Born in 1959, Bryan Stevenson is a respected lawyer and nonprofit executive dedicated to prison reform.
He began his journey in Delaware, eventually earning degrees in philosophy, public policy and law from Eastern University and Harvard.
As an intern and later attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, he focused on controversial death penalty cases, becoming its director in 1989.
Following government funding cuts in 1994, Stevenson used his MacArthur Fellowship to found the Equal Justice Initiative, advocating for the abolition of the death penalty and life-without-parole sentences for minors.
Gaining widespread recognition through his 2012 TED talk and memoir “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” Stevenson expanded his work to commemorate slave trading and lynching sites, founding the “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration” museum in 2017.
His successful Supreme Court cases and impactful work have earned him numerous awards, including the Olof Palme Prize and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.
I have compiled the best quotes from Bryan Stevenson for you.
Top Bryan Stevenson Quotes
1. “I think hopelessness is the enemy of justice.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
2. “Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
3. “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
4. “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
5. “You don’t change the world with the ideas in your mind, but with the conviction in your heart.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
6. “But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
7. “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
8. “Always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
9. “We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
10. “You ultimately judge the civility of a society not by how it treats the rich, the powerful, the protected and the highly esteemed, but by how it treats the poor, the disfavored and the disadvantaged…” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
11. “We all have a responsibility to create a just society.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
12. “The greatest evil of American slavery was not involuntary servitude but rather the narrative of racial differences we created to legitimate slavery. Because we never dealt with that evil, I don’t think slavery ended in 1865, it just evolved.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
13. “Intuitively we all like to seek the things that are comfortable rather than uncomfortable. But I do think there is a way of saying that if I believe in justice and I believe that justice is a constant struggle, and if I want to create justice, then I have to get comfortable with struggle.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
14. “That’s what’s provocative to me – that we can victimize people, we can torture and traumatize people with no consciousness that it is a shameful thing to do.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
15. “Why do we want to kill all the broken people?” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
16. “You can’t demand truth and reconciliation. You have to demand truth – people have to hear it, and then they have to want to reconcile themselves to that truth.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
17. “The death penalty symbolizes whom we fear and don’t fear, whom we care about and whose lives are not valid.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
Best Bryan Stevenson Quotes
18. “We don’t need police officers who see themselves as warriors. We need police officers who see themselves as guardians and parts of the community. You can’t police a community that you’re not a part of.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
19. “Lynching is an important aspect of racial history and racial inequality in America, because it was visible, it was so public, it was so dramatic, and it was so violent.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
20. “If you’re just the person with power, exercising that power fearfully and angrily, you’re going to be an operative of injustice and inequality.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
21. “It’s that mind-heart connection that I believe compels us to not just be attentive to all the bright and dazzling things but also the dark and difficult things.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
22. “Why do we want to kill all the broken people? What is wrong with us, that we think a thing like that can be right?” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
23. “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close,” she told me all the time.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
24. “We’ve all been acculturated into accepting the inevitability of wrongful convictions, unfair sentences, racial bias, and racial disparities and discrimination against the poor.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
25. “Today, over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates in the United States have a diagnosed mental illness, a rate nearly five times greater than that of the general adult population.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
26. “Are you the sum total of your worst acts?” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
27. “I’m persuaded that if most people saw what I see on a regular basis, they would want change.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
28. “An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
29. “I talk about my grandmother a lot, because she’s an amazing person – not in some dramatic, distinct, unique way, but anybody who is the daughter of enslaved people and who has found a way to be hopeful and create love and value justice and seek peace is a remarkable person.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
30. “There were people in the South who were ardently opposed to slavery. And maybe, if we get into truth and reconciliation, those will be the people we want to name schools and streets after.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
31. “I have to get comfortable with resistance, and even sometimes with hostility.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
32. “Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
Famous Bryan Stevenson Quotes
33. “Whenever society begins to create policies and laws rooted in fear and anger, there will be abuse and injustice.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
34. “I may be old, I may be poor, I may be black, but I’m here. I’m here because I’ve got this vision of justice that compels me to be a witness. I’m here because I’m supposed to be here. I’m here because you can’t keep me away.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
35. “The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery. It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography, and local politics.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
36. “In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
37. “Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
38. “So defendants like Walter McMillian, even in counties that were 40 or 50 percent black, frequently found themselves staring at all-white juries, especially in death penalty cases. Then, in 1986, the Supreme Court ruled in Batson v. Kentucky that prosecutors could be challenged more directly about using peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner, giving hope to black defendants – and forcing prosecutors to find more creative ways to exclude black jurors.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
