- Title: The Sun Does Shine
- Author: Anthony Ray Hinton
- Genre: Memoir
- Publication: 2018
Anthony Ray Hinton
Anthony Ray Hinton, who goes by Ray, is the author and protagonist of The Sun Does Shine. In Ray’s early life, he lives in Praco, Alabama. He loves his mom, has a strong Christian faith, and wants to find a nice girl to settle down with and marry. But on July 31, 1985, 29-year-old Ray’s life changes drastically when the police arrest him for a series of murders that Ray didn’t commit. Ray has a strong alibi for one of the incidents, and the supposed murder weapon, Ray’s mom’s gun, hasn’t been fired in years, but the authorities refuse to consider this. Over the course of the trial, Ray faces severe—and often overt—discrimination for being Black and poor. The police chief, Lietuenant Acker; Prosecutor Bob McGregor; and Ray’s first lawyer, Sheldon Perhacs, all make openly racist comments to him, and Ray’s poverty means that he has trouble paying for a proper defense. Because of the extremely racist treatment and poor defense he receives, Ray is sentenced to Alabama’s death row. For his first three years there, Ray doesn’t speak to anyone—he is consumed by despair, loses his belief in God, and even contemplates committing suicide. He feels helpless and tries to cope by daydreaming about traveling to interesting places and meeting interesting people. After three years, Ray realizes that he has been choosing to be angry and hateful, and that he should instead try to choose love and compassion by forming connections with the other inmates. He renews his faith in God and his hope that he will be able to get off death row—faith that is buoyed when Bryan Stevenson and other lawyers from the Equal Justice Initiative take over his case. After Ray spends 30 years on death row and makes an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the State of Alabama finally drops the charges against him, illustrating the power of his optimism but also highlighting the injustice that he faced in the courts. After his release from prison, Ray acts as a voice for those still on death row, telling his story and advocating to abolish the death penalty
Bryan Stevenson, a Black man, is Ray’s last (and best) lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). After Ray fires Perhacs, Bryan sends Santha and then Alan to help Ray with his case. Eventually, however, Bryan takes over Ray’s case himself. He works tirelessly for Ray over the years, trying to find every avenue with which to appeal his case. Ray immediately recognizes Bryan’s compassion, and the two become friends over the many visits that Bryan pays to Ray. Bryan also represents many of the other inmates on death row; he is adamant in his fight against discrimination in the criminal justice system. Like Ray, Bryan lays out arguments for why the death penalty should be abolished: primarily, that innocent people often land on death row because of the inadequate defense they receive in their initial trials. He also argues that every person is worthy of life, regardless of the crimes that they have committed. Bryan is a beacon of light for Ray, but Ray also acknowledges that Bryan’s work weighs heavily on him, and Ray tries to support Bryan in return. Bryan works on Ray’s case for 15 years, hiring new ballistics experts for Ray’s case, filing numerous petitions and appeals, and ultimately taking it to the Supreme Court and winning, getting all charges dropped against Ray. When Ray is released from prison, Bryan is with him, and Ray pays back the support and kindness Bryan has shown him by working at EJI several days a week and fighting against the death penalty alongside Bryan.
Ray’s mom essentially raises Ray by herself after his father experiences a severe head injury in the coal mines. Ray is the youngest of 10 children, and Ray’s mom instills in him many of his key qualities: faith, optimism, and perseverance. When he is young, she tells him to ignore others’ racism, trust the police, have faith in God, and always do the right thing. When Ray is arrested, she does everything she can to help Ray, visiting him at Holman (where he’s on death row) every week. She sends desperate letters to Perhacs begging for him to help Ray, along with $25 money orders. Over time, however, Ray’s mom grows sick, and she stops coming to visit him because of the seven-hour car trip. Ray’s mom dies from cancer on September 22, 2002, while Ray is in prison. Having lost such a key pillar of support and love, Ray contemplates killing himself, but he hears his mom’s voice in his head telling him not to let the devil win and to instead fight tenaciously for his life and his freedom. In this way, Ray’s mom is a key bastion of support for him even after death, and she also reminds him to maintain faith and optimism so that he can one day walk free. Without her voice in his head, Ray wouldn’t have been able to survive.
