Bryan Stevenson grew up in a small town in Delaware where his family attended the Prospect AME Church. He experienced segregation. When he was 16, his grandfather was murdered.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1985, Bryan moved to the south to help poor blacks, children, and the mentally ill who’d received unjust sentences. He tells his story in the bestselling book, Just Mercy.
Once Bryan was in a courthouse in New Orleans, having won the release of two men falsely convicted as teenagers. They’d served at hard labor for nearly 50 years. Brian noticed an older black woman, who he assumed was a family member of one of the defendants.
She said, “No, no, no, I’m not related to nobody here. I come here to help people. This is a place full of pain, so people need plenty of help around here.”
“That’s really kind of you,” Bryan said.
“No, it’s what I’m supposed to do, so I do it. My 16-year-old grandson was murdered 15 years ago, and I loved that boy more than life itself.”
Bryan wasn’t expecting that. She saw the look on his face and grabbed his hand.
“I grieved and grieved. I asked the Lord why he let someone take my child like that. He was killed by some other boys. I sat through their trials and cried every day for two weeks. None of it made any sense. The judge sent those boys away to prison forever. I thought it would make me feel better, but it actually made me feel worse.
“I sat in the courtroom after they were sentenced and just cried and cried and cried. A lady came over and gave me a hug and let me lean on her. We sat there for two hours. I’ve never forgotten that woman.
“You never fully recover, but you carry on. About a year later I started coming down here. I just started letting anybody lean on me who needed it. All these young children being sent to prison forever, all this grief and violence. Those judges throwing people away like they’re not even human, people shooting each other like they don’t care. I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast on each other.”
Bryan had once come to the aid of a black man wrongly convicted of murder. The man had had an extra-marital affair, so some of the man’s church friends thought that made him guilty. Bryan had reminded the congregation of what Jesus had said to the accusers of a woman caught in adultery. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Bryan said, “Our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion.
“We need to be stone catchers.”