39. “If you love your community, then you need to be insisting on justice in all circumstances.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
40. “If we want to be proud of our country, if we want to be proud as Americans, if we want to be proud of our history, then we can’t talk about the things that are inconsistent with pride, about which we can have no pride.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
41. “Dying on some court schedule or some prison schedule ain’t right. People are supposed to die on God’s schedule.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
42. “I don’t think there’s been a time in American history with more innocent people in prison.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
43. “The Bureau of Justice reports that one in three black male babies born this century will go to jail or prison – that is an absolutely astonishing statistic. And it ought to be terrorizing to not just to people of color, but to all of us.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
Inspiring Bryan Stevenson Quotes
44. “We’ve given up on rehabilitation, education, and services for the imprisoned because providing assistance to the incarcerated is apparently too kind and compassionate. We.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
45. “It can be a challenge, but my legacy, at least for the people who came before me, is you don’t run from challenges because that’s more comfortable and convenient.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
46. “It seems to me that we’ve been quick to celebrate the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement and slow to recognize the damage done in that era. We have been unwilling to commit to a process of truth and reconciliation in which people are allowed to give voice to the difficulties created by racial segregation, racial subordination, and marginalization.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
47. “Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
48. “Private prison builders and prison service companies have spent millions of dollars to persuade state and local governments to create new crimes, impose harsher sentences, and keep more people locked up so that they can earn more profits. Private profit has corrupted incentives to improve public safety, reduce the costs of mass incarceration, and most significantly, promote rehabilitation of the incarcerated.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
49. “Knowing what I know about the people who have come before me, and the people who came before them, and what they had to do, it changes my capacity to stay engaged, to stay productive.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
50. “We live in a country that talks about being the home of the brave and the land of the free, and we have the highest incarceration rate in the world.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
51. “In Alabama, even though 65 percent of all homicide victims were black, nearly 80 percent of the people on death row were there for crimes against victims who were white.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
52. “I love museums, and I think they’re fantastic, but they don’t touch the people who I frequently think need to be touched with at least some reminder of legacy.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
53. “Many states can no longer afford to support public education, public benefits, public services without doing something about the exorbitant costs that mass incarceration have created.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
54. “You can be a career professional as a judge, a prosecutor, sometimes as a defense attorney, and never insist on fairness and justice. That’s tragic and that’s what we have to change.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
Short Bryan Stevenson Quotes
55. “My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
56. “My parents lived in a poor rural community on the Eastern Shore, and schools were still segregated. And I remember when lawyers came into our community to open up the public schools to black kids.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
57. “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
58. “Proximity to the condemned and incarcerated made the question of each person’s humanity more urgent and meaningful, including my own.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
59. “Fear and anger are a threat to justice. They can infect a community, a state, or a nation, and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
60. “I am more than broken. In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness. Embracing our brokenness creates a desire for mercy, and perhaps a need to show mercy to others, too. When you experience mercy, you begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
61. “His freedom was, in a small way, a sign of hope in a hopeless place.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
62. “Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument. – REINHOLD NIEBUHR.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
63. “More people have asked me what they can do to help me in the last fourteen hours of my life than ever asked me in the years when I was coming up.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
64. “Arresting someone for coming forward with credible evidence that challenged the reliability of a capital murder conviction? The more I thought about it, the more disoriented and provoked I became. It was also sobering. If they arrested people who said things that were inconvenient, how would they react if I challenged them even harder?” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
65. “I was in my late twenties and about to start my fourth year at the SPDC when I met Walter McMillian. His case was one of the flood of cases I’d found myself frantically working on after learning of a growing crisis in Alabama. The state had nearly a hundred people on death row as well as the fastest-growing condemned population in the country, but it also had no public defender system, which meant that large numbers of death row prisoners had no legal representation of any kind.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
66. “Montgomery’s unique role in the domestic slave trade was that it was the first community that had a rail line that connected the Deep South to the mid-Atlantic region.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
67. “We need more hope. We need more mercy. And we need more justice.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
68. “It wasn’t likely that we could do much for many of the people who needed help, but it made the journey homeless sad to hope that maybe we could.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
69. “Because my great-grandparents were enslaved people, the legacy of slavery was something that didn’t seem impersonal or disconnected. That’s what motivated me to get into law.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
70. “This book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America. It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us. It’s also about a dramatic period in our recent history, a period that indelibly marked the lives of millions of Americans – of all races, ages, and sexes – and the American psyche as a whole.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
