Monday, August 20, 2018

Book Review - The Sun Does Shine by Ray Hinton

3:00 am, 10:00 am and 2:00pm. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you are on death row. This was Ray Hinton's reality for thirty years in the State of Alabama's Holman Prison. Not everyone on Death Row deserves to be there - remember that.

Ray Hinton was summarily convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit in September of 1986. His only crime was being a Black man in the state of Alabama. When the crime occurred - a murder of a store manager, he was at work 15 miles away, where his manager could vouch for his presence. With an airtight alibi, he thought he would be released. But none of that mattered. It wasn't an honest mistake; race had everything to do with it.

"You know I don't care if 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. You want to know why?' These are the words that were said to Ray after he was arrested by a police lieutenant. He continued, "I can give you five reasons why they are going to convict you. Number 1, you're black. Number 2, a white man gonna say you shot him. Number 3, you're gonna have a white district attorney. Number 4, you're gonna have a white
judge. And number 5, you're gonna have an all-white jury. You know what that spells: Conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction." This detective and by extension the criminal justice system did not care about the truth. And that is how Ray Hinton ended up on death row for a crime he did not commit. There were no fingerprints, no eyewitnesses only ballistics, which if anyone had taken the time to examine would have shown his innocence. He was finally exonerated on April 3, 2015 - Good Friday.

So how does a man survive death row for 30 years while knowing he is innocent? Could you do it?
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row provides a realistic portrait of an innocent man on death row. This book is about the fragility and resilience of the human spirit. It's about redemption and forgiveness. It's about patience. It highlights the disparities in our system especially if you're black, male and poor. As prisoners on death row say, "if you don't have the capital you will be punished; that's capital punishment." And it's about three men whose lives intersected to become a formidable force.

Ray Hinton, was a single man, the youngest of ten children. On the day of his arrest, he was outside doing yard work at his mother's house. The night of the murder he was at work. When the cops came, he had no idea why he was being questioned or arrested. It took 1.5 years to go to trial, and for that entire time, he was in jail. Once convicted, he was sent to death row. He was always taught the truth would set him free so he was sure that he would be going home shortly. One last thing, he loved his mom to pieces - he was a grown man who revered his mom. His mom died while he was on death row and at that point, he nearly gave up, but once more his mom came through for him and told him not to quit.

Lester Bailey was Ray's childhood friend that stuck closer than a brother. Lester and Ray were best friends from childhood. Lester was sure of his friend's innocence, so he visited every week for 30 years. When Lester married, he and his wife visited Ray. Lester never gave up on Ray. We all need a Lester in our lives.

Over the span of thirty years, Ray Hinton went through a series of lawyers until he connected with Bryan Stevenson, the Founder, and Director of Equal Justice Initiative [EJI]. Ray Hinton called him "God's Best Lawyer." I always say he is someone who is 'doing the work.'  Bryan Stevenson is the moral voice and compass of the justice system. If it weren't for Bryan Stevenson of EJI, he would still be in jail. For the first 15 years, Ray Hinton went through the appeals process, where each appeal failed. Eventually, through what seemed like God ordained circumstances, he met Mr. Stevenson. Once they connected, Bryan Stevenson did everything in his power to have him freed. He went all the way up to the Supreme Court to have the state's ruling overturned. That is another kind of conviction! It took 15 long years, but it was worth it. Bryan Stevenson is proud to call Ray Hinton a friend.

One in ten people on death row is innocent. The last chapter of the book is titled 'Pray for Them by Name.' It lists all the individuals currently on death row - almost ten pages of names. The reader is asked to say each name and for each tenth name say "innocent." Poignant. Regardless of what you think, these are all people with stories. The system is badly broken, but Ray Hinton determined that the system would not break him. The message of forgiveness throughout this book is transformative. We see the humanity of prisoners, we are confronted with new definitions of family, and death and life have deeper meanings when you're condemned to die.

This is one of the more impactful, compelling and life-changing books I have ever read. This book stirred something in me. I hope it does the same for you.


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  1. Thanks for sharing this book review. This is a must read. I love reading African American history. Unfortunately our history is laced with traumatic experiences such as the disparity of the penal system. I look forward to reading it and having candid conversation about the story.

  2. What a heavy topic this must've been, but am so glad he was exonerated. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Thank you for sharing this book! It must be such a heavy one, yet such an important topic!

  4. Thank you for sharing this review!!

  5. Yay--I'm so glad to see you sharing this review, Nylse! I absolutely love this book, too. It's a life-changing story. I cried throughout it again and again. It made me furious at prejudice, and grateful for people like Bryan Stevenson and the amazing work he continues to do at EJI. May the world continue to arise from its slumber and make right the wrongs that have been done.

  6. I love that we both used the same word to describe this read--life-changing! :-)


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