The New York Times-bestselling author Anthony Ray Hinton visited the Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton (SHS) campus in March, met with students, and gave a presentation at Nativity School. Hinton writes in The Sun Does Shine about his experience serving nearly 30 years on Alabama’s death row as the victim of a wrongful conviction, before being exonerated and freed.
The entire SHS eighth grade class recently read Just Mercy in their religion class, written by the lawyer who won Hinton’s case, while students in SHP teacher Dan Kennedy’s Monsters in Lit course read Hinton’s book and discussed the prison system as a symbol of a modern day “monster.”
In the course, students examine the concept of monsters through the lens of literature, starting 800 years ago when the word in Old English for monster originated, “mearcstappa,” meaning mark stepper or border crosser. The course leads students through history up to present-day monsters, including the monsters within each of us (one example is factory farming and consumption of meat), mass incarceration, the prison industrial complex, as with students’ examination of Hinton’s story, and border crossing.
“When I first signed up for this course, I thought we’d be looking at mythological figures, monsters in Greek mythology, and while we are studying Norse mythology, I think it’s really important that we look at the criminal justice system, because a monster isn’t just an imaginary creature, it’s something that society and culture makes it out to be,” said Neha Lalia (SHP ’23).
When reading The Sun Does Shine, Lalia and classmates were able to widen their perspectives on how incarcerated people can be “otherized.”
“The criminal justice system, his incarcerators, police officers, and Mr. Hinton himself can all be viewed as monsters,” said Lalia. “In The Sun Does Shine, it was the idea that even though he was innocent, because of the color of his skin and socioeconomic status, he was going to be portrayed as a monster in the eyes of the justice system.”
Dan Kennedy, who designed the course seven years ago, explained that “the idea originally for a monster is someone who crosses into your turf… We aren’t trying to learn about monsters and say, ‘Yep, we know who they are.’ We conclude that it’s all arbitrary, it’s all a social construction. Monsters—they’re just like us.”