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‘That Moment When’ a future civil rights lawyer learns the value of showing up

Despite feeling unqualified to provide legal advice, Bryan Stevenson discovered that just “showing up" for others can make a huge difference in their lives.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This afternoon, we launched That Moment When, the "PBS NewsHour"' latest Facebook Watch show, a special video-on-demand section of the social media site, appearing every Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. and hosted by contributor Steve Goldbloom, the creator of our Brief But Spectacular series.

    This new series tells the behind-the-scenes stories of successful people at a pivotal moment in their lives.

    In our debut episode, civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares that moment when he decided to value redemption over revenge.

  • Steve Goldbloom:

    Can you describe the moment when you first visited death row and the experience that that left you?

  • Bryan Stevenson:

    I took a course that required me to spend the month with an organization providing legal services to people on death row.

    And that's what got me to death row. And I was completely unprepared. But they asked me to explain to somebody that he's not at risk of execution anytime in the next year. That was my task.

    And I went to Georgia's death row. And I was so nervous and distraught, that when this man walked in, I was a bit overwhelmed. And what I remembered about him is just how burdened with chains he was. He had handcuffs on his wrists. He had a chain around his waist. He had shackles on his ankles.

    It took them 10 minutes to unchain him. And when they did, he walked over. And I began to apologize. I said, "I'm sorry. I'm just a law student. I don't know much about the death penalty. I don't know much about criminal appeals and procedure."

    I then said,"They sent me down here to tell you that you're not at risk of execution anytime in the next year."

    And I was surprised that, when I said that, the man said, "Wait, wait, wait. Say that again."

    I said, "You're not at risk of execution anytime in the next year."

    And the man said,"Wait, wait. Say that again."

    I said, "You're not at risk of execution anytime in the next year."

    And that's when this man grabbed my hands. And he said, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." He said, "You're the first person I have met in the two years I have been on death row who's not a death row prisoner or death row guard."

    He said, "I have been talking to my wife and kids on the phone. But I haven't let them come and visit, because I was afraid they would show up, and I would have an execution date."

    He said,"Now, because of you, I'm going to see my wife and I'm going to see my kids."

    And I couldn't believe how, even in my ignorance, being proximate to someone, showing up for someone, I couldn't believe the difference that could make in someone's life.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's worth watching the entire episode.

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