For close to 30 years, Ray Hinton was on death row in an Alabama prison for crimes he did not commit. He was released in 2015 an innocent man. He lost 30 years of his life which he will never get back. His trial was a total miscarriage of justice. His arresting officer told him, ‘I know you are innocent but someone has to pay for the crimes your brothers have committed’. For the first three years of his imprisonment, he spoke to no one except his only two visitors – his mother and his best friend.
Living on death row was like hell on Earth – the despair, the anger, the constant screams and crying made life impossibly hard. Ray was consumed with hatred for the judge who sentenced him and those who testified lies. But one day he realised something that shook his fragile world. He understood that although he did not have many choices, he did still have some. In his book, The Sun Does Shine, he writes of the revelation that changed his attitude:
‘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 choices as others had, but I still had some choices. I could choose to give up or hang on. Hope was a choice. Faith was a choice. And more than anything else love was a choice. Compassion was a choice…’
He began to reach out to the others on death row. He started a book club and he showed compassion to all, and as a result the atmosphere in that prison block began to change. Ray was a Christian who discovered that even in the most unlikely places, God’s love could bring healing and hope and transform lives. The subtitle to his book is ‘How I found life and freedom on death row’.
We always have the freedom to choose how we respond to our circumstances. Our responses will determine our influence upon others.
May God’s grace and peace be with you all.
Senior School Chaplain