on September 18, 2012
I'm not the book reviewer in my family but this book moved me so much that I felt compelled to post a review.
The broad range of emotions I felt while reading "Life After Death" is unlike anything I have ever experienced from written words. It was truly emotionally draining. Laughter, hate, disgust, sadness, hope, happiness, joy, wonder, amazement... Maybe it is because I have followed the case for years, read every book published, court transcripts, watched the media coverage as well as the films. I feel close to these men I have never met. You would think knowing the ending, I would not have broken down in sobs, but I did. There are many realities out there that we go through life without ever knowing...
It blew my mind that this man, that failed two grades in school, never graduated, was wrongly convicted of murder and spent 18 years, pretty much in solitary confinement could write like he does. His mind is brilliant and his writing will move you. When he writes of his love for his now wife it will melt you, when he describes his hell (prison) you will feel despair and hopelessness...
"Life After Death" is not about the case. It is about Damien's life before and during prison and just a little after being released (it went to editing only 6 months after his release from death row). It is a book that will make you want to change the prison system and leave you wondering how such an injustice could happen in America (and does on a regular basis).
Read this book! It is worth your time. It just might change your life or at the very least make you pause and wonder how you can help right such injustices. It will cause you to take notice of how very blessed you are and as Damien hopes make you aware of all the "magick" around you.
There was one paragraph towards the end of the book about an Arkansas law, that suggests they may execute a prisoner in any way they see fit. I am not sure this is an acurate statement. The US Constitution will supersede any state law that is in direct conflict with its provisions (except those specifically reserved for the states). So if there is an Arkansas state law that allows the warden to choose the method of execution, that law would be valid insofar as it does not conflict with the Constitution prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment. Such as starving an inmate to death which I belive is suggested in the chapter this law is mentioned.
I believe there was a court hearing earlier this year about the Arkansas law and that it was deemed unconstitutional. The focus of that case was on the chemicals used for executions so I am not sure if the wording lead some to think that the warden had full control over the method used. But then that is what courts are for not to write laws but to interpret them.
on September 18, 2012
I just would like to start out by saying I own Damien's first book "Almost Home." If you were fortunate enough to read that book, the first half of Life After Death is a condensed version of Almost Home. So I was very familiar with the stories of what happened to Damien growing up. I honestly wish for everyone who is interested in Damien and his life that they would republish Almost Home. His stories of his life before jail go into so much more detail then they do in Life After Death. As I was reading his stories of growing up, you can't help but feel sorry for him. He grew up in the worst possible poverty, and was surrounded by family who should've done a better job caring for him and loving him. Not only did I feel sad for him, but I was sickened by how he was treated and what he had to endure as a kid. And then to think that this was the better part of his life before being arrested. It just makes you so grateful for everything you have in life. And you realize how important your family really are to you.
Into the 2nd half of the book Damien tells some prison stories about the convicts he was housed with, and things that went on while he was incarcerated. I will admit, I was worried Damien might go into graphic detail about the physical pain he endured while in prison. (Having read the letters that would be posted from him on a WM3 website while he was in jail, there was stuff he told that just made you sick to your stomach.) Don't get me wrong, he does explain how frustrating and hard it is to survive, but you're able to get through it and read on.
The book also publishes those letters that I've read through the years on the website while Damien was incarcerated.
If you are a supporter of Damien's and have read everything out there about him on the internet, along with his 1st book, you really won't learn much from this book. That's why I only gave this review 4 stars. I honestly was hoping the book would go into more detail about all the legal stuff he went through while in prison. He does say he let his wife Lorri handle all that stuff. I think a book by Lorri and everything she's been through since meeting Damien would be fascinating.
I'm going to assume that since Almost Home is no longer in print, Damien wanted to make sure all his supporters had the opportunity to learn about his life growing up. With that said, I could not put this book down once I started reading it. Damien has a gift to write, and I thoroughly enjoy what he puts on paper. I recommend eveyrone who has any interest in this case, or who support Damien please read this book.
Also, on a personal level, if you know anyone who thinks their lives are bad, buy them a copy of this book. They will read it and realize that things could be so much worse in life!
on September 19, 2012
For me, this story was compelling for a couple of reasons. I have read most every book, blog, article written about the WM3, including a book written from John Mark Byers point of view. To be able to read Damien's journey, from his perspective, his own experiences...to see behind the iron curtain that was his prosecution and incarceration...was fascinating and emotional.
