What's Up With That? ~ Katy Byrne

Katy Byrne Katy Byrne, MFT is a Psychotherapist in Sonoma, editor and animal lover. Her private practice specializes in: life transitions, couples communication, eating issues, moving forward, conflict resolution and the kitchen sink.


The Truth – Will it set us free?

Posted on April 20, 2024 by Katy Byrne

At The Sonoma Speakers Series, I was deeply moved to hear Anthony Ray Hinton tell his story. He is a black man. He was put in prison, wrongfully, on Alabama’s death row, for 28 years.

I stood in a space the size of his cell that was outlined in blue and white tape on the floor at the event, to get a real, palpable physical sense of how big that small space was to exist in. We could imagine what his 28 years were like. It was about the size of three bathtubs (I can’t tell you feet and inches.) It was hardly possible to move in it.

He told us about the smell of burning flesh after each human being was executed near his cell. He said he listened as they were being killed, these people who had become his friends. He shared, “Death row has no racism.” Anthony asked to be moved to another cell so that he could avoid inhaling that flesh, having it fill his tiny cell and his lungs – for days after. But, he was refused. And all of this was done to an innocent man.

He was finally freed by a hard-fighting lawyer. It was stunning to hear him tell us how the rain felt on his face on one of his first days of freedom. How he pleaded with us – “Freedom, don’t lose it.”

His talk came a day after the big Super Bowl game and his throaty, soulful wit took us through his true stories and real, painful sharing. Toward the end of the talk, he looked into the distance and told us how he was invited as a guest to the football game, after years of mind-bending loneliness. He looked like a little kid jumping up and down, delighted. Then he asked, why does football unify us? I could see his large chest rising up when he said one guy there continually asked if he could buy him a beer. Then, he related to us that after the game, these same friendly, generous people seemed estranged again, as if the black and white difference suddenly divided them again. The game was over.

Hinton descended back into those years, trying to tell us what it was like, laying there night after night. At one point, near the end of his time in that tiny cell, a time he imagined would end in his death, he gave up, despair finally won. He didn’t want to live like that anymore. Tears gently fell down his face as he was telling us this part, as if they had found their grooves there so many times before.

He told us the godawful truth. He said that as he laid there, defeated, when his mother came through. She had stayed with him, in his mind, all those years. He spoke about how he heard her feisty, persevering voice, saying something like, “I didn’t raise you to be a quitter. Get up and fight. You can’t give up hope in this world.” The exact words  are in his vibrant book, The Sun Does Shine.

Approaching the end of his talk he asked the question: “Where is the outcry?” I wondered too. So many people on earth are being mistreated and why are too few of us on the streets with signs and bullhorns? Why aren’t we bombarding agencies in charge of systems that abuse people and insisting on fair, kind practices?

We exist amongst broken systems, he pleaded without apology. He spoke of fear and how it runs us. He talked about how we have to speak up, from our hearts, how we shouldn’t ever give up, how God comes from something higher than this awful plane of cruelty and suffering. And he pushed the power of telling the truth – its profound importance.

I wondered, did we each stand in that small square box at least once that night? Do we allow ourselves to imagine growing up black in a prejudiced society? Do we tell the truth?

Where is our outcry?

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