Just Mercy

by Bryan Stevenson

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What is the purpose of the introduction in Just Mercy?

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The introduction of Just Mercy serves to familiarize the reader with the reasons that Bryan Stevenson began concentrating on the cases of incarcerated men who had been sentenced to death. The reader is encouraged to feel the bonds of humanity that the young attorney felt. By learning about Stevenson’s early interactions with men whom he understood to be like him, the reader senses his empathy for death row residents and his outrage about injustice.

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By providing an introduction that situates him as a young legal intern, Bryan Stevenson helps the reader understand the forces that shaped the trajectory of his career as an attorney. Stevenson had not originally planned to concentrate on the cases of men who were incarcerated, sentenced to death, and awaiting execution. The Ivy League law student understood the justice system more as a set of abstractions than as a heavy burden that those men and their families bore every day. Even learning more about how the system works from the veteran attorney Steve Bright pales in comparison to his first prison visits.

Through interacting with another young man who was condemned to death but with whom he had much in common, Stevenson must face the concrete reality that constitutes this inmate’s life—including joy at having that life extended, if only for weeks or months.

The idea of dehumanization is also considered in the introduction. The process he undergoes when entering the prison gives Stevenson an inkling of the prisoners’ experience. He not only sees how the guards treat the prisoners with unnecessary roughness, but also how Henry expresses his inner self through song. These impressions remain so strong that they shape the whole course of Stevenson’s career—a path that he charts in the rest of the book.

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