In 1993, teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.—who have come to be known as the West Memphis Three—were arrested for the murders of three eight-year-old boys in Arkansas. The ensuing trial was marked by tampered evidence, false testimony, and public hysteria. Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison; while eighteen-year-old Echols, deemed the “ringleader,” was sentenced to death. Over the next two decades, the WM3 became known worldwide as a symbol of wrongful conviction and imprisonment, with thousands of supporters and many notable celebrities who called for a new trial. In a shocking turn of events, all three men were released in August 2011.
Now Echols shares his story in full—from abuse by prison guards and wardens, to portraits of fellow inmates and deplorable living conditions, to the incredible reserves of patience, spirituality, and perseverance that kept him alive and sane while incarcerated for nearly two decades.
In these pages, Echols reveals himself a brilliant writer, infusing his narrative with tragedy and irony in equal measure: he describes the terrors he experienced every day and his outrage toward the American justice system, and offers a firsthand account of living on Death Row in heartbreaking, agonizing detail. Life After Death is destined to be a riveting, explosive classic of prison literature.
About Damien Echols
Damien Echols was born in 1974 and grew up in Mississippi, Tennessee, Maryland, Oregon, and Arkansas. At age eighteen, he was arrested along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley and charged with the deaths of three boys, now known as the Robin Hood Hill murders, in West Memphis, Arkansas. Echols received a death sentence and spent almost eighteen years on Death Row, until he, Baldwin, and Misskelley were released in 2011. The West Memphis Three have been the subject of Paradise Lost, a three-part documentary series produced by HBO, and West of Memphis, a documentary produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Echols is the author of a self-published memoir titled Almost Home. He and his wife, Lorri Davis, live in New York City.
In 1993, Echols (Almost Home, 2005) was convicted, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., in the case of the sadistic sex murders and mutilations of three young boys in the woods around their hometown of West Memphis, Ark. The state’s case was based almost entirely on the confession wrung out of Misskelley, who, writes the author, had the “intellect of a child,” and who recanted soon afterward. Witnesses’ testimonies to Echols’ “demonic” character sealed the defendants’ fates. Baldwin and Misskelley each received life sentences; Echols, perceived to be the ringleader of an alleged “satanic cult,” was sentenced to death. Over the next decade, an HBO trilogy of documentaries on the case, collectively titled Paradise Lost, helped spark an international campaign to free the West Memphis Three. Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and Peter Jackson were among the celebrities who became personally involved in the case; thanks to their efforts, and especially those of Echols’ wife, Lorri, whom he met during his prison term, the three were released in August 2011. Those bare facts alone would make for an interesting story. However, Echols is at heart a poet and mystic, and he has written not just a quickie one-off book to capitalize on a lurid news story, but rather a work of art that occasionally bears a resemblance to the work of Jean Genet. A voracious reader all his life, Echols vividly tells his story, from his impoverished childhood in a series of shacks and mobile homes to his emergence after half a lifetime behind bars as a psychically scarred man rediscovering freedom in New York City. The author also effectively displays his intelligence and sensitivity, qualities the Arkansas criminal justice system had no interest in recognizing during Echols’ ordeal. – Kirkus Reviews
Freedom After Fire Ants and Tumult - “Life After Death,” by Damien Echols
The New York Times Book Review – September 19, 2012 (Excerpt)
Eighteen and a half years after he was sentenced to death for participating in the murders of three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas, Damien Echols finds himself in Faireyland. Mr. Echols’s new book, “Life After Death,” has a Shepard Fairey-inspired cover design that’s as coolly lionizing as Mr. Fairey’s “Hope” poster for President Obama. The book has a champion in Johnny Depp, who has compared Mr. Echols’s writing to Dostoyevsky’s. And his story is the subject of a forthcoming documentary, “West of Memphis,” even though that story has been exhaustively told in the three “Paradise Lost” films that paved the path to Mr. Echols’s release from death row.
These are mind-bending new circumstances for a guy who grew up as an impoverished loner, sardonically described himself as white trash, and spent his years of incarceration noticing the most grotesque, dehumanizing aspects of prison life. Yet “Life After Death” tries to reconcile all these extremes into a single narrative, and to a great extent it accomplishes this magic trick. By the way, Mr. Echols spells that word “magick,” just as one of his favorite writers, the very spookyAleister Crowley, did. It was Mr. Echols’s teenage taste for the occult, heavy metal and black clothing — a look inspired by Mr. Depp in “Edward Scissorhands,” he says — that initially made him a target for the vindictive and provincial police in West Memphis, Ark. [Read the full article...]
After Jail and Release, New Fame as an Author
The New York Times Book Review – September 23, 2012 (Excerpt)
On a Thursday afternoon walk along Canal Street, Damien Echols was reflecting on how this busy thoroughfare once nourished him in the first few months after his August 2011 release from a super-maximum-security prison in Arkansas.
Arriving from a life spent largely in solitary confinement and awaiting a death sentence, Mr. Echols was starved for human interaction and feasted on this downtown Manhattan smorgasbord teeming with awed tourists, stubborn natives and street peddlers hawking unfamiliar wares as if it were a five-course dinner.
Now, however, Mr. Echols compared this same block to a far less appetizing meal: “A sack full of McDonald’s hamburgers,” he called it.
It’s not that Mr. Echols, 37, one of the defendants in the notorious West Memphis Three murder case and the author of a new memoir, “Life After Death,” has become tired of a frantic, indifferent city or jaded by his own long-sought, hard-won freedom. [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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