The Sun Does Shine

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
Review by Blythe Meigs

You can read the short version of my book review in the next paragraph. I was asked to add a piece as to how it personally impacted me - that opens the floodgates to a lot more thoughts... read on if you dare.

Spoiler alert:  Ray ended up being exonerated and freed after spending 28 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he didn't commit. Ray's story is inspiring, discouraging, frustrating, uplifting, and sad - so many emotions and feelings associated with this story of a “justice” system that was anything. Ray was railroaded, poorly represented by the public defender, bullied and thrown away by the system but he persevered and didn’t give up. His is the story of nearly 30 years on death row with nothing but his faith, imagination, a loyal friend, and knowledge that he was innocent to get him through. Ray has quite a story and this book is one I would highly recommend. This is a story of a specific legal case and yet it is not unique. Well written and very readable.

Now to the part of how it impacted me... this is messy, so buckle up.

I am so shocked that in a country where we say "innocent until proven guilty" that cases like Ray's happen and they are not unusual. I never questioned getting tough on crime and assumed if someone was arrested, charged and convicted that they must have been guilty.  How wrong I was - Ray was railroaded by a justice system that utterly failed to care if they had the right guy or not. For example, the prosecutor ignored his alibi (he was at work and had the time clock records to prove it) and didn't care that the killings continued even after Ray was in prison. Then, perhaps most shocking to me - when presented with all evidence to show they had made a mistake - the prosecutor & judge fell back onto legal technicalities and brute racism to keep a man in jail for 28 years. TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS! Ray lost the opportunity to have a life.  And I was shocked at the glacial pace of the appeals process.  His judge sat on one appeals judgment for 2-1/2 years - just because he could. It just doesn't make sense to me - and I like the world to make sense. And after it was all done, when he was released from jail - not a word of apology, no reparations for years of a life lost. It makes my stomach hurt. Thank God for Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) who is changing the world, one case at a time. And thank God for Ray's faith which sustained him, kept him sane and keeps him going today as he travels and speaks about what happened to him and the need to end the death penalty. Really made me think - should "the state" be killing in the name of "the people"?  Am I one of those "people"?  

Ray frequently quoted Bryan Stevenson's words that "each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done." He realized that while he was innocent, there were guilty men on death row, and yet - what was their story and how did it lead up to their crime? I was also very struck by how Ray and the other inmates were a bit of a "family" and he even considered Henry Hays, a KKK member who had lynched a black teenager, a friend as he realized that he had been taught to hate. At the end of the book Ray listed the first names of 54 men and women who had been executed on death row while he was there. During the times of the Holman Prison electric chair "yellow mama," Ray said they could smell their friends for days after the execution. It horrifies me that this is still considered appropriate punishment for anyone. One statistic that stood out to me is that 1 in 10 death row inmates are innocent! Ray also listed the names (by state) of the men who were on death row at the time of the book publishing - such a long list!  Several names in Washington state - names I recognized from the news. Is killing them the appropriate punishment for their crimes? So many thoughts, I could go on for days - Ray's story impacted me for sure and I hope that you read his book.
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