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Damien Echols (West Memphis 3) Writes Book 

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Old 09-20-2012, 05:04 PM
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Damien Echols (West Memphis 3) Writes Book

LIFE AFTER DEATH

By Damien Echols

Illustrated. 399 pages. Blue Rider Press. $26.95.

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 spooky Aleister 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.

“Life After Death” does not discuss the details of that triple murder case and the long, botched investigation and trial that followed. For one thing, that story is not over. Last summer Mr. Echols, now 37, and his two cohorts in what became known as the West Memphis Three, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., were freed on an Alford plea, an unusual technicality whereby the defendants were released but not vindicated. The accumulated fan support, financial backing and legal muscle that have rallied around Mr. Echols suggest that his champions will continue to fight on his behalf.

But he is sick of that story anyway. So “Life After Death” is a dual memoir, partly about Mr. Echols’s boyhood and partly about his prison life. He says that he wants this to be a beautiful book and not a freak show, but there is freakishness at every turn. Yes, one of Mr. Echols’s childhood memories involves watching “Captain Kangaroo.” But another, much more typical one describes how he was agonizingly attacked by fire ants while his grandfather sipped beer and chuckled. Something else he remembers: his stepfather’s punching the family Chihuahua with a closed fist.

“Nothing lifts my spirits like a scarecrow in the front yard,” he writes, with as much nostalgia as he can summon for his tough and tumultuous upbringing. He likes horror films and horror novels because they remind him of home. And he describes the horrific living conditions, in a shack without water or electricity but with crop dusters spraying overhead, that his family took for granted. Even so, these memories constitute Mr. Echols’s idea of living in freedom.

And they make good stories, even if this book’s emphasis is often on filth, hellishness and disgust. They are so well told that “Life After Death” sometimes sounds like the work of a ghostwriter. But the book reprints enough handwritten pages of Mr. Echols’s prison writing to make it very clear that the literary talent is entirely his. He was still in the ninth grade at the age of 17, but he is an autodidact who read thousands of books while incarcerated. And, as the documentary footage of his arrest and trial make clear, he is someone with a strong, single-minded personal style.

The mere fact of his survival in prison becomes more miraculous as his death row stories unfold. Sometimes he was entirely isolated. Sometimes he was surrounded by people he regarded as demonstrably insane, and their bizarre behavior is well documented here. (Especially memorable: a man with crickets Scotch-taped all over his body.) Mr. Echols makes a fiercely persuasive case against the execution of prisoners not lucid enough to understand what is being done to them. He cites one man who expected to finish eating his piece of pie after his execution.

Even in moments of deepest despair Mr. Echols found ways to toughen himself. And they are not the usual methods found in prison memoirs. “I was much more flexible in mind and body as a youth,” he writes, about the difficulty of absorbing each new horror. But he developed a strong spirituality. He fell in love and got married. (He has much to say about his wife, Lorri, who had no reason to think he would ever be free when their courtship began.) And he already had the advantage of an odd perspective, one that found happiness in dark winter nights and extreme physical conditions. “Today my feet bled through two pairs of socks,” he writes. “It was bliss.”

Mr. Echols’s prison story is not consistent in tone. As he wrote in an earlier, self-published book, “Almost Home,” which is partly incorporated here, he felt hopeless and ghostly for a long time. That’s the mood early in “Life After Death,” but he gradually begins seeing glints of light. He learns that Axl Rose has been spotted in a West Memphis Three T-shirt. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, prompted by “Paradise Lost,” tries to get in touch with Mr. Echols’s lawyer (who at first doesn’t recognize Mr. Vedder’s name). And Peter Jackson brings his “Lord of the Rings” clout to aiding the defense effort for Mr. Echols. Mr. Jackson, a producer of “West of Memphis,” helped pay for the DNA testing that helped persuade the State of Arkansas to back off.

Now Mr. Echols, who may love heavy metal but cites a Medici as a role model, is a free man with his own celebrity aura. He has written a haunting book, and the story it tells is hardly over. He is living out a sequel that is no less strange and magickal than what he has already been through.

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Old 09-20-2012, 05:11 PM
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Re: Damien Echols (West Memphis 3) Writes Book

Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyPox View Post
Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, prompted by “Paradise Lost,” tries to get in touch with Mr. Echols’s lawyer
Army Reserve is such an awesome song; penned by Echols/Vedder

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Old 09-20-2012, 06:05 PM
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Re: Damien Echols (West Memphis 3) Writes Book

This sounds like a good read. Will be reading this.

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Old 09-21-2012, 06:24 PM
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Re: Damien Echols (West Memphis 3) Writes Book

I'm so happy he and the other two guys finally got their freedom back while they could still enjoy some of their lives!

There wasn't one speck of evidence against them.

If this was the first case you ever watched, you should have recognized that fact. Ray Charles saw it!

The one boy's stepfather was guilty since Day One.

The biggest mouth is usually the guilty one.

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Old 09-21-2012, 06:53 PM
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Re: Damien Echols (West Memphis 3) Writes Book

Cannot wait to read his book.

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Old 09-21-2012, 08:27 PM
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Re: Damien Echols (West Memphis 3) Writes Book

Certainly an interesting read

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Old 09-22-2012, 12:32 AM
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Will be reading ASAP.

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Old 09-22-2012, 01:34 AM
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Re: Damien Echols (West Memphis 3) Writes Book

I'll wait and see if he puts it out on audio book.

I like to listen to them while driving.

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Old 09-22-2012, 02:20 AM
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I was gonna see if it's on kindle cause it will read it to me on road trips. ;)

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