Wednesday Wisdom #17

Issue 17: The Sun Does Shine, American Airlines' Golden Ticket, Personal Savings Rates

Hey everybody 👋,

Greetings from Chicago!

2020 is half over 🤯—on one hand the first half of the year felt like an eternity and on the other, it flew by. Working from home has become the new norm and it doesn’t feel like we’ll be going back to the office any time soon. I do miss some of the comforts like double 27-inch monitors or a more comfortable chair, but I’m happy to give up the commute to have more time in the morning to work out, walk, make coffee in the Chemex, and practice my writing.

On that last note, I mentioned last week that I’m thrilled to be the lead alumni mentor for the next cohort of Write of Passage which starts tonight! We have an intense schedule of 16 live sessions, 4 Saturday Crossfit sessions, individual writing sessions with our fellow mentors, and even live writing sessions with Ellen Fishbein who is a professional writing coach. It’s going to be tough but fun!

I’ve admittedly struggled with some writer’s block lately so I’m hoping the live sessions will kick-start more consistency in my long-form writing.

In this week’s newsletter, I’ll cover:

  • 📚 The Sun Does Shine

  • ✈️ American Airlines’ Golden Ticket

  • 💵 US Personal Savings Rate: 1959-2020

  • 😍 Chicago Sunrise

  • and more!

If you missed last week’s issue, you can check it out here. I discussed Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Why Restaurants Fail, How to Buy a Car Without Getting Screwed, Apple vs. HEY, and more.

Book of the Week

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life, Freedom, and Justice

I just finished book #13 of 2020, and perhaps my favorite so far this year.

About a month ago, amid the protests following the death of Geroge Floyd, Warner Bros. made their 2019 film ‘Just Mercy’ available for free on Amazon Prime.

The movie tells the story of Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard law graduate who moves to Alabama to help fight for people who cannot afford proper legal representation and to help overturn or lessen convictions of death row inmates.

One of those inmates—Anthony Ray Hinton was wrongfully imprisoned on death row for nearly 30 years. He was misidentified when a witness picked him out from a mugshot book. After his release from prison with the help of Bryan Stevenson and his firm EJI, Hinton wrote The Sun Does Shine, a powerful memoir where he recalls how he got convicted and eventually exonerated.

The tragedy of Hinton’s story and so many others like him is that the criminal justice system in our country treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent. Hinton’s only true crime was being born black in the state of Alabama.

From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t put the book down. I loved how Hinton retold his story—in fascinating detail, with uncanny humor and humility. The book is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope through the darkest times. Hinton’s story is a dramatic thirty-year journey which shows you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, dignity, humor, or joy.

Here were my favorite excerpts:

On using his imagination to “leave” prison:

“Time was a funny and strange and fluid thing, and I was going to bend it and shape it so that it wasn’t my enemy. Someday I was going to walk out of here, but until then, I was going to use my mind to travel the world. I had so many places to go, and people to see, and things to learn. I could be there for meals and when the guards needed me to do something, but the minute my mind wasn’t occupied by the routine of the row, I left. My jet plane was always waiting, and it got easier and easier for me to travel in my mind.”

On meeting Bryan Stevenson for the first time:

“There are some people you meet and you know they are going to change your life forever. Meeting Bryan was like that. I looked at his face and I saw compassion and kindness. He looked smart. He also looked tired. There were lines around his eyes and a sort of sadness hidden in the creases.”

On losing hope he would ever get out of prison:

“I’ve won Wimbledon five times. I’ve played third base for the Yankees and led the league in home runs for ten straight years. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve married the most beautiful women. I’ve loved and I’ve laughed and I’ve lost God and found God again and wondered for too many hours what the purpose is for me going to death row for something I didn’t do. And sometimes I think there is no purpose—that this is just the life I was meant to live. I’ve made a home here and a family out of some of the most terrifying men you’d ever meet. And you know what I’ve learned? We’re all the same. We’re all guilty of something, and we’re all innocent at the same time. And I’m sorry, but a man can go crazy trying to make it all fit into some plan. Maybe this is the plan. Maybe I was born to live most of my life in a five-by-seven so I could travel the world.”

On Alabama’s capital punishment rules:

“Alabama’s death penalty is a lie. It is a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. It is a grim, disturbing shadow cast by the legacy of racial apartheid used to condemn the disfavored among us. It’s the symbol elected officials hold up to strengthen their tough-on-crime reputations while distracting us from the causes of violence. The death penalty is an enemy of grace, redemption and all who value life and recognize that each person is more than their worst act.”

I highly recommend reading this book, I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. If you would like to get more familiar with Hinton’s story, here is an excellent talk he gave at Google in 2018 while promoting the book.

Interesting Things I Learned This Week

American Airlines' Golden Ticket

My father had a lifelong ticket to fly anywhere. Then they took it ...

In 1981, American Airlines posted a $76 million loss and was in serious financial trouble. In order to finance its growing operations, the airline needed a quick infusion of cash. AAirpass was a discount program for frequent flyers, offering unlimited travel. For $250,000, pass holders had lifetime first-class travel. No strings attached. Travel as much as you want, forever*.

In 2007, American Airlines said that two AAirpass holders, Steven Rothstein and Jacques Vroom were costing the airline more than $1 million annually. The airline terminated their passes and accused them of fraudulent activity. The airline ended sales for the program in 1994.

US Personal Savings Rate: 1959-2020

Due to COVID, I’m not surprised personal savings rates are going up as people have less tolerance for risk and debt, but I am surprised at how much it’s up relative to prior years, especially looking at the chart after 2008.

Low of 2.2% in 2007, high of 32.2% in May 2020.

Personally, I follow Ramit Sethi’s suggestion of having my savings completely automated. Each week, money moves from my checking to my savings account without me having to do anything other than monitoring the accounts as part of a standard weekly review.


Chicago Sunrise 😍


Tweet of the week

Nerd joke 😂

Photo of the week

Since shelter-in-place began, I haven’t been able to go to my gym. I signed up for Peloton’s Digital Membership to work out at home but I was missing my favorite piece of cardio equipment.

About 8 weeks ago, I got on Concept2’s waiting list for an indoor rower and it finally came this week. I’ve been easing back into it, rowing 20 minutes every morning, and love having it at home. I will say though, the rower is huge—if you plan on getting one, make sure you have lots of free space, mine barely fit in our second bedroom aka my office.

Until next week,


If you would love to discuss anything I’ve covered, please reach out to me by replying to this email or sending a direct message on Twitter at @levnaginsky

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