Anthony Ray Hinton’s Memoir –
The Sun Does Shine:
Life, Freedom, & Justice on Death Row
For three decades, an innocent man sat on death row in a 5′ by 7′ cell. Not only did he sit there in solitary confinement, he was approximately 30′ from where more than 50 men were executed. Hinton, would move from unbelief to anger, when he decided that he was not going to speak to anyone, sort of a shut down. But because of a still small voice of compassion that was ushered in by his mother, Mr. Hinton could not let the sobbing man in the cell next him lie broken in spirit and not reach out to help him. A man also on death row.
Almost 15 years later, hope would come. An attorney by the name of Bryan Stephenson with EJI (Equal Justice Initiative), agreed to take on Mr. Hinton’s case. It would take another 15 years for him to be exonerated. A life interrupted for 30 years. A journey that was filled with emotional and mental torture. This was not an easy read for me for many reasons. When I started listening to this book I knew two things: he was innocent and he was from Alabama. I grew up in Mississippi. I was born in 1986. He was convicted in 1985. Surely, by the time I was born, this type of racism, lack of compassion and dangerous thinking was not still among us. My friends, I am afraid, it was and still is in many places the world over -to be looked at and treated worse than cattle being led to slaughter. To be in a position of authority and to be a coward and filled with little regard for the sanctity of human life, is a life full of sadness and dishonor.
From 1985-2015, the world has moved ahead in many ways especially technologically. Life nor death stops for anyone, including Mr. Hinton’s mother. But how, did he come out of such an institution, bruised but not broken? What kind of resilience carried him through such a painful tormented journey. His life was stripped away from him as he knew it but Anthony Ray Hinton decided that he simply had a choice to make.
“Despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice. I still had choices, and that knowledge rocked me. I may not have had as many as Lester had, but I still had some choices. I could choose to give up or to hang on. Hope was a choice. Compassion was a choice”.Anthony Hinton, The Sun Does Shine
Still, I believe that as dark and trying as his days were, he managed to add more value to the lives of others and himself than the average man filled with liberty and freedom for an entire lifetime. The body can often be constrained and confined but the mind is free to roam the universe. And having books can make it all the more sweeter. Mr. Hinton read books and inspired others to read them and for a time he held a book club -while on death row. This I am sure helped to ease the minds of many who were left to contemplate death every single day -especially if the person was innocent. Mr. Hinton’s mind took him to visit the Queen of England, to marry and divorce and even play at Wimbledon. In the midst of tragedy and despair, I am sure these thoughts were of a welcomed reprieve from the current circumstances. To stay in the state of mind that encompassed bitterness and anger would allow the grounds of unforgiveness to fester. In an interview, Mr. Hinton stated, “My mother raised me to forgive and I have a God who forgives”.
Accused and convicted of murder, his life imbued kindness, love, forgiveness, and compassion because he chose; he decided that that was of most value to others. This is a must read for anyone. I have tried not to tell you too many details as I do not want to ruin it for you. I can also go on into a diatribe of the justice system and racism and prison system and even death row, but that will prove of little, if any significant change from this post. Each of these items can bear a post and discussion all of their own. For the sake of this post, I would like to call your attention to the infrastructure of Mr. Hinton’s life may that have helped him when all seemed lost. First and foremost, I believe, was his belief in Almighty God, it was also the values that were instilled in him at an early age by his mother. The friendship of friend, Lester, who always came to visit no matter what was going on. Lester was there when Mr. Hinton was convicted and released. His boisterous sense of humor; sometimes laughter is the best medicine. Finally, his character, he did not quit on life or his fellow men. He was able to change the hearts of many and allowed himself to transformed as well. A man of integrity, not willing to take a plea that would certainly spare his life but would like him sitting under the umbrella of guilt.
You, like I was, perhaps trying to figure out the title to his book and its meaning. Per Mr. Hinton, “For 30 years the sun did not shine, I never saw much or any of it aside from being let outside a few minutes a day, in a cage”. Upon being outside when he was release, Mr. Hinton looked up and simply stated, “The Sun Still Shines”.
On May 19, 2019 Anthony Ray Hinton was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by St. Bonaventure University in New York.