Colorado Mountain College is hosting two live virtual presentations on Feb. 24-25 with Anthony Ray Hinton, author of New York Times bestseller “The Sun Does Shine.” The memoir is CMC’s 2021 Common Reader and is about the 30 years Hinton spent on death row for crimes he did not commit.

Falsely convicted Anthony Ray Hinton will give live virtual talks Feb. 24-25

By Carrie Click

This past pandemic year has been hard on us all – often isolated at home, not seeing friends and family, missing important milestones, under the threat of serious illness or even death.

Now imagine 30 years of that. In a five- by seven-foot prison cell. Incarcerated on death row for a crime you didn’t commit.

Meet Anthony Ray Hinton. In 1985, he was falsely convicted of two counts of capital murder and sentenced to die by the electric chair at Holman State Prison in Alabama. In 2015, he was finally exonerated and freed.

Hinton’s memoir, “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row,” written with Lara Love Hardin, is Colorado Mountain College’s 2021 Common Reader.

The book is a New York Times bestseller and is on the Oprah Book Club list.

In addition to writing, Hinton is a speaker and a community educator at the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Alabama. There, he works with attorney and EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson, author of the acclaimed memoir “Just Mercy.” Stevenson spent years on Hinton’s case and was responsible for his conviction being overturned.

Every year since 2007, a committee of CMC employees has selected a book to read together, the Common Reader. Community members from throughout the college’s district are also encouraged to participate in this “group read,” and the book’s author is invited to visit CMC campuses for live presentations.

Because of COVID-19 health precautions, this year’s Common Reader author appearances will be held in a virtual format on Feb. 24-25. The talks are free, though registration is required (see breakout box).

A book for our time

 “The Sun Does Shine” focuses on unjust incarceration, societal unrest, the difficulties of confinement and racial inequality.

Just six days after the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol in early January, Hinton shared his take on how these issues are reflected in today’s headlines.

“People are raised around lies and they believe those lies,” he said. “They are programmed to hate. Those guys at the Capitol, they were crying out for help. I see guys like that and I feel really sorry that they have been misled. In hating, you’re allowing someone to dictate your joy.”

Hinton also has insights about being confined in prison, which is immeasurably harder than COVID-19 distancing restrictions. Besides becoming skilled at creating a rich imaginary world as an escape mechanism, he gained other insights.

“Being in a five-by-seven prison cell, I had a pity party for three years and wouldn’t talk to anyone,” he said. “Then I learned about a woman with stage 5 breast cancer, and a man with colon cancer. Here I was, healthy, I had a place to lay down. People were going through way worse things than I was. It puts life in perspective.”

In “The Sun Does Shine,” Hinton describes Henry Hays, a Ku Klux Klansman who was on death row and was ultimately executed for stabbing and lynching a 19-year-old Black man. Eventually, Hinton and Hays developed a friendship that lasted until Hays died.

“Henry was taught all his life to hate,” said Hinton. “Parents program their children. I asked him, ‘What have I ever done to you? You believe you hate all Black people. You don’t even know me to hate me.’ You need to talk with someone who thinks they hate you.”

‘Love for a whole nation’

 Hinton said parents have tremendous influence over their children’s views.

“I had the best mother that God created,” Hinton said. “She taught me respect, concern, love and understanding. My mother gave me love for a whole nation. Upbringing is key. We were poor but I had the best upbringing money can buy. There’s no price on that.”

Hinton said he’ll miss visiting Colorado Mountain College in person, though he’s looking forward to his online talks.

“Before the virus, I visited universities and I’d sit down and invite all types of people to open conversations,” Hinton said. “Whether Black, White, Hispanic, let’s learn from each other before we destroy each other. We need to learn why we think and act like we do.’

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As with most in-person events during the past year, because of COVID-19 health precautions, the Common Reader’s author talks are moving to a virtual format.

Feb. 24 – 7 p.m.

Feb. 25 – 7 p.m.

Hinton’s talks will be livestreamed through Zoom. The talks are free, though advance registration is required. Visit CMC’s Common Reader webpage for information about books and registration, here.