Darryl Hunt to reunite with sister after more than 40 years

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 07:54 PM

It has been more than 40 years since Darryl Hunt, the Winston-Salem man released from prison in 2004 after being cleared of rape and murder charges, has seen his baby sister Doris.

He was 9 years old the last time, and Doris was only 3.

Hunt, a brother and the sister were split up after their mother was killed.

Doris now lives in Atlanta. She didn’t even recall having siblings until she reached adulthood and found documentation indicating that her mother also gave birth to two boys.

A search on “Ancestry.com” turned up Hunt and the brother, who were raised by grandparents.

Hunt, who shared the news with students at Chapel Hill High School during a conference Thursday, said he and the sister will reunite today and catch up on all those lost years.

“I’m excited,” Hunt said about the meeting in an interview. “I don’t know how I’m going to react.”

Hunt said he spoke with Doris on the phone Wednesday and compared the joy he felt to the day he was released from prison.

“Yesterday, to me, was even more special because for the first time in my life, I was able to talk to my sister, my biological sister,” Hunt said. “She had no idea about what I went through in those 19 years, and at the same time I had no idea what she went through.”

Hunt said that along with his freedom, the one thing he prayed for while in prison – “19 years, four months and 19 days” -- was to be able to see his sister one day.

Hunt was the featured speaker at the Chapel Hill High conference, where students and panelists discussed the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” The phrase is used to describe children funneled out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.    

He answered dozens of questions about his experience in prison, his ability to forgive those who wrongly imprisoned him and his experiences since his release.

Hunt also gave them advice about how to stay out of the judicial system, and urged African American male students in particular to be careful about the way they carry themselves and choose their friends

He told student that the world changed dramatically during the 19 years he was in prison.

“When I went to prison there was no CDs,” Hunt said. “There was no DVD players, no cell phones. We had just come out of eight-track tapes.” 

Hunt said he still hasn’t completely gotten over his lengthy incarceration.

“It never leaves, there are all kinds of triggers that remind of prison,” Hunt said.

The 300 or more students who packed the school’s auditorium gave Hunt a standing ovation.

One student asked to shake his hand and another asked to come on stage so that he might give Hunt a hug. 

The conference follows the sophomore class’ reading of an article about Ohio State University legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s book,  “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Alexander contends that gains blacks made during the civil rights movement have been undercut by the nation’s war on drugs, which has led to countless African Americans becoming felons.

She essentially asserts that the millions of African Americans incarcerated or serving probation on felony charges, and even some convicted of minor infractions, are no better off than blacks who lived under oppressive Jim Crow laws because they are trapped perpetually in the criminal justice system and denied basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to one day become productive citizens.

Hunt said there are a lot of collateral consequences associated with a felony conviction.  

“For a felony conviction, you can’t even become a dog catcher,” warned Hunt. “They won’t even allow you to scrape up dogs and dead animals off the streets.”

Kimberley Jones and Michael Irwin, both 10th-grade World literature teachers, facilitated the conference.

Jones said Irwin has traditionally incorporated contemporary issues into the course.

She said students seem to appreciate the focus on racial justice that led up to the conference and held spirited and thoughtful discussions, including examining the disparity in short-term suspension rate for black students versus white students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

While blacks make up only 11 percent of the district’s enrollment, they receive 60 percent of short-term suspensions.

Jones said students found similar disparities in the criminal justice system and sought to find the reasons.

 “We were really impressed that they’ve been thinking about that critically,” Jones said.

Sunny Osment, a 10th grader who worked to bring in panelists for the conference, said she was impressed by the quality of the questions her classmates asked.

“I think they are listening and we can continue to have these discussions.”

Hunt was wrongly charged with the 1984 rape and murder of a young newspaper copy editor, but was cleared of the sexual assault charge by DNA testing a decade later.

In 2004, Hunt was freed from prison after Willard E. Brown confessed to the rape and stabbing death of Deborah Sykes.

Hunt is now involved in the Innocence Project and has established The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice to educate the public about flaws in the criminal justice system, advocate for those serving time due to those flaws and provide resources and support for people who are trying to rebuild their lives.