Book Review

Author sheds light on the horrors of American justice system


The Sun Does Shine. FILE PHOTO | NMG

‘‘It’s amazing what money and revenge will do to people – it can change them from the inside out. Make their ugly shine through in ways God himself would be ashamed of.”

That’s how chapter nine, titled “conviction, conviction, conviction” starts. The trial is in Jefferson County, Alabama, United States of America. The accused person is a 29-year-old, black, poor, innocent and the year is 1985.

Prosecution, jury and judge find him guilty and Anthony Ray Hinton is shipped off to death row. This is where he lives for the next 30 years in a six-by-six concrete cell, constantly hungry with artificial light and minimal ventilation trying to prove his innocence.

The Sun Does Shine is the condensed days in 350 pages of the uncertainty of life, near death, of how hate, racism and injustice can be used to break down a man, but how through prayer, positivity, grit, and perseverance, that same man, stands tall, becoming a beacon of hope in the darkness of the forgotten in the prison system. Hinton describes death row as the place “where love and hope went to die”.

He writes with vivid descriptions of the inmates who died in the chamber near his cell, of the screams of men fighting their demons internally in a way that will leave you feeling the pain of an innocent man’s incarceration.

You might even shed a tear or two. To survive this reality for three decades, Hinton builds palaces in the recesses of the mind, where he marries famed American actress Halle Berry, eats his mother’s pie, shares afternoon tea with the Queen of England and flies in a private jet, among other things. Hinton looks inwards after three years of silence and tears in his cell, reminds himself of the son his mother raised, reaches out to the other prisoners around him befriending men “taught to kill” including a member of the Ku Klux Klan, learning to find hope in their bleak situation.

He confided in the warden, convincing him to allow him to receive books, besides the Bible, when the request is approved, Hinton shares the books, up and down the row till all the men have read and they get to discuss in a book club, the bits that moved them. When the first member of the club is executed, they leave his seat empty in his honour.

The Sun Does Shine explores the horrors of the American justice system, the underbelly of racist police officers, and brotherhood formed in a maximum-security prison that transcends barriers imposed by society.

This is a book that goes to the core of who we are as human beings, what moves us — the need to stay alive, regardless of what we may have done, the redemptive power of faith and hope and how they shine a light even in the darkest circumstances.

This is a book you will find most moving, utterly refreshing in the least expected of ways. The Sun Does Shine is a page-turner that requires a box of tissue for all the heartbreak, the dashed hopes, and eventual release. It’s a journey of a man deserving of freedom.