In early 2018, I spent 4 and a half long months fighting for my life, my freedom, and my dignity after I was falsely accused of a heinous crime. The claim came out of left field and rocked my world.
I had a real lawyer, one of the best in the country. I had to spend a significant amount of my time proving my innocence. I had to walk around with a sort of cognitive dissonance war in my mind; I was writing a book at the same time I was being accused of this crime, it fucked with my head. It seemed that I was guilty until proven innocent.
For the first month, I was filled with piss and hate. But after that, I took my own advice that everything in life is a choice. If they wanted to, they could take my freedom, but never my peace of mind. I stopped stressing about it, which was the only reason I was able to publish a book in this period. After four months of dealing with it, I couldn’t believe it had been four months already. It just seemed like a bad dream that should have been over after one hard night.
Some friends came to my aid as witnesses. Others said “I don’t want to be involved.” I found out who my true friends were the hard way. In a way, I dodged bullets by finding out over those 4 and a half months that they were not real friends. While I am not bitter, I know I can never take these people seriously again, and these people know exactly who they are.
In the end, all my evidence was in order, everything pointed to my innocence, and the accuser was a known psychopathic and pathological liar with no evidence at all. The report exposed the accuser.
I was free. The sun really did shine.
In 1985, there was a pattern of killings happening in Alabama. The killer would go into a restaurant around closing time, force the manager back into the walk-in fridge, shoot the manager in the head, and rob the place of a couple hundred bucks–The Cooler Killer.
For months, authorities had no answer, and the pressure was on because it had been all over the papers. With no evidence at all, police decided to arrest Anthony Ray Hinton, a 29-year-old black man. From the second he was arrested, everyone wanted him to be guilty.
On the drive to the station after being arrested, Lieutenant Doug Acker refused to answer Mr. Hinton when asked why he was being arrested. After about the fifth time asking, Acker responded, “There’s five things that gonna convict you. Would you like to know what they are?” Hinton said yes.
“Number one, you’re black. Number two, a white man is gonna say you shot him, whether you shot him or not. Believe me, I don’t care. Number three, you gonna have a white prosecutor. Number four, you gonna have a white judge. And number five, more than likely you’re gonna have an all-white jury. Do you know what that spell?” And he repeated the words, “Conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction.'”
The ensuing trial went as follows:
- Ray was assigned an attorney, Sheldon Perhacs, because he was too poor to hire one. The attorney was only being paid $1,000 for the case. The first thing he said to Ray was, “I didn’t go to law school to do pro-bono work,” and “I eat $1,000 for breakfast.”
- People testifying against him lied under oath for cash awards.
- Ray passed a polygraph (lie detector) exam, which the judge refused to accept into the trial as evidence, even after the examiner said, “if it was up to me, he would walk out here with me today.”
- The bullets at the crime scene did not match the bullets of the gun belonging to Ray’s mother. There was also evidence that that gun had not been fired in over 25 years, which the police admitted to.
- The ballistics expert that Ray’s attorney hired was blind in one eye and most definitely not an expert. The attorney pocketed the money ($500) he was alotted to hire the “expert.”
- Ray was at work, where he had to sign in and out under the strict supervision of his supervisor, at the time of the murders. Despite the solid alibi from his supervisor, the judge discarded these facts.
- Similar crimes kept happening all during the trial.
- The prosecutor, Bob Mcgregor, and the attorney were said to be friends.
- The attorney didn’t try.
Nobody wanted to see the facts; they just wanted a black man to take the fall for these crimes. It was premeditated guilt. Ray was sentenced to death. It was nothing less than a legal-lynching.
Over the next 30 years, the State of Alabama proceeded to play games with Ray, rejecting appeal after appeal. They refused to hear old evidence, citing some sort of unreasonable court rules. They didn’t actually care that they had sentenced an innocent man to death. The State of Alabama knew they had done wrong, but letting Ray go meant admitting they were wrong, so they never did it.
Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court took control and, in a unanimous decision, they decided Ray was innocent. This was 2015, and after 30 years on death row and smelling the burning flesh of 54 men who were electrocuted just 30 feet from his cell, Anthony Ray Hinton could walk outside as a free man with nobody ordering him around.
When he walked out of prison, Holman Correctional Facility, for the first time since he was brought there in a van 30 years prior, there was a swarm of press taking pictures and wanting to hear from him.
“The sun does shine,” Ray said.
Imagine feeling the rain on your skin for the first time in 30 years. Imagine getting locked up before the internet even existed, then coming out to discover a Facebook and Instagram world. Imagine not being confined to a 5-foot by 7-foot cell for 23 hours per day for the first time in 30 years. Just imagine being locked up from ages 29 to 59, the prime years of your life, and being free for the first time in 30 years.
We can’t really imagine it, though. Freedom is something we take for granted, but not by choice. It’s hard to really appreciate it until it’s been taken from you. It’s hard to be grateful for life until you’ve gone through a period of suffering in your life.
Upon Ray’s release, he wrote a book called The Sun Does Shine: How I found Life and Freedom on Death Row. It has instantly become my favorite book, even surpassing Tony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within, which I often talk about. And it put my own book to shame!
Ray is like the modern day Mandela, as he came out without an ounce of bitterness. Ray epitomizes the peaceful warrior.
Through it all, he maintains, in his own words, that “everything in life is a choice.” They could steal his freedom, he said, but never his joy, his humor, his imagination, or his soul.
It’s the same principle with all of us: no matter what unfair and senseless bullshit we are going through, it is our choice how we respond to it. You see, we cannot always control our circumstances directly, but we can always control how we respond to our circumstances, which, indirectly, will always shape our circumstances.
I only spent 4 and a half months in condemnation, and it’s not like I was held on death row or anything of the sort, yet the threat of the potential consequences looming over my head like a dark cloud made me appreciate my life and freedom so much more. I cannot possibly imagine what it would be like to spend 30 years on death row, and the gratitude it would cultivate in my heart after coming out as a free man.
The Sun Does Shine, it really does.