Written by: Damien Echols
Life After Death is a new autobiography by Damien Echols. Echols is known for being one of the infamous “West Memphis Three”, three teenagers wrongly convicted of the murder of three little boys in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas in 1994. The case has been chronicled in detail in the book Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt as well as the three successful and brilliant Paradise Lost documentaries. Echols was the only one given the death sentence. In Life After Death he takes us through his early life, interspersing the story of his youth with tales from prison. He gives the unique perspective on an innocent man who has spent half his life locked up and how he tried to maintain his sanity throughout it.
I was extremely excited to read this book. It offered a glimpse firsthand from one of these people whose life had been completely destroyed in what was essentially a modern witch hunt. Previously the only things we’ve had access to have been some letters he’d written to supporters on his website and the documentaries. There’s also a documentary he produced along with Peter Jackson which is currently looking for wide release. But this was a real chance for those of us who have been so thoroughly disgusted by what happened to him an opportunity to go inside his mind. And I was very pleased with what he was willing to share.
The big thing that you’ll notice is that he rarely talks of his case. As much as the trials had an effect on his life, he essentially glosses over them. However speaking about the first trial is one of the only times he really seems truly enraged. The rest of the book he manages to portray a sadness, but a calm. He’s clearly angry and disappointed but has become accepting that this is something that happened (and is happening, as much of the book was penned while behind bars still). Instead of talking about horrors of his case he spends a large portion of the book detailing the horrors others have been subjected to in the American prison system. He tells tales that he witnessed first hand. How most men on death row are in some way insane and many are indeed mentally retarded and the way the system will drug them or just pretend they don’t notice this person doesn’t understand they are being put to death. Life After Death is truly a hard to read book because of much of this.
Echols youth was not exactly a great time and he talks openly about all the problems he faced growing up. Truly a childhood that no one would wish on even their worst enemy. He thanks his supporters and basically says they’re the only reason he’s alive, especially his wife Lorri. The chapter about their meeting and falling in love (while he was behind bars) is truly wonderful. He also talks about a few of the notable celebrities that supported him and how they did so in private ways. Particualry Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam who provided a great deal of money and more, even throwing him and Jason Balwin (a fellow member of the WM3) a party when they were released and then letting Echols live in his Seattle home for a while. He also talks about Marilyn Manson’s private support, as he thought publicly supporting him would do more harm then help. And also how surprised he was by just how educated Johnny Depp became about the case as he supported their release.
Speaking of Jason Baldwin, a lot of his early years involved Balwin, who was Echols best friend for many years before they were eventually put on trial together and also how he wasn’t quite friends with Jessie Miskelly, the third member of the WM3 and only really knew of him as someone who was around more than a friend as he’s been portrayed.
I could go on forever about all the wonderful things contained within this book, but I’ll let you discover it for yourself. It’s truly a must read for anyone who’s interested in an educated and insightful look inside the mind of an innocent man on death row. If you followed the case, or know nothing of it, either way you’ll find something here that will make you look at our legal system in perhaps a different way.
Thankfully Echols is now free although he makes it very clear that he is still committed to finding the real people who murdered those boys, that’s truly the last piece in this no-win situation.
Run and buy this book right now. You will not be disappointed. I recommend checking out the other major sources about the case wm3.org, Devil’s Knot although it’s dated, and the Paradise Lost movies. It’s now available wherever books are sold.