'Life After Death' both haunts and inspires
West Memphis Three's Echols reveals details of life on death row


Damien EcholsPhoto by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, participates in a photo call and press conference for the film "West of Memphis" at TIFF Bell Lightbox during the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday Sept. 8, 2012 in Toronto.

“I have two definitions for the word ‘magick.’ The first is knowing that I can effect change through my own will, even behind these bars; and the other meaning is more experimental—seeing beauty for a moment in the midst of the mundane ,” says Damien Echols from his book, “Life After Death.”

Magick, as defined by Echols, becomes pivotal to his existence as he sits on death row. Even if you are not familiar with Echols or the West Memphis Three, you will find his autobiography, “Life After Death,” both intriguing and informative.

Echols, a long- haired high school dropout, was arrested at the age of 18 with two other teenagers for the brutal slaying of three young boys. HBO sent a couple of film directors to West Memphis Arkansas to film the trial as they knew it would attract a wide audience. The trial was tailor -made for a documentary as it contained so called Satanism, dark heavy metal music, mental illness and sadistic killings. As the filmmakers watched the trial, they began to realize the three off- beat teenagers were being railroaded. They shifted the direction of their documentary to show the injustices of the trial. This first documentary caught the attention of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines, punk Renaissance man Henry Rollins and actor Johnny Depp. Their moral and financial support would become important to the fate of the West Memphis Three.

Echols tells his story very honestly as he recreates a heart wrenching childhood steeped in extreme poverty and abusive family relationships. He discusses his bouts of depression, which resulted in stints in a mental institution and his constant feelings of being an outsider. His love of heavy metal music and reading and writing kept him going through his tumultuous life. He writes about how surprised he was when he was arrested for the shocking murders of three 8- year -old boys and the improper way the interrogation was conducted. He then fills in the details of his prison stay during the trial, peppering it with a cast of unusual, frightening and sometimes insane fellow inmates.
The story of the trial is not covered in his book as Echols explains the details are covered in both HBO’s trilogy, “Paradise Lost,” and in Peter Jackson’s documentary, “West of Memphis.” The details can also be found online. Echols picks up his story after he is sentenced to death and speaks candidly about his existence on death row with the daily changes he faced. He speaks of his struggle not to get sucked into the insanity of prison life and his constant battle of not giving in to hopelessness. He also discusses how important his spirituality was to his survival. Since Echols is an avid reader and writer, he read over 1,000 books and wrote regularly in his journal to pass the time in prison. He talks about his wife, Lorri, with whom he fell in love while corresponding regularly after his incarceration.
His highly proficient writing skills are apparent in this detailed, descriptive and well written book. “Life After Death” is more than an autobiography; it is a journey of survival and a social commentary on the prison system, poverty, ignorance and the dire consequences of a lack of education. It is a book you read quickly since you don’t want to put it down even if you know the outcome. After finishing it, you will never forget the haunting pictures he paints of death row and prison life. It is not at all like the “Law and Order” shows on TV.

Puma PVCC Home PagePress Editor BlogsPVCC Event CalendarPuma Press YouTubePVCTV Videos pumapress@pvmail.maricopa.edu Slideshows Editor's Profiles  
Follow @pumapress