Everything I knew about Damien had been what I saw in documentaries or read from other authors. To learn about his childhood, and it's aftermath, in his own words, felt deeply personal and I could not put this (Kindle) book down. I was struck at how eloquent and well spoken Damien is, and he's what I would call a natural story teller. He's clearly a complex, intelligent, and spirited man, who has suffered many life challenges, both pre-trial, and most certainly post-trial.
Using a compassionate voice, full of introspection, Damien shares stories of his life, from the horrible, to the humorous. I appreciated that Damien didn't dive into the details of the trial, as the end of the book contains a fairly inclusive exploration of the evidence/trial, convictions, and 2011 release.
This memoir is one that will stay with you, after you read the last page.
on September 19, 2012
I literally finished reading "Life After Death" just seconds ago. I feel compelled to share my thoughts immediately because Damien Echols' harrowing book deserves nothing less than instant respect and admiration.
I became aware of his ghastly plight in 2010, while watching an episode of 48 Hrs. on CBS. My wife and I were fully prepared to sneer at the woman (Lorri Davis) who had married the child-killer (Damien Nichols) behind bars; how sad, how gross, how utterly pathetic. After all, he and two others had been thoroughly convicted in a court of law of carrying out one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. Surely, those who wear a law enforcement badge and carry a gavel and 12 jurors would know what's best and who's really guilty, right?
However, by the end of the program we were both gasping out loud and practically screaming at our television set: what an ungodly nightmare! Is this really happening, in our country?! Can't anyone with half a brain cell figure out that THESE GUYS DIDN'T DO IT?!
Horrified, but energized, I dove for my computer, looking up anything and everything devoted to the case. I went over every single court document that is available online. I listened to hours of recorded testimony. I read "Devil's Knot" and watched both Paradise Lost documentaries in slack-jawed horror. I told anyone who would listen about the case, and quickly learned that there were so many more who were as outraged as I. Not given to causes, per se, I was surprised to find myself wearing a "Free The West Memphis 3" t-shirt, and was asked about it wherever I went.
The unacceptable horror, for me, was not just that there was (and is) a real killer on the loose who has yet to pay for their crimes, but that three young men were literally rotting in jail for something they clearly did not do. I felt that in some small way, spreading the word both in person and on the Internet would somehow keep hope alive. Fast forward to 2011, when news broke that a possible deal had been reached that could set these innocent men free. When I first saw the news on CNN I literally lost the ability to speak clearly for several minutes; it took awhile before my wife could even understand what news I was trying to relate!
I have been watching them as closely I can since their release, from a respectful distance. How I'd love to smother them with congratulations in person, but ultimately it is THEIR victory, not ours. I can never know the true horror of what they endured, but Damien's book brought me disturbingly close to what it must have been like.
How frightening it is to contemplate that such an interesting, funny, thoughtful and sensitive writer was nearly snuffed out by a crazed justice system. It is obvious from the earliest portions of his story that Damien has a writer's mind and eye; his ability to pull the reader fully under his own skin- if only for a moment- is uncanny. You might find yourself punching unfortunate nearby inanimate objects as his tale of misfortune unfolds- at least, I certainly did, as one maddening injustice follows another. You might find yourself welling up with tears- as I did, while he explains (with poetic intensity) his love of Charlie Brown holiday specials- how safe and joyous they made him feel as a youth. I suspect and I pray that the same good-hearted, sensitive young lad that he describes is still very much with us, despite all the hardship and trauma he has endured. His book seems to be profound evidence of that.
on September 19, 2012
Did you ever see the Pirates of the Caribbean movie in which there is a discussion about the Pirates' Code and Captain Barbossa (I believe) says the Code is regarded as 'guidelines' rather than law. Yeah...
Welcome to Arkansas, where the sheriff in one county kept a jar containing the castrated parts of a man accused of raping the Governor's cousin. Speaking of our former Governor, the then-future PotUS allegedly was involved in the selling of tainted blood which was harvested from prisoners. Where a religious leader displayed his deceased wife's body for months after her death and commanded their followers to pray for her resurrection. We have our own version of cray-cray down here, and little things like Due Process are mere suggestions.
