Just Mercy

Just Mercy

Joe Sullivan was a thirteen-year-old convicted of rape and sentenced to life in an adult prison in Florida. Joe maintained that he had robbed but not raped his victim. Joe, who had suffered childhood abuse, was raped repeatedly in prison, attempted suicide several times, and developed multiple sclerosis. EJI represents Joe in a case that reaches the Supreme Court. They win the case, which opens the opportunity for Joe’s release. Joe becomes attached to Stevenson and often writes him heartfelt letters in a “childlike” tone, suggesting that his trauma has caused intellectual and emotional delays.

Joe Sullivan Quotes in Just Mercy

The Just Mercy quotes below are all either spoken by Joe Sullivan or refer to Joe Sullivan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Spiegel & Grau edition of Just Mercy published in 2015.
Chapter 14 Quotes

I watched Joe, who laughed like a little boy, but I saw the lines in his face and even the emergence of a few prematurely grey hairs on his head. I realized even while I laughed, that his unhappy childhood had been followed by unhappy, imprisoned teenage years followed by unhappy incarceration through young adulthood. All of the sudden, it occurred to me what a miracle it was that he could still laugh.

Related Characters: Bryan Stevenson (speaker), Joe Sullivan
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:
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Joe Sullivan Character Timeline in Just Mercy

The timeline below shows where the character Joe Sullivan appears in Just Mercy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 14: Cruel and Unusual
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
In 1989 in Pensacola, Florida, thirteen-year-old Joe Sullivan went with two older teenagers to rob an elderly woman’s house. Later that day,... (full context)
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Joe’s lawyers withdrew from his case, making no attempt to appeal. In prison, Joe was raped... (full context)
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
An inmate incarcerated with Joe writes to EJI About Joe’s abuse and his disability. Joe writes to Stevenson asking if... (full context)
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
In the visitation room, Joe waits in a wheelchair in a small locked metal cage. When Stevenson arrives, the officers... (full context)
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
Joe regularly writes to Stevenson, often sharing details of his day and asking childlike questions. EJI... (full context)
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
...for “unusual” punishment, EJI first challenged juvenile life sentences involving non-homicidal crimes like those of Joe Sullivan. In Joe’s case, they argued that youth are “human works in progress” and that... (full context)
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
Media and Public Opinion Theme Icon
The Supreme Court agrees to review Joe’s case and the case of another Florida teenager, Terrance Graham, who was sentenced to life... (full context)
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
Media and Public Opinion Theme Icon
Stevenson visits Joe in prison. The national media attention generated by the Supreme Court case has led to... (full context)
Chapter 15: Broken
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
...a temporary nursing home. At the time, EJI was awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on Joe Sullivan’s case and faced financial uncertainty and an incredibly large death row docket with impending... (full context)
Chapter 16: The Stonecatcher’s Song of Sorrow
Resistance and Advocacy Theme Icon
Systemic Power, Oppression, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Empathy, Mercy, and Humanization Theme Icon
...life sentence to 175 years. With persistence, EJI gets reasonable release dates secured for Antonio, Joe Sullivan, and Ian Manuel. They develop a re-entry program, which will help persuade the courts... (full context)