Barry Saunders

Saunders: An author now out of prison hopes others can learn from his life

Anyone hearing his story would figure a gun or the inside of a prison would be the last two things on earth Mike Rae Anderson would want to see again.

A murder rap with a gun had already gotten him a life sentence in prison as a teenager, yet when I strolled into Surplus Sid’s military surplus store in Carrboro two weeks ago, there was Anderson with two of the ugliest, most ominous-looking guns I’ve ever seen.

The dude just got paroled in 2008 after serving 17 years, but I overheard his friend and him discussing plans to go back to prison.

You’re darned right you’re going back – packing heat like that, I thought very quietly.

They soon explained that the guns were mere props and the prison they were taking them to was closed.

Anderson and cinematographer Jafar Fallahi are filming a documentary about Anderson’s life and the incidents that led to his life sentence. The N.C. Department of Corrections allowed them to use the now-closed Durham Correctional Center on Guess Road for the documentary.

“We were getting the prop guns to re-enact the shooting event for the second stream of charges that I got in 1991,” Anderson explained days later when I spoke with him.


In that case, he said, he was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and shooting into an occupied dwelling. “But I was already out on bond for a second-degree murder that I wasn’t responsible for.”

Let’s see, now. In Sid’s, they were buying a pump-action shotgun, a .45 and an Uzi. “It’s crazy,” Anderson said, “but those are the guns that were on the streets in Fayetteville in those days.”

Anderson, 42, said he sold a gun that was used in a murder, “but because I wasn’t running my mouth” about who was the actual shooter, “that made it a little bit harsher on me. I never snitched, because back then I had the code of the streets deeply imbedded in my heart.”

In the six years since he walked out of the Orange Correctional Center in Hillsborough, Anderson has written and self-published his autobiography, “A Polished Soul: The Mike Rae Anderson Story,” and two poetry books.

‘Be a better person’

The autobiography, available on, is 460 pages. He wants every inmate to read it and figures finding time to read won’t be a problem for them.

“I want people who have people locked up – a father, uncle, sister, cousin – to get it and send it to their people on the inside,” he said.

“I want those people to have hope and come out of there motivated to be a better person.”

While in the joint, he said, he received degrees in business administration and computer systems technology, as well as seven vocational trade certificates. He also became an inmate tutor.

Getting out was not something many people expected Anderson to ever do. “Even when counselors kept telling me ‘You’ve got a life sentence, you’ve got a helluva record, you’ll never get out,’ I told them, ‘Yes, I will.’ ”

During a review of his case, he said, “they found all of the mitigating factors, so by the end of 17 years, the parole board said, ‘You know what? He’s been a model inmate.’ I was infraction-free my whole 17 years. Never got a write-up or nothing.”

He said he hopes the autobiography and the documentary, due out next year, help young men address the anger inside themselves and “shed light on surviving domestic violence (of which he said he was a childhood victim) ... and the bitterness and resentment that comes from being a victim” of it.

“I want to show the wrong choices that were made based on the pain that was inside, how I made the wrong choices and then survived in prison.

“There’s nothing anybody can tell me I can’t do,” he said. “I was never supposed to make it out of there.”

He made it out, and now he’s going back in.

Wish him luck.