Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption​.

This guide contains recommended resources for exploring issues in Just Mercy

Related Resources

Just Mercy Movie Tie-in Book Cover

Explore The Ohio State University Libraries Resources

The Ohio State University Libraries provides access to a wide variety of resources. This page features resources that can help you explore themes in Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption​.

About the Book

Welcome to The Ohio State University Libraries Guide to  Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson. This guide offers resources for those who want to explore issues central to the book.

About the book

From one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time comes an unforgettable true story about the redeeming potential of mercy.

Just Mercy tells the story of Bryan Stevenson, a young lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.

One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machinations and legal brinkmanship – and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

How does Just Mercy relate to my life experience?
You will find many themes and events in the book that relate to your life. During your lifetime, you will encounter new  communities, cultures, ideas, and relationships. Bryan Stevenson’s story is full of life lessons and stories that will help you to reflect on new ideas:

  • systematic injustice
  • community activism
  • decision-making
  • economic injustice  
  • policing
  • anti-racism
  • perseverance
  • mass incarceration
  • integrity  
  • social justice

Discussion Questions

Questions for readers (adapted from Teacher’s Guide)
We hope you enjoy reading "Just Mercy."  As you read, use the following questions to help you apply the themes of the book to your life.

  1. Stevenson remembers his grandmother telling him, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close.” How do we see the author getting close to issues of punishment and mass incarceration? As you begin the academic year at Ohio State, how will you get close to the issues that are most important to you?
  2. Stevenson shared several examples of low-income individuals and/or people of color in difficult circumstances being presumed guilty before presenting their cases. Do you think race and class should factor into a court case? How about in a college admissions process or decisions about scholarships or financial aid?
  3. Fifty percent of the people in jail and prison today have a diagnosed mental illness, with 1 in 5 having a serious mental illness. Why is severe mental illness often ignored at trial? Do you believe mentally ill people convicted of crimes should receive different treatment? In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing individuals deemed to be “mentally retarded” is cruel and unusual punishment. What other protections should be considered for prisoners with proven mental illness, including those who have committed violent offenses?
  4. What factors prevent mitigating evidence (information about a person’s background and upbringing that may reduce punishment for an offense) from being presented at trial? What does Stevenson mean when he writes, “We all need mitigation at some point”? How can sharing your own background with fellow Buckeyes help you establish relationships within the Ohio State community?
  5. Do you think Stevenson had any idea that representing indigent, incarcerated people was going to be his life’s work? How did he take care of himself while doing difficult and exhausting work? What did he struggle with and what kept him from quitting as he beat the drum for justice? As you begin to pursue your own college career and then your life’s work, how will you stay energized without burning out?
  6. Readers from all backgrounds will interpret this book using different knowledge and experiences. How did you react to Stevenson’s examples? Did the book shed light on new information for you, or did it confirm what you already knew? How might you react if you are a different race or class? If you had personal experience with the justice system?
  7. In 2018, the African American population in Ohio was 14.3 percent, but African Americans account for 45 percent of the state’s prison population. How do the issues in Just Mercy relate to Ohio’s justice system? To the United States in general?

Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Teacher’s Guide by Bryon Stevenson


African American and African Studies Librarian and Comparative Studies Librarian

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