mental health.

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