71. “Even though the restriction couldn’t be enforced under federal law, the state ban on interracial marriage in Alabama continued into the twenty-first century. In 2000, reformers finally had enough votes to get the issue on the statewide ballot, where a majority of voters chose to eliminate the ban, although 41 percent voted to keep it.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
72. “In a landscape littered with all of this imagery about the nobility of the Civil War and the Confederate effort and struggle, the absence of markers says something really powerful.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
73. “The culture of sexual violence was so pervasive that even the prison chaplain was sexually assaulting women when they came to the chapel.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
74. “I couldn’t stop thinking that we don’t spend much time contemplating the details of what killing someone actually involves.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
75. “I wasn’t prepared to meet a condemned man.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
76. “I say this thing about how I’ve never had to say my head is bloodied but not bowed, like everybody who came before me had to say. And that tells me that I can do a lot more than I think I can.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
77. “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice… The real question of capital punishment in this country is, not do they deserve to die, but do we deserve to kill?” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
78. “America’s prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
79. “My work has taught me a vital lesson. Each of us is more than the worse thing we’ve done. I am persuaded that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
80. “So many of us have become afraid and angry. We’ve become so fearful and vengeful that we’ve thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and the weak – not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us seem tough, less broken. I.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
81. “The Court had repeatedly made clear, though, that the Constitution does not require that racial minorities and women actually serve on juries – it only forbids excluding jurors on the basis of race or gender. For many African Americans, the use of wholly discretionary peremptory strikes to select a jury of twelve remained a serious barrier to serving on a jury.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
82. “In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every three hundred Americans; fifty years later, it was one bed for every three thousand.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
83. “Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
Bryan Stevenson Quotes for Motivation
84. “I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the respected, and the privileged among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
85. “I heard you in that courtroom today. I’ve even seen you here a couple times before. I know’s you a stonecatcher, too.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
86. “But today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion. I told the congregation that we simply can’t watch that happen. I told them we have to be stonecatchers.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
87. “There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
88. “We have created a new caste system that forces thousands of people into homelessness, bans them from living with their families and in their communities, and renders them virtually unemployable. Some states permanently strip people with criminal convictions of the right to vote; as a result, in several Southern states disenfranchisement among African American men has reached levels unseen since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
89. “My short time on death row revealed that there was something missing in the way we treat people in our judicial system, that maybe we judge some people unfairly. The more I reflected on the experience, the more I recognized that I had been struggling my whole life with the question of how and why people are judged unfairly.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
90. “In most places, when people hear about or see something that is a symbol or representation or evidence of slavery or the slave trade or lynching, the instinct is to cover it up, to get rid of it, to destroy it.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
91. “The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent – strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
92. “We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
93. “Part of the reason why we’re only now reaching a point in American society where we can talk about the need for truth and reconciliation and the legacy of slavery is that it was such a dominant part of our history.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
94. “My parents, who grew up in terror and dealt with segregation and humiliation, nonetheless taught us to be hopeful and open and loving and not hateful toward anyone.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
95. “American prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill. Mass incarceration has been largely ruled by misguided drug policy and excessive sentencing, but the internment of hundreds of thousands of poor and mentally ill people has been a driving force in achieving our record levels of imprisonment.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
96. “We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and perhaps we all need some measure of unmerited grace.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
97. “Listen, I did something I probably wasn’t supposed to do, but I want you to know about it. On the trip back down here after court on that last day – well, I know how Avery is, you know. Well anyway, I just want you to know that I took an exit off the interstate on the way back. And, well, I took him to a Wendy’s, and I bought him a chocolate milkshake.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
98. “Between 1990 and 2005, a new prison opened in the United States every ten days. Prison growth and the resulting “prison-industrial complex” – the business interests that capitalize on prison construction – made imprisonment so profitable that millions of dollars were spent lobbying state legislators to keep expanding the use of incarceration to respond to just about any problem. Incarceration.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
99. “Florida had the largest population in the world of children condemned to die in prison for non-homicides.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
100. “Of course innocent mistakes occur but the accumulated insults and indignations caused by racial presumptions are destructive in ways that are hard to measure. Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden born by people of color that can’t be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).
101. “The racial terrorism of lynchings in many ways created the modern death penalty. America’s embrace of speedy executions was, in part, an attempt to redirect the violent energies of lynching while ensuring white southerners that Black men would still pay the ultimate price.” ~ (Bryan Stevenson).