Is it any surprise that three 'misfits' in a small poverty-stricken rural area were tried and convicted of murder in spite of the lack of concrete evidence? It was a modern day witch hunt, pure and simple.
What is surprising is the fact that Echols found the strength and determination to rise above circumstances that would have reduced a lesser person (such as myself) to a sobbing ball of self pity. I think this book resonated so strongly with me because I followed the story basically from day one. I was a senior in high school when the murders occurred and I began college that fall in Northeast Arkansas. I remember watching the news and rabidly questioning my friends and acquaintances who had grown up in and around West Memphis. Like many WASP-y types, I was a sheeple who followed the popular opinion that they were guilty because of the way they dressed, the books they read, the music they liked...
Years later I saw the HBO documentary and became re-interested in the case. I began to see the fallacies in the investigation and began to believe in the WM3. I read Mara's well-written book and that other sensationalized piece of pulp. Websites news articles, I followed them all.
To me, this book reads almost as if you are having a one-on-one conversation with Echols himself. His writing in poignant, honest and 'real'. I know this is meant to be a book review but I have to add that I watched him on Anderson Live yesterday and was impressed so very much with how he presented himself, especially when someone asked about Miskelley's 'confession'. I think he has found the inner peace he was seeking.
I highly recommend this book. As another reviewer mentioned, the first half contains material from "Almost Home". However I don't think it took away from the overall reading experience. Damien has been to Hell on Earth and back, and somehow he still finds beauty and magick every day.
This book is not an easy one for me to review. I came to it not knowing what it was about and it took a while to connect it to the infamous "West Memphis Three" murder case. The author Damien Echols was from a dysfunctional family that drifted around and Damien was always something of an outsider in school. In a small town like West Memphis, Arkansas, he stood out. He did not have a criminal history but was accustomed to being tracked by the local law officials who were suspicious of anyone different. When he was 18 he was suddenly accused, along with two of his friends, of being in a Satanic cult that murdered three young boys. The wheels of justice spun rapidly (and apparently very unjustly) and with little evidence convicted him and he spent the next 18 years in prison.
Echols is an uneducated and not particularly sophisticated guy and yet he is definitely a talented writer. The book seethes with his anger, agony and frustration (amply justified) but there is also a simplistic approach to it - all the good guys are very good and all the bad guys are bad to the core. I think this lessens the impact of what is still a powerful story. I also think the book could have been pulled together better - it ranges from memories of childhood to glimpses into the legal issues and many many pages of shocking stories of prison life. (It is those prison stories that keep you reading.) But I found it too disconnected. Nevertheless it is a powerful book (great picture on the cover BTW).
The case is not over - he and his two friends are free but they have not been fully cleared. They have a lot of media support and hopefully the legal issues will be resolved. Echols is like a fish out of water right now - free but not cleared and forced to stay in the public eye despite his basic reclusive nature in order to keep the case alive. He is undoubtedly a very strong person to survive his incredible death row years. I hope he finds some closure and peace in his life and am very happy that he has such a devoted wife and so many supporters.
on December 6, 2012
No matter what your views on crime and punishment in the United States in general, or on the death penalty in particular, Damien Echols' memoir is certain to move you, challenge you, and devastate you. I only became aware of the "West Memphis Three" story a few years ago. I've since watched the HBO "Paradise Lost" documentaries with alternating degrees of sympathy and horror. I've always wanted to believe that our justice system functions (mostly) fairly and objectively, despite the occasional awful revelations of prisoners wrongfully imprisoned for years or even executed. Surely these were anomalies. Tales of brutality by prison guards? Well, those guys had it coming as an additional dose of punishment for their crimes. Echols' beautiful and heart-breaking memoir has forced me to examine my beliefs.
If you have not watched the three "Paradise Lost" documentaries, please do so, as they extensively cover the mind-bogglingly corrupt investigation into the murders of three young boys and the ensuing trial that landed Echols on Death Row and his two co-defendants with life sentences. In particular, the final documentary, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, summarizes the first two films, and includes the events leading up to the trio's long-awaited freedom. Echols devotes very little time to these events because so much information is already available, but readers of his memoir should view them in order to gain a more complete picture of this travesty. Instead, Echols focuses on his impoverished upbringing and his eighteen years on Death Row, as he and others fought for his exoneration. When he writes of the stifling heat in the tiny, tin-roofed shack he inhabited in his childhood, you can almost feel it yourself. When he writes of mosquitoes feasting on his flesh in his prison cell, I could feel my own skin crawl.
