On April 3, 2015, Anthony Ray Hinton came home.
After 30 years.
On Death Row.
For a crime he didn’t commit.
And the state of Alabama knew since 1999.
His release was secured through the legal efforts of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) led by attorney Bryan Stevenson. For as long as Mr. Hinton’s bid on death row, EJI has represented inmates wrongly and harshly convicted, children sentenced to life without parole (what Stevenson calls “death-in-prison” sentences) and others who can’t afford representation, and suffer at the hands of an inhumane system.
How did Mr. Hinton survive? “My sense of humor,” he told an audience of forty religious leaders gathered for a two day retreat at EJI’s headquarters in Montgomery Alabama. He used his imagination. “They took my freedom, but they didn’t take my soul,” he told us. “I got more frequent flyer miles than anyone. In my mind, I even flew to England to have tea with the queen.”
Hinton talked about his faith, and his steadfast belief in God. He was released on Good Friday 2015 declaring, “The sun does shine.” He went to church that Easter Sunday.
But the challenges of reentry still haunt him. He wakes up every morning at 3 AM for breakfast, just like on death row. He has a king-size California bed, but still sleeps curled up, as if he were still on that short cot in that 5×7 cell where he spent 30 years. “I can’t stretch out!” he offered, dabbing tears from his eyes.
But Mr. Hinton has support from EJI and others. He tells his story across the nation to show how the criminal justice system can misfire, and repeat the legacy of slavery, lynching, and discrimination through wrongful convictions, inhumane treatment and corrupted policies and politicians.
But I took away something else as well. Mr. Hinton said, “They didn’t take my soul.” The system will do that…hey, you have friends who want to take away your soul by getting you back into the foolishness that got you locked up in the first place. But Mr. Hinton’s faith and interior strength made him strong enough to keep his soul. Even the CO’s on death row noticed. They repeatedly asked Mr. Stevenson, “When you gonna get Mr. Hinton out of here?”
When you keep your soul, your integrity, your faith, even the people who want to– or are charged to– take it, notice. Guard your soul from all who would take you down a destructive path…and like Anthony Ray Hinton, you will be able to say, “The sun does shine.”