I have never been a supporter of the death penalty. I don’t remember when I had my first conscious thought about capital punishment–I think it was in high school when I took a Government class–but I’ve always held the belief that it’s barbaric. It never made sense to me that killing someone was a logical punishment for killing someone. You know, it’s that whole “two wrongs don’t make a right” thing. It doesn’t make sense to me that murder is illegal…unless it’s the State doing the murdering. How is that okay? And there are so many things wrong with our criminal (in)justice system (I won’t get started on that here), so when someone is sent to death row, how do we know that we have the right person? What if the person we’re executing is innocent? This has happened, and it will continue to happen.
In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was wrongfully convicted of two murders in the state of Alabama. The only piece of “hard evidence” against him was a gun taken from his mother’s house that prosecutors and experts claimed was used in both murders. It wasn’t. Anthony was innocent. The only thing Anthony was guilty of was being Black and poor in Alabama. He didn’t have the money for a good attorney and his court-appointed attorney didn’t care about him or the case. That attorney pretty much let Anthony get convicted of two crimes he didn’t commit. Then Anthony was sentenced to death by electrocution and sent to death row…where he spent 30 years of his life before finally being released in 2015.
THIRTY YEARS of this man’s life were taken away from him because he was poor and Black. Because the police officers who arrested him were white. Because the prosecutor, judge, and jury for the case were all white. Because someone needed to be punished for the crimes committed, and as one of the police officers involved in Anthony’s arrest said, “You know, I don’t care 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.”
And if it weren’t for Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, Anthony Ray Hinton would have been executed.
“It all matters. How we live matters. Do we choose love or do we choose hate? Do we help or do we harm? Because there is no way to know the exact second your life changes forever. You can only begin to know that moment by looking in the rearview mirror. And trust me when I tell you when you never, ever see it coming.”
I could never be as zen about spending 30 years in prison–on death row, especially–as Anthony was. Life on death row in the Holman Correctional Facility is meant to break a man. I won’t go into detail because I want you to read the book, but I cannot imagine going through what people on death row go through. I was truly impressed and inspired by Anthony’s positive attitude and fighting spirit. While The Sun Does Shine is about his time on death row and what it took to get him out of there, it is also about faith, forgiveness, and redemption. It’s about finding the silver linings and making a home out of a prison cell. It’s about friendship and unconditional love. And it’s about reminding us all that a person is more than the worst thing they have done.
Anthony’s story is heartbreaking and anger-inducing, but it is beautiful, too.