The prison life he depicts is much like what we all imagine from movies and TV shows: abusive guards, horrible food, lack of sleep, etc. But Echols informs us that sadistic guards are the norm, rather than the exception. We also learn about the overwhelming filth, both of the prison itself and of some of the inmates due to their less than stellar hygiene practices. His misery in his cell due to cold winters was dwarfed only by the stifling summers. Time ceases to have any meaning other than bringing him closer to execution. Echols also writes in depth of his spiritual journey that led him from being raised Protestant to exploring Catholicism on his own as a teen. His general thirst for knowledge and his keen interest in spirituality led to an ongoing study of Buddhism while he was imprisoned.
It's hard to believe that if not for a couple of filmmakers who decided to make a documentary of the trial of the so-called "satanic" murders of three children, Echols may be dead today. These filmmakers quickly realized that the real story was not about Satanism, but rather it was about the entire Arkansas justice system that was willing to throw away the lives of Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. They were garbage - poor white trash, so what did it matter? Who cares if a sick child-killer is still on the loose as long as the public's bloodlust was sated? Evidence clearing the involvement of the three was not enough for the courts; it was only years of effort on the parts of Echols' supporters - celebrities and otherwise, and most significantly, his tireless wife, Lorri - that finally forced Arkansas to act. In other words, Echols was freed not by the normal means of little things like evidence, DNA, and alibi, but rather by public shame, scorn, and embarrassment from which Arkansas could no longer hide.
I've finished this book, but I still can't stop thinking about it. It depicts a life that I can barely imagine, but Echols depicts it all unflinchingly and without an ounce of self-pity, to which he is certainly more than entitled. There will never be another memoir like this, not only because Echols' beautiful writing skill is unlikely to be possessed by any other death row inmate, but also because any who have been wrongfully convicted are unlikely to be spared like Echols.
on January 8, 2013
"Life After Death" certainly has its moments, but the author and his editor(s) were unable to craft a coherent narrative from a wealth of material. Echols' story is often compelling, but the book jumps from present to past and back again so many times it's hard to follow. Some chapters read like first draft, stream of consciousness musings, not a finished product. Toward the end of the book reproductions of Echols' prison journals take the place of new text, a curious editorial decision at best. And last but not least there's the constant use of "magick", a made up word not to be found in the dictionary. Maybe Echols insisted on a certain degree of artistic control, but I thinks his editor(s)could have done more to make this story more readable.
on September 24, 2012
This book had me experience every emotion there is over and over. The treatment that is described by Mr. Echols by the very system that is supposed to be there to "protect and serve" sounded like it was coming from a third world country that did not believe in human rights. i only hope that with time these three men are exhonerated of all wrong doing and the people that are responsible for all of it are held accountable be it by the law or their very own karma. Mr. Echols is an intelligent, strong, spiritual inspiration that we could all learn from. I am overjoyed to see that he in the end has found complete happiness with his wife Lorri who is also an inspiration for all the support, hard work and love she provided Mr. Echols to keep him going until his release.
on September 20, 2012
I have been a supporter of Damien and the WM3 since first seeing Paradise Lost in 1996. I have followed, donated, sent post cards, and read everything I could find on this case through the years. I cried with joy the day they were set free, and I think about how he must be adjusting to this new world often. So about the book.... What moved and suprised me the most was his amazing intellect and humor. Damien tells his horrific story, not for sympathy or shock or even to get revenge on those who cast him into hell, but to share his journey of survival. Not only for 18 years of unjust and inhuman incarceration, but as a young boy and from his own family. His writing is elegant and comes easy helping shed insight into the tiniest of molecules of hope he was able to grab onto, enabling him to stay in this world, and not slip into the abyss he was contantly being dragged down in. Every once in awhile his wit shines through and I found myself smiling. What an inspriation he is to the human spirit. That alone is worth the price of this book.