Bryan Stevenson is the author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.
From his interview with Terry Gross:
GROSS: One of the cases that you write about is about one of the children who you represented. He was, I think, 13. And he was in prison for having shot his mother's boyfriend after he witnessed the mother's boyfriend abusing her, and she ended up unconscious and bleeding. And the son wasn't even sure if she was alive. She was kind of out cold for about 20 minutes, bleeding profusely, and I don't know whose gun it was that the boy used?--Marshal Zeringue
STEVENSON: It was the boyfriend - the mother's boyfriend's gun that he had hidden away in a dresser drawer.
GROSS: So the boy took the gun, shot and killed the mother's boyfriend. So he's in prison. You're trying to represent him. And you go to visit him, he's uncommunicative. And he finally just kind of breaks down crying and tells you what's been happening to him in prison, which was...
STEVENSON: Yeah, it's one of the real tragedies that we continue to tolerate in this country. I went to the jail and there's this little kid, he's 14 and he's just tiny and he won't say a word. And after 20 minutes of trying to get them to talk to me, I finally went around and got close to him, I said look you got to talk to me. I can't help you if you don't talk to me. And at one point, I leaned on him and I put my arm around him and when I did that he just collapsed into me. And he started crying hysterically, and began telling me nothing about his mom, nothing about the man, but he started talking to me about the jail.
He told me on the first night that he had been there, he'd been hurt by several men and then he told me on the next night he'd been sexually assaulted by several people. And then he told me on the night before I'd gotten there, so many people had hurt him and sexually assaulted him, he couldn't remember how many there had been. You know, and I held that little boy while he cried hysterically for almost an hour and when I left the jail, I couldn't help but think who is responsible for this? And I realized we are. We are a society that has allowed our fear and our anger - we've allowed these false narratives about children being super predators and other such nonsense - to create policies where we are putting children in peril. And I just - I really was never the same after that. We got that little boy out of there and we ultimately got a good outcome for him. But it's, again, one of the ways in which this disconnect has made us a less fair, less just society.
GROSS: What was the outcome that you got because it's not like he was innocent of shooting and killing a man? Doesn't mean he should have...[read on, or listen to the interview]