Damien Echols has lived through a nightmare. At the age of 18, he was wrongfully convicted, along with two others, of murdering three young boys,. His co-defendants were Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. Together, they came to be known as The West Memphis Three.
Echols spent the next 18 years on death row, and was finally released, along with Baldwin and Misskelley, on a plea bargain last August. Echols writes about this experience, as well as his childhood, in a new memoir, “Life After Death.”
It might seem counter-intuitive to some that Echols would want to write about his trauma at all. But he says, for him, the nightmare isn't over. "Just because I'm out, I'm still not free. You know, technically, my criminal record shows that I've been convicted of three counts of murder."
"The only way that I will ever be rid of it, and have any sort of sense of closure, is if the case is reopened, if we are completely exonerated, and the people responsible are in prison. So for me, talking about this is what I have to do right now." For Echols, this is the way back home.
While Echols was on trial, a large part of the prosecution's case was based on his "gothic" clothing, his (naturally) black hair, and what these physical attributes supposedly indicated about his worshiping Satan. But when asked if he would go back and do things differently, or dress differently during the trial, Echols says no. "If you give up who you are, if you give up who you love, if you knuckle under, just because things are getting a little hard, then you're already living a death sentence anyway. It's just a really slow one."
Perhaps the most remarkable detail of Echols' incredible story is his marriage to Lorri Davis, who he met while on death row, and who he has been married to for 17 years. "It was she and my spiritual practice that kept me sane in there," Echols says. He also says that being apart for so many years, rather than weakening their bond, in fact strengthened it.
"We had to strain, and reach, and force ourselves to forge different connections in other ways, to get to know each other in other ways. Especially through something like writing letters, you know, you write your every thought, your every emotion. You go into realms of your psyche that you wouldn't just on a normal daily basis talking to someone about. So it forges really deep bonds and connections."
Echols writes in his memoir that prison robs you of your humanity. But he's working everyday to get it back.