What A Death Row Attorney Has Learned From His Condemned Clients

"You can't get mercy unless you give it."

Attorney Bryan Stevenson believes that if everyone else saw what he sees on a regular basis, we'd all think much, much differently about the world and our fellow man. Stevenson has dedicated his life to defending the people society tends to ignore and shut away: death row convicts.

Through his non-profit law firm, the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson has defended those who have been wrongly accused, had their cases mishandled or were otherwise denied justice. When Stevenson sits down with Oprah for an interview on "SuperSoul Sunday" this weekend, he discusses the harsh reality of these injustices, from the overwhelming impact of race to the eye-opening statistics about imprisonment and capital punishment in this country.

As Stevenson explains, we are all broken by this type of injustice. What he has learned from his death row clients, however, is that there is a clear path toward healing. It begins, he says, with empathy, compassion and, ultimately, mercy.   

"Mercy is not something we give to people because they deserve it... It's what we do because it's the way we find mercy for ourselves," Stevenson says. "You can't get mercy unless you give it. You can't receive compassion unless you give it."

Not only has his work compelled Stevenson to reach further into the depths of his own mercy and compassion, but it's also shifted his entire perspective of others -- especially those who act toward him without a hint of either quality.

"It's made me want to understand the people who are unhappy with me, who are hostile to me, who sometimes act as if they hate me," Stevenson says.

In his line of work, it's not unusual for Stevenson to encounter these types of people in one way or another. "I used to get death threats and bomb threats," he says.

Though others might instinctively become more hardened by these malicious acts or might simply dismiss the offenders as evil, Stevenson responds differently.

"It's made me not want to believe that the people behind those threats are just enemies, or haters, or bigots," Stevenson says. "It's made me recognize they're like my clients: They need someone to get past what's created this burden, this fear, this anger, this hostility."

At the heart of it, he adds, there seems to be one driving force.

"It really is fear," Stevenson says.

Stevenson's full interview airs on "SuperSoul Sunday" on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. ET on OWN.

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