This year I have read some very heavy books, not intentionally, but more so because I wanted to broaden my reading scope. I wanted to read books that showed me life from the perspective of others, as well as books that challenged my thinking. I’ve read books: by Tiffany D. Jackson (“Monday’s Not Coming”), Cyntonia Brown (“Free Cyntonia”), Austin Channing Brown (“I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness”), and Monique Morris (“Pushout”). After reading all of those books about the racial disparities in mental health awareness, criminal justice policies, and job equality, I wanted to read something lighter. What I stumbled upon was “The Sun Does Shine” by Anthony Ray Hinton…which was anything but a light read lol.
“The Sun Does Shine” is a memoir by Anthony Ray Hinton, who was wrongfully convicted of multiple murders in 1985 and was imprisoned for 30 years (28 of them on death row). Anthony Ray Hinton’s experience highlights the racial disparities in the Alabama criminal justice system; where the rich and guilty are treated better than the poor (Black) and innocent. Though there was no physical evidence connecting Anthony to the murders, the state proceeded to use him as a scapegoat to bring the victim’s families “justice”. For decades, the state continued to deny his appeals to prove his innocence. It wasn’t until Bryan Stevenson (yup, the one who wrote “Just Mercy“) became his lawyer, that things started to slowly go in his favor.
I don’t want to give away too much because it is an amazing and painful story, but I did want to share a couple of things that resonated with me. First, Anthony’s story reminded me of Joseph from the Bible. God showed Joseph a vision of his future but it took over a decade for him to reach the cusp of that vision (Genesis 37-50). Similar to Joseph, Anthony Ray Hinton was wrongfully imprisoned but remained faithful to God. And because of his faithfulness, God blessed him and was with him. He was able to start a book club for the inmates on death row and was able to be outside of his prison cell longer because the guards liked him (if that ain’t favor, I don’t know what is). The definition of faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Ironically, my word for this year is faith. But honestly, I cannot imagine having faith like Anthony while sitting on death row for 28 years as an innocent person. He is truly an inspiration and a reminder that faith is not based on what we see now, but what (and who) we place are hope in.
Second, Anthony’s story showed me something that I’ve been learning and sharing here on my blog…to take advantage of every opportunity. In a place where death surrounded him, Anthony Ray Hinton chose to bring hope to the inmates on death row. One way he did that was by starting the book club, so that the men had something other than their execution to think about. While Anthony wanted more than anything not to be in jail or on death row, he took advantage of the opportunity to be a light. For me, I sometimes think about being a politician so I can make a positive impact in my community. However, this year, God has been showing me that I can still make a positive impact in/through my job, in my friendships, and at home. The vehicle of our impact is different for each of us, and different for each season we go through…so we must continue to do good at every turn.
Third, as a Black female in America who received her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, I was appreciative that Anthony Ray Hinton shared his story with the world. I was telling someone the other day that it was unfortunate that many of us are finding out how corrupt and unequal the criminal justice system is for Black people. We didn’t know about the Stand Your Ground law until it was used to justify the killing of Trayvon Martin. We didn’t know about the No Knock warrant, which led to the death of Breonna Taylor. The deaths of Eric Garner, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd highlighted the excessive and unnecessary use of chokeholds by police officers. Then there’s peremptory strikes that were used to prosecute Curtis Flowers for the same crime in six different trials. And the list goes on and on. I’m appreciative of Anthony Ray Hinton sharing his story, because it opened my eyes to the things that other people wish to keep hidden. By exposing it to the world, we have to make a choice on whether those practices will continue or whether they will be reformed.
Towards the end of the book, there is a conversation between Anthony and his friend, Lester. Lester reminded Anthony of something he had said back in high school, that “it was strange what a person can get use to.” After two decades, many appeals, and many disappointments, Anthony told his friend that he was tired and would accept dying on death row even though he knew he was innocent. Lester turned to him and said, “we’re not going to ever get use to this.” That is my prayer for my country and our world…that we would never get use to injustice, inequalities, and oppression.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone seeking to learn more about the criminal justice system in the U.S., or about inequalities African Americans face in society, or who loves to read memoirs. Until next time, stay safe.