On My Bookshelf: The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton

January 07, 2019

The basic plot from Amazon: In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty–nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free.

But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in agonizing silence―full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty–seven years he was a beacon―transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty–four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015.

With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty–year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.

Why I liked it: The Sun Does Shine is gripping memoir that I couldn't go to bed without finishing (and this is coming from a mother with three kids two and under who is constantly desperate from sleep, so that says a lot). Set just thirty years in the past, Anthony Ray Hinton's narration paints a clear picture of how slow change has been (if much has changed at all) for black men in the South. His descriptions of hiding in ditches with a friend as they walked home from school because they never knew who might drive by is an experience that readers would like to place in pre-Civil Rights times, but takes place much more recently. Even more infuriating are the events surrounding his arrest and trial. While at first, Hinton shuts down in prison, he eventually becomes a leader and a friend to the other men on death row as he makes appeal after appeal. It's a plight that I couldn't even begin to imagine navigating, yet Hinton tells it all with grace and simplicity.

Classroom application: If you are looking for a text to replace To Kill A Mockingbird, The Sun Does Shine would be a great candidate (I love TKAM, but there are some strong arguments for why it should be replaced.) Instead of using a piece of fiction narrated by a child and largely focused on a "white savior" to examine racial inequalities in American, using The Sun Does Shine would allow the black experience (and a true one at that) to be narrated by a black writer whose savior is another black man. 

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to make other real world connections with The Sun Does Shine. The Innocence Project has spent the past 25 years exonerating the wrongfully accused, and Ronald Cotton's case has some similarities to Hinton's. The Equal Justice Initiative, founded by Bryan Stevenson and responsible for Hinton's freedom, is a wealth of information about fighting racial injustice. 

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Sun Does Shine for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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