Josiah Davis

Anthony Ray Hinton Describes A Pivotal Moment on Death Row

The Sun Does Shine (2018) by Anthony Ray Hinton is the inspiring and tragic autobiographical account of a man who spent three decades on death row for a murder that he didn’t commit. This is one of my favorite passages from the book. He describes his change of heart on death row at a pivotal moment:

I was on death row not by my own choice, but I had made the choice to spend the last three years thinking about killing McGregor and thinking about killing myself. 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 as 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.

“Hey!” I walked up to my cell door and yelled toward the crying man. “Are you all right over there?”

There was nothing but silence. Maybe I was too late.

“Hey, you okay?” I asked again.

“No,” he finally answered.

“Is something wrong? Do you need me to call for an officer or something?”

“No, he just left.”

“Okay, then.”

I stood at the bars. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. It was weird to hear my own voice on the row. I only spoke during visits. I wondered if the man was as surprised as I was to hear me speak. I guess he didn’t want to talk about it. I started to walk back to my bed, but then I thought about what he had been saying when he was sobbing. Please help me. I can’t take it anymore.

I walked back up to the door. “Hey, man. Whatever it is, it’s going to be all right. It’s going to be okay.”

I waited. It had to be another five minutes before he spoke.

“I just … I just got word … that my mom died.”

I could hear him trying to hold back the tears as he talked.

I can’t describe exactly what it is to have your heart break open, but in that moment, my heart broke wide open and I wasn’t a convicted killer on death row; I was Anthony Ray Hinton from Praco. I was my mama’s son.

“I’m sorry, man. I really am.”

He didn’t say anything back, and then I heard a guy yell from down below me, “Sorry for your loss.” And then another from the left side of me yelled, “Sorry, man. Rest in peace.” Nobody else was talking before that, but they had been listening too. How could you not hear him crying? I didn’t have to think about people all around the world sitting on the edge of their beds and crying when there were almost two hundred men all around me who didn’t sleep, just like me. Who were in fear just like me. Who wept just like all of us. Who felt alone and afraid and without hope.

I had a choice to reach out to these men or to stay in the dark alone. I walked over to my bed and got on my hands and knees. I reached my arm under the bed and felt around through the dust and dirt until the tips of my fingers brushed against my Bible. It had been under there for too long. This man had lost his mom, but I still had mine, and she wouldn’t care for my Bible to be collecting filth. Even here, I could still be me. I walked back up to the cell door.

“Listen!” I yelled. “God may sit high, but he looks low. He’s looking down here in the pit. He’s sitting high, but he’s looking low. You’ve got to believe it.” I had to believe it too (pp. 115-117).

Hinton, Anthony Ray, and Lara Love Hardin. The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row. Kindle Edition. St. Martin’s Press, 2018.