Lester is Ray’s best friend. Growing up, Lester and Ray do everything together: they walk home from school together, spend holidays together, and work in the mines together. When Ray is arrested, Lester remains one of Rays staunchest supporters. He visits Ray each week along with Ray’s mom and sometimes even his own mom, Phoebe, making a seven-hour round trip every single Friday for 30 years. Lester sometimes feels guilty for being able to move on with his life—for example, marrying a girl named Sia—while Ray is stuck in prison. Still, Ray is exceptionally grateful towards Lester throughout his time at Holman (where he’s on death row), particularly when Ray’s mother dies, highlighting the importance of empathy and community support. After Ray gets out of prison, Lester takes him to his mom’s grave, houses him until he can get back on his feet, and helps him get accustomed to the outside world after 30 years of being in jail. In turn, Ray takes Lester on many of his trips to speak out against the death penalty
Henry is an inmate on death row with Ray. After Henry and Ray become friends, Ray learns that Henry was a member of the KKK who is on death row for lynching a young Black man named Michael Donald. When Ray confronts Henry about this, Henry admits that everything his parents taught him about Black people was a lie. Ray recognizes Henry’s true remorse, particularly when Henry introduces Ray to his father, Bennie—another KKK member—and proudly announces that Ray is his best friend. Henry also joins Ray for book club, and because they read books that deal with racism in the American South, Henry acknowledges the racism he was taught and is ashamed of the views that brought him to death row. Before Henry is executed on June 6, 1997, he admits that he thinks of Ray like a brother. Henry illustrates the importance of community and humanity on death row, and how the inmates’ support for each other supersedes what they did in their pasts.
Sheldon Perhacs is Ray’s court-appointed lawyer who proves to be racist and incompetent. Throughout Ray’s first trial and the beginning of his appeals process, Ray feels completely unsupported by Perhacs. Ineed, Perhacs often complains about the fact that he is only being paid $1,000 to represent Ray, and he puts in very little effort to try to prove Ray’s innocence. He even makes veiled racist remarks about Black people, but Ray feels that he has to let this slide because he thinks Perhacs is his only chance to win the case. During the appeals process, Perhacs asks Ray for $15,000 to take the case to the Supreme Court, and Ray promptly fires him. At this point, Ray realizes that Perhacs has been trying to prolong the case and get more and more money out of Ray. Later, Ray learns that Perhacs and the deeply racist prosecutor, Bob McGregor, were good friends and possibly conspiring against Ray toogether. At the end of the book, the Supreme Court rules that Perhacs rendered a constitutionally deficient defense for Ray.
Prosecutor Bob McGregor
One of the antagonists of the book, Bob McGregor is the racist prosecutor for the state of Alabama in Ray’s trial. McGregor states several times that he can tell Ray is guilty just from looking at him and that he an evil, cold-blooded killer. Throughout the trial, McGregor tries to manipulate evidence to show that Ray is guilty even though there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that points to Ray’s innocence. For example, McGregor disallows a polygraph test that proves that Ray is innocent. Ray later learns that McGregor has a history of racial bias and that he’s friends with Ray’s defense lawyer, Sheldon Perhacs, raising the question of if the two men were conspiring together against Ray.
Lieutenant Acker is one of the officers who reads Ray his rights when he is arrested. In the van on the way to the Birmingham jail, Acker tells Ray that he believes that Ray didn’t commit the crime, but that Ray’s going to take the rap for something his “brothers” did anyway. Acker then openly declares Ray is going to be convicted because of the white jury, judge, and lawyers, demonstrating how racial bias works against Ray both in the courts and on the police force.
Smotherman is the assistant manager at a Quincy’s Family Steak House. A robber shoots Smotherman in the head, but Smotherman survives his wounds and identifies Ray as the attempted murderer. Later, however, Ray learns that the Alabama police informed Smotherman of Ray’s name before showing the man a lineup with Ray’s initials under his picture—a clear manipulation of Smotherman’s testimony.
