The Sun Does Shine
By: Anthony Ray Hinton
Published: March 27, 2018
From the Cover
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.
What makes this book easy to read is knowing from the beginning that Anthony Ray Hinton will be exonerated and walk free. The other side of the coin is something Hinton makes very clear: he is part of a slim minority. In his 30 years sitting on death row as a wrongfully convicted murderer, he saw more than 50 of his fellow inmates walk past his cell on the way to the death chamber. Hinton recognizes that the majority of these men did in fact commit horrific crimes. He also recognizes a statistic that 1 in 5 of those who are sentenced to death are either innocent or were convicted through a prejudiced trial.
1 in 5.
I don’t know about you, but the first time I read that statistic, it rocked me to my core.
Even with an airtight alibi, a negative polygraph test, and supporting ballistics reports, Hinton was convicted of the accused crimes. Hinton walks readers through every minute of every year from the day of his arrest to the day he walks free. He provides dialogue from the state prosecutor who is clearly racially biased. He provides dialogue from his attorneys that shows how little they care to work “pro-bono”. Hinton’s storytelling is engaging. I couldn’t put the book down even though I knew how it was going to end.
What struck me most about this book was Hinton’s attitude throughout. Maybe he embellished his hope for freedom when writing the book, but I don’t think so. I believe him. There are times when he loses his faith in God and in justice and in mercy, but it is temporary. Hinton’s strength is remarkable and so is his ability to forgive. While he is unlucky to have been put in the circumstances for conviction in the first place, he is lucky to have been surrounded by a select number of people who believed his innocence and fought for his innocence all the way to the Supreme Court.
I’m going to be bold here, but I think this is and will be the most important book I read this year. It’s a kind of book that shakes you to your core and opens your eyes to what is happening beneath the surface. Every person in the United States needs to read this book. It is about poverty, race, prejudice, racism, injustice, and mercy. It is about our justice system and the Constitution. It sheds light on a practice that needs to be examined severely because no one should die for a crime he didn’t commit. No one.
Thoughts on the death penalty Without making an explicit statement of support or opposition, I will borrow some words from Hinton that really spoke to me and I would say reflect my current state of beliefs:
“I read the article again and again, Next to it in the paper was an opposing opinion piece–pro death penalty–by the attorney general, Troy King. His basic argument was an eye for an eye, and I understand that. I had grown up in with that in church. Justice demanded a life for a life. Retribution. The perpetrator should not live while the victim has no choice. People on death row had earned their spots on death row, and justice cannot be consumed with protecting the rights of the guilty. But the system didn’t know who was guilty. I wasn’t blind. There was a moral difference between kidnapping and murdering a man, and imprisoning and executing a man. There is no moral equivalence, even when both things end in death. But death has never deterred death. And we cannot be sure of guilt, save for an admission of guilt. A person could believe in the death penalty and still believe it should be ended, because men are fallible and the justice system is fallible.
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. Let Troy King spend a decade or two in prison under a sentence of death as an innocent man and see what kind of opinion he writes then. There was no humane way to execute any man. And regardless of any law, no one had the right to execute an innocent one. One line in particular in the pro article struck me: ‘To be sure, the death sentence must never be carried out in a way that allows the innocent to die.’ There was an irony there. If he believed that, why was he refusing to objectively look at the evidence of my innocence?” (211-212)