Book 49: The Sun Does Shine

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row (2018) by Anthony Ray Hinton and Lara Love Hardin, is a beautiful story about a man with a beautiful soul. It is a tragedy with a happy (ish) ending. 
“Every single one wants to matter. We want our lives, and our stories and the choices we made or didn’t make to matter.”

It’s probably a nightmare being on death row whether or not you are guilty. The trauma of being cooped up, of being surrounded by men at their wit’s ends, hearing people you know die and then SMELLING their deaths. That’s a stench that sticks to your soul. It is incredible that Anthony Ray Hinton managed to maintain not only his sanity but his compassion and faith. It is beautiful how he befriended with someone who was an ex-KKK member, even though he himself was in this position due to institutionalized racism (the Henry Hays obituaries are story enough!). He humanized people that society had written off as monsters. He even started a book club, and got white men from the South to read James Baldwin.

“We need to think about the fact that we are all more than the worst thing we have done.”

In a tiny a** cell, most people most people would admit that a man is stripped of his choices. But, ARH showed us that we always have a choice. Love and grace are choices. He woke up every day choosing between anger and hope. This is something we can learn from – I have to admit that a lot of his book reminded me of our self isolation, although thankfully nowhere near as tragic, but still gives us so much room for growth.

“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.”

And, the beauty about memoirs, is that it never stops at the ‘ending’ but we get to take a look at his process of healing after. How he spent the whole first night outdoors with anxiety and a panic attack because of too much space. How being thirty years in prison meant he could only sleep the night in a bathroom that was a similar size to his cell. How he felt uncomfortable eating with people behind him, technology changed exponentially and things like GPS were shocking, how he feels the need to create a new alibi for himself every day.

“Everything, I realized, is a choice. And spending your days waiting to die is no way to live.”

I also did a lot of outside reading/viewing. Mother and I cried when ARH teared up on the CBS show when he spoke about his mother. I was shocked to see a muslim on death row was offered a choice between a Christian chaplain or no religious advisor at all, and the motion for a stay was overturned halfway through just because the judges thought it was unnecessary to even make an appeal like that. A woman was raped in prison and gave birth on death row, but doesn’t even remember because the guards did it while she was drugged. The Hays obituaries would normally seem so straightforward but now that we got to know him through ARH it makes it so much more complicated morally. 

“…Pain and tragedy and injustice happen – they happen to us all. I’d like to believe it’s what you choose to do after such an experience that matters the most – that truly changes your life forever.”

The Sun Does Shine was a very relevant read, showing how the love of your friends  (LESTER IS SOLID GOLD) and your family (mainly the mother in ARH’s case) can keep you making the right choices internally more than almost anything else. I think it’s a nice reminder of how our loved ones can be our saviours even when we’re separated from them – during this past month more than ever.

He said “I would still pray for a miracle and try not to criticize it if the miracle didn’t look like what I expected” and I feel like this pandemic (COVID-19) is in some way miraculous. It is, for sure, something that most people haven’t experienced before in their lifetimes, and hopefully will never after this. However, it has undeniably made us all reset and change behavioural patterns. What is more miraculuous than pressing pause on the world as we know it? Re-assessing so many entrenched work habits, re-focusing on our relationships etc. Maybe it’s not the type of miracle we pray for, but it is something to reflect on for sure. 

Also, reading the quote “I looked up at the sky, It was just that perfect shade of in-between. When it goes from the bright blue of the day to the black blue of the night. I wish I knew the name for that color. It was like an ending and a beginning. Whatever you called that colour, it always made me sad and happy at the exact same time”

It felt like reading an echo because it immediately brought to mind a book I recommended to you all back in October On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: “Do you remember the happiest day of your life? What about the saddest? Do you ever wonder if sadness and happiness can be combined, to make a deep purple feeling, not good, not bad, but remarkable simply because you didn’t have to live on one side or the other?”

And it’s crazy to me how two completely different books, that otherwise have zero similarities can overlap like this. It gives me goosebumps because it reiterates how humanity is SUCH a shared experience and we can probably find at least one way where we can connect to another human being. Literally, it can just be a colour and how it makes us feel a murky in-between feeling. 

“Despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice. I still had choices, and that knowledge rocked me. I may not have had as many Lester had, but I still had some choices. I could choose to give up or to hang on. Hope was a choice. Faith was a choice. And more than anything else, love was a choice. Compassion was a choice.”
Happy photo of Hinton after voting.
Equal Justice Institute‘s twitter account.

Database of innocent prisoners on death row in the USA.

McGregor’s book on (read the reviews).
Interview with Hinton on The Intercept.

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