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The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row

By Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin. St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 272 pages. $26.99/hardcover; $16.99/paperback (available June 2019); $13.99/eBook.

The Sun Does Shine is the true story of an innocent black man’s unjust conviction, his despair on Alabama’s death row, and his practice of peacemaking behind bars. In “The Death Squad” chapter, Anthony Ray Hinton’s anguish is palpable as he describes men in chains being walked past his cell to the electric chair. He leads inmates to bang on the bars of their cells during electrocutions, raising a holy ruckus of accompaniment and protest.

Hinton eased racial grudges and grievances by aiding KKK and African American inmates alike. “A book club will help things stay more peaceful,” he told the warden, pointing out that reading books would be a good way for the men to quietly spend time and focus on something other than the negative aspects of life on death row. He also added, “I do think it will help [the guards] have an easier time doing their jobs.” His resourcefulness led to the first death row book club. In chapters titled “Love Is a Foreign Language” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Hinton reveals which authors forged community between black and white convicts.

I was disappointed in two aspects of The Sun Does Shine. My friend Rosie on death row cannot read it, because hardcover books are forbidden in her facility (and in many others too). My greater hurt is all the women missing from the afterword. Preceding nine pages of “the men and women who sit on death row in this country” (as of March 2017) listed in “Pray for Them by Name,” Hinton writes:

Statistically, one out of every ten men on this list is innocent.… Read these names. Know their stories.… The moral arc of the universe needs people to support it as it bends.… Read the names out loud. After every tenth name, say, “Innocent.” … The death penalty is broken, and you are either part of the Death Squad or you are banging on the bars. Choose.

He chose a provocative way to conclude, but I am pained that, for some reason, the women on death row in Central California Women’s Facility and other facilities are not acknowledged.

During the author’s reading at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, I was moved by his honesty, his vulnerability, and his simplicity. Hinton’s true voice is inscribed on every page, and his tears, too. Three relationships kept him going through 30 years of wrongful incarceration: his mother’s unconditional love, his friend Lester’s faithful visits, and legal advocate Bryan Stevenson’s commitment to setting him free. Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy, took Hinton’s case to the Supreme Court where all nine justices confirmed his innocence. That day at the bookstore, Hinton gave the crowd one closing bit of advice: “If you ever get arrested for a crime you didn’t commit, do two things. Pray first, then make your 911 call directly to Bryan Stevenson.”

The Sun Does Shine may deepen the commitment of Friends working for prison reform, offer fresh insights to Friends conducting Alternatives to Violence Project workshops with inmates, and perhaps inspire new AVP volunteers.

Judith Favor, a member of Claremont (Calif.) Meeting, befriended Rosie Alfaro in 1999. Their enduring friendship powered Judith’s work with AVP and sparked her efforts to end the death penalty.

Posted in: Meetings and Money, October 2018 Books, Quaker Book Reviews

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