Judge Garrett is the judge during Ray’s trial in 1986 until the judge retires in 2003. While the judge doesn’t show as much explicit bias as Prosecutor McGregor and Lieutenant Acker, he willfully ignores much of the evidence that exonerates Ray and during the appeals process often wastes years of Ray’s life in delaying his rulings.
Alan Black is a lawyer from EJI. After Santha Sonenberg gets a new job and stops representing Ray, Alan Black takes over. However, when Alan pursues a life in prison sentence for Ray rather than arguing Ray’s innocence, and after asking Ray for $10,000, Ray promptly fires Alan and asks Bryan Stevenson to represent him instead.
Payne is Ray’s ballistics expert in his first trial—he is the only person willing to testify for $500, which is all Ray can afford to pay. In the trial, the prosecution completely dismantles his testimony by demonstrating that Payne didn’t know how to use the equipment to test the evidence, and he is legally blind in one eye.
Brian is one of the other death-row inmates in the book club with Ray. He and Ed are sent to death row for a crime they committed together. However, Ed explains that he committed the crime alone, and policemen tortured Brian with a cattle prod until he confessed to the crime. Brian’s presence on death row speaks to the book’s overarching message that there are innocent people who are regularly and wrongly sentenced to death.
Ed is one of the other death-row inmates in the book club with Ray. He and Brian are sent to death row for a crime they committed together. However, Ed explains that he committed the crime alone, and policemen tortured Brian with a cattle prod until he confessed crime. With this, Ed gestures to the idea that some of the inmates on death row are, in fact, innocent—Ray’s wrong conviction isn’t all that uncommon.
Bennie is Henry Hays’s father and a high-ranking official of the KKK in the 1980s and 1990s. Although Henry has had a major change of heart over the years and now rejects the racist ideologies that his parents instilled in him, Bennie is still deeply racist himself. When Henry proudly declares that Ray is his best friend, Bennie refuses to shake Ray’s hand, clearly discriminating against Ray for being a Black man. On another day, while Bennie is visiting Henry in prison, he has a heart attack and dies.
A man who spent nearly three decades on death row in Alabama. For his book and for subsequent activism to fight the death penalty at large, public figures from Desmond Tutu to Richard Branson praised Hinton’s efforts. Hinton is now a renowned speaker on prison reform, forgiveness, and hope. He appeared on television numerous times to recount his story, often accompanied by his lifelong friend, Lester Bailey.
In Hinton’s widely read memoir, he recounts the circumstances leading to his arrest for capital murder. As a young black man in the South, he doubts the criminal justice system’s true efficacy, but was told by his mother that if he just tells the truth, everything will always be okay. He is found guilty but shrugs off the verdict: He is certain that he will quickly be exonerated. He is innocent: His alibis and successful passing of a polygraph test confirm this. The weapon found in his mother’s home doesn’t match the one used in the crimes.
In an odyssey of irony and imagination, Hinton spends three decades entangled in the legal system. Legal defenses come and go, with underfunded lawyers always asking for money. He loses faith and hope—both of which are eventually regained from reflection and Hinton’s openness to experience.
He befriends his fellow death row inmates, most of whom, he supposes, are guilty, and all of whom have been convicted for violent crimes—including a KKK member who lynched a young black man. Hinton eventually finds a sense of home and family, and even starts a book club.
As he balances the weight of hope and imagination, picturing marriages and sports championships, and dealing with the loss of his mother—and the deaths, by execution, of his fellow inmates—he finally finds what he calls “God’s Best Lawyer” in Bryan Stevenson.
While his legal troubles continue, and the case drags on, Hinton’s faith and hope are repeatedly tested; he relies on his wit, charm, imagination, and appreciation of books to spiritually sustain him. Finally, after 30 years, he is released from prison.
Physically free at last, Hinton still has to deal with the emotional scars that have yet to heal. Hinton gradually come to terms with his experience and dedicates the remainder of his life to fighting the death penalty.
A memoir by Anthony Ray Hinton makes you wonder where to put your feelings after reading it. It’s a mix of emotions and overflowing love for the man and his innocence. This novel is a must read since it gives an insight upon the politics and bovine acts.