Finding Light Through Literacy
The power of literacy has resonated with me since my graduate school mentor, Dr. Bruce Berger, opened my eyes to an advocacy organization that supported literacy efforts across the West Alabama community using student volunteers. I still remember the shocking stat that it would take multiple sold-out Bryant Denny stadiums to house the amount of Alabama adults living with less than a second grade reading level. Through my involvement, I was educated on the major social and economic ripple effect that resulted from the illiteracy rates rampant across our state.
The Peritus Book Club launched in 2017 rooted in a simple truth—reading changes lives. Our book club allows each of us to select stories that inspire our team, challenge perceptions, or simply spark a bit of joy.
During our annual Peritus Bay-treat, our team ended up in a lengthy conversation about upcoming legislative priorities, including prison reform. Deep into our discussion, we realized that this important issue impacting our state seemed to deeply resonate with each of us for different reasons—no matter what political ideals we brought to the table.
We left our retreat determined to educate ourselves about Alabama’s prison system, and were able to do so thanks to local resources like Beth Shelburne.
Our team made a united decision to leverage our communications skills to make a difference and shed a light on this important issue.
Naturally, we decided to start with us – so we selected The Sun Does Shine by Alabama’s own Anthony Hinton for our book club read. It’s a powerful and beautifully written personal account of finding life and freedom while spending 30 years on death row (do yourself a favor and read it now). In his darkest days on the Row awaiting an inevitable fate, Mr. Hinton found light in connecting with his fellow brothers by starting a book club.
After intense negotiations with the prison’s warden, Mr. Hinton was able to swing two books to share between a group of seven incarcerated men.
With reading levels ranging from illiterate to high school level, voices of strangers through bars were now humanized and bonded by the powerful purpose of helping each other, line by line, through the book’s storyline.
For a few fleeting moments each month (if they were lucky), they found freedom and friendship through the connection of shared stories.
We were able to contact Mr. Hinton and invite him to join us for an intimate dinner at our firm’s office. Anxiously we awaited for his arrival, and knew we were in for a treat when Mr. Hinton politely requested if we could add lime to his water since that was how the Queen of England took it. This positive ability to find humor even in something as simple as a lukewarm glass of water is a testament to the character of this man. We broke bread, and clung onto every moment in his presence as he shared perspective in one of the most life-changing conversations we have ever experienced.
We laughed, we cried, we exchanged insights and expanded our minds as he told stories about his own book club during his time on death row. We learned about forgiveness, the good in humanity, connection through reading and what true friendship looks like.
This special night spent with Mr. Hinton will live forever in each of our hearts, and continue to motivate our vision to lead the state in connecting our communities for brighter Alabama.
My PUBLISHED by Peritus takeaway is this:
If you believe reading changes lives, there are three simple things you can do that make a big difference in helping shine a light on prison reform:
Support: Please support Mr. Hinton and read his book The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row.
Impact: Join us in helping to collect books for The Prison Books Collective, which sends hundreds of books to Alabama prisoners each month.