The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row - Anthony Ray Hinton
My Review: 4 Stars
The Sun Does Shine is an important complement to Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy and Michele Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Hinton's firsthand account of wrongful imprisonment which landed him on Death Row in spite of his innocence is an important read for us all.
While the book can be an uneven reading experience due to the inclusion of legal documents and transcripts, I believe Hinton's story to be incredibly important and I'm so glad I was able to read it.
Anthony Ray Hinton is one of the longest-serving condemned prisoners facing execution in America who was proven innocent and eventually released. He was arrested in 1985 and finally released from prison on April 3, 2015. He proclaimed his innocence the entire time and when you read about the case, there can be no dispute to that fact.
Lieutenant Acker: "I don't care whether you did or didn't do it. In fact, I believe you didn't do it. But it doesn't matter. If you didn't do it, one of your brothers did. And you're going to take the rap." p. 60
Hinton's only crime was being born black and in Alabama. The people who sentenced Hinton to Death Row, from the witnesses who lied to the cops who arrested him without concrete proof to the DA and judge who decided his guilt before the trial even began, even his pro bono lawyer who kept asking for money, made me furious. This was racism in action and downright evil.
Time and again the state repeatedly denied his petitions and blocked evidence. It didn't seem to care that he was innocent or that there were real issues with the case. Or that, you know, they'd essentially let a murderer go free.
Can you imagine how Hinton felt that whole time?
Reading Hinton's experience gave me a much better understanding of what Death Row prisoners face and the reality was horrifying.
During his time in prison, he watched 54 men walk past his door on the way to their execution. The execution chamber was 30 feet from his cell. Hinton describes the smells, the sounds, the visceral experience of watching guards leading someone to their death knowing you might be next. Every time someone is taken to execution chamber, they bang on the bars and scream to let the person know they're not alone.
Hinton understandably feels a variety of emotions over his injustice. He spent the first three years in silence but eventually starts reaching out to fellow prisoners and realizes he can't let the state of AL steal his soul or humanity. He eventually was able to start a book club and that led to all prisoners being allowed to have two books.
Hinton shows us the humanity of his fellow prisoners, who are "so much more than what we had been reduced to" p. 133. When a prisoner's parent died, Ray passed him a cup of coffee and prisoners passed down candy and whatever food they had from the commissary. It was their way of expressing condolences. He doesn't deny there were men there who had done terrible things but he also has a lot of wisdom to share regarding how we view our fellow human beings regardless of what they've said and done.
"Until we have a way of ensuring that innocent men are never executed—until we account for the racism in our courts, in our prisons, and in our sentencing—the death penalty should be abolished." p. 202
The Anthony Ray Hinton who went into prison is not the same man who emerges. My heart broke as he candidly discussed his fears about something like this happening again and the way he grappled with the men who did this to him. He forgives McGregor, Perhacs, Acker, Judge Garrett and every attorney general who fought to keep the truth from being revealed, which is more than I would be capable of, especially because I'm sure Hinton was not the only person of color they did this to.
If not for Bryan Stevenson's involvement, Hinton would either still be on Death Row or dead and all for a crime he never could have committed. If this does not convince you our criminal justice system needs a serious overhaul, I don't know what will.
The Afterword includes a list of the men and women who sit on death row as of March 2017. He invites us to read each name and know statistically one out of every ten of them is innocent. I urge you not to skip this. I urge you to read Hinton's story and take his words to heart.
"The death penalty is broken, and you are either part of the death squad or you are banging on the bars. Choose." p. 231
A powerful, revealing story of hope, love, justice, and the power of reading by a man who spent thirty years on death row for a crime he didn't commit.
In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free.
But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in agonizing silence—full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon—transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015.
With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.
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Disclosure: I received an advance copy from St. Martin's Press in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links are included in this post.