Anthony Ray Hinton: An Example of Perseverance by Pamela Mytroen

Death Row. Where darkness and despair crush all hope; where the stench of fear, rats, and roaches permeate every breath—this was where Anthony Ray Hinton had to make a choice. Would he continue to boil with hatred and strangle the guard before him or would he choose to accept the 5’x7′ space that contained his life?

In his biography, The Sun Does Shine, Hinton describes the pivotal moment that would define his 30-year stay on death row. “. . . 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 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. ” (Hinton and Harden, 2018, p. 115).

His radical change began with self-discipline. He purposely chose to think about positive things rather than the day he would be handed his execution date. He chose to remember his mom’s home-cooking and playing baseball with his best friend. He imagined himself travelling the world. “I tried to focus on the moments that held light and laughter. It’s what helped me get through” (p. 226). This reminds me of Philippians 4:8, “…fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable” (GNT).

Hinton reached under his bunk, pulled out his Bible, and began to fill up on truth. Every day he read God’s Word and prayed for his family, his lawyer, and even the ones who had framed him. Filled with faith, forgiveness, and truth, he found freedom in his tiny cell. A constant friend filled him with hope and the knowledge that he was loved and had value.

Inner strength then enabled Ray Hinton to reach out to his cellmates. “I had a choice to reach out to these men or to stay in the dark alone” (p. 116).

He chose to be compassionate to all, regardless of their skin colour or the atrocities they had committed. He called out to them when they were crying in their cells. A sense of humour helped him endure a daily loss of dignity, and he would reframe it in funny stories he shared with the others. He started a book club to give the cellmates something to talk about rather than the constant loop of anxiety and loss.  

With inward transformation and an outward focus, Hinton was able to persevere through false charges, public humiliation, hearings thrown out, petitions denied, prosecutors and bailiffs who lied, and a public defendant who considered his job a mere duty, all while living 30 feet from the execution chamber in a cramped cage.    

Strategies for Perseverance

Our situation likely doesn’t compare to Hinton’s, with the constant fear preying on his imagination, but we do have challenges that rattle us. Our words might feel fenced in by razor wires of rejection, anxiety, procrastination, and time. Pushing through these boundaries takes perseverance.

Inward Renewal: Would inner transformation sustain us in our writing career? Can we strengthen our soul in the Word, like Hinton did, before we write? Could we face yet another rejection with hope? Can we look at the editor’s comments with a positive viewpoint? Learn from them? When bars of bitterness hem us in, feel the freedom of forgiveness and put that joy on paper. Read other authors and soak in their wisdom. Discover their angles and perspectives. Marinate your mind on all these good things and you will find that gratitude helps you to write another day.  

Outward Focus: Would an outward focus push us past paralysis? When we struggle with vulnerability, how about thinking of our readers? By putting their needs and interests above our own, we can write with empathy, short circuit fear, and free another soul. Like Hinton, can we sometimes rewrite our low points and losses into lighthearted accounts?

Time Management: And what about that ever-present excuse, “I don’t have time to write”? Hinton faced death every day. He knew the sounds and acrid smell of it. Knowing there was an end sparked a new beginning in Hinton’s life. “I was going to find another way to do my time. Whatever time I had left. Everything, I realized, is a choice. And spending your days waiting to die is no way to live” (p. 118). Time management takes on a whole new meaning if we first look the end in the eye. 

Celebration: Hinton focused on what he would enjoy if he ever walked free. The soft grass beneath his feet. A walk in the woods. Fishing. The sunset from his mom’s deck. All of these kept him going. They would be his celebration and his prize. What prize will you give yourself for completing your next piece of writing?  

Let’s persevere! Prioritize positive, peaceful thoughts, and practice compassion. We all have an expiration date that should point us to a Best Before urgency to write and to live. “Therefore, we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16, CSB).    

Quotes taken from book, The Sun Does Shine: How I found life and freedom on death row. St. Martins Press. New York, 2018 by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin.

Writing has always helped Pam Mytroen make sense of marriage, children, grandchildren, teaching English, and chaos of all kinds. That, and a good book with a chocolate chip cookie.

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1 comment

  1. Tracy Krauss says:

    Absolutely powerful.

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