SHS Welcomes Anthony Ray Hinton


Hyunjin Lee

Students take their seats before the third session starts.

Hannah Wang, Daniel Rublin, and Flora Zik

Released in 2015 after being wrongly convicted and spending 28 years on Alabama’s death row, Anthony Ray Hinton is an American activist who speaks to spread his story. His book The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row is a memoir that recounts his experiences and the discriminatory prejudice embedded in the state’s criminal justice system. Earlier in February 2021, the SHS interdisciplinary Martin Luther King Day Committee organized a school-wide webinar where Hinton shared his story. A few months later in June, Mr. Hinton sent a letter to the Scarsdale community where he noted, “I hope that one day I’ll be able to join you in person to continue the conversation.”

Fortunately, this hope was fulfilled as SHS invited Mr. Hinton to meet students and teachers in person this past Wednesday, November 17th. The fifth period was split into three meet and greet sessions, each with a different set of classes. Teachers were allowed to sign each of their classes up to attend one of the three sessions. Students who chose to attend the event were then excused from their fifth-period class as an in-school field trip. 

At 10 am, SHS’s library closed to set up and prepare for the event. Tables were moved and chairs were placed in the center of the first-floor space and around the border of the library’s mezzanine. A chair and a microphone stand were placed on one of the two staircases as a place for Mr. Hinton to speak from. 

Along with Mr. Hinton, there were three more guests from Hudson Link, an organization that supports and provides for incarcerated individuals. The Junior Class Government, Operation Smiles, and teachers at SHS hosted a food drive to donate to Hudson Link on behalf of Mr. Hinton. “When I heard you said fifty boxes [of food], I thought about the one box I was allowed to receive every Christmas,” Hinton said when SHS art teacher Elizabeth Colleary described the number of donations that have been received so far. It reminded him of every Christmas on death row, when he was only supposed to receive thirty pounds in one gift box, but his mother would always put extra. “…And knowing my mother, she’s got a letter in there saying ‘I put extra in here just in case someone wasn’t able to get a box. Share with them,’” Hinton recalled.

During one of his talks, Mr. Hinton also touched on how much he used to take for granted and how his mindset has changed since he has been incarcerated. He mentioned that every night he “will come out and look up to see the stars and the moon shine because for 30 years I [he] could not see the stars or the moon.” Hinton was successful at helping the audience to gain a greater appreciation for life’s gifts that people typically take for granted. His recollection of his roughly three decades of not eating real eggs, not eating high-quality meat, and not being able to see the night sky resonated with many. “His words helped me gain a greater appreciation for what I have, because it put it in perspective for me that maybe I take things for granted that are as simple as an egg,” said Jared Neudstadt ’23.

During the last session, Mr. Hinton was asked by English teacher Stephen Mounkhall what his favorite book was, and he answered with To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. He explained how the book taught him that “we have a system that is not kind to people of color.” He also talked about how the book resonated with him because he felt like his story was similar to the story of the main character in the book, even though it was written many years ago. 

After the talk and during the last five minutes of each session, there was some time for the audience to ask questions. Mr. Hinton answered a common question that people ask him about how to start with helping reformation. To that, he said, “You just have to start.” He explained that one doesn’t have to do much to help. Something as simple as sending a letter to someone in prison would make a big difference.