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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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

One day Ray Hinton was mowing his mother's lawn when a police car pulled up. The cops arrested him for murder, and he had not one tiny clue what they were talking about. But he was sure everything would work out--after all, he hadn't done it. In fact, he had an airtight alibi for the time of the murder. But a lovely (and sadly in Alabama for an African-American, common) series of coincidences, incompetence, and racism all came together and Ray was convicted, and spent 30 years on Death Row.

Boy oh boy I wouldn't have been half as sanguine about the situation as Ray is. He's very understanding and calm and forgiving. Perhaps I would have gone mad inside, which he most certainly did not, as his zen-like attitude definitely helped with doing the time.

It's interesting--the men in Death Row in his prison are all on a single side of a hallway, so they never can see each other, even though they can yell to each other. So at one point, after he'd gotten friendly with another inmate, it was shocking for them both to see each other and find out that Ray had become friends with a notorious white supremacist. Ray started a book club on the Row that was inspiring, with all of the men passing around just one copy of the book for weeks so everyone wold read it and then discuss. Life was going on this way with Ray's incompetent/evil attorney exhausting his appeals. And one day, one of the guards gave him Bryan Stevenson's phone number. I have read his excellent book, and I whooped for joy when that happened. But first another attorney was assigned to him, and that dragged things out even more. Finally, when she moved away and Bryan took over, I really had hope, although truly at that point almost every option had been used up. How did Hinton get out? You'll have to read the book! You'll also have to read it to hear his remarkable story of growing up poor and black in Alabama, and through the lens of Bryan's life, we can see the story of impoverished African-Americans in this era and their treatment by society and law enforcement in particular, writ large. It's an inspirational albeit frustrating story.

I got this book for free from the publisher, St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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