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Life After Death Hardcover – September 18, 2012
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“Damien Echols spent eighteen years on death row for murders he did not commit. Somehow, in the depths of his unspeakable nightmare, he found the courage and strength not only to survive, but to grow, to create, to forgive, and to understand. Life After Death is a brilliant, haunting, painful, and uplifting narrative of a hopeless childhood, a wrongful conviction, a brutal incarceration, and the beginning of a new life.”
“Wrongfully imprisoned by willfully ignorant cops, prosecutors and judge, Damien Echols draws on all his wits and his unique view of humanity to survive eighteen years on death row. My admiration for him, and the strength of his spirit, increases with every page.”
—Sir Peter Jackson, Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter
“I am in awe of Damien's ability to write so beautifully, with such ease, humor and honesty—this is inspired storytelling, a wonderful book!”
—Fran Walsh, Academy Award-winning screenwriter, composer and producer
“The life of Damien Echols is a journey similar to that of the metal that becomes a samurai’s sword. Heated and pounded until it becomes hardened, it can hold its edge for centuries. It is incredible that Damien endured and survived one of the most tragic miscarriages of American justice, and emerged such a centered, articulate and extraordinary man and writer. Life After Death proves that he paid dearly for his wisdom.”
“Exceptional memoir by the most famous of the West Memphis Three. [B]are facts alone would make for an interesting story. However, Echols is at heart a poet and mystic, and he has written not just a quickie one-off book to capitalize on a lurid news story, but rather a work of art that occasionally bears a resemblance to the work of Jean Genet. A voracious reader all his life, Echols vividly tells his story, from his impoverished childhood in a series of shacks and mobile homes to his emergence after half a lifetime behind bars as a psychically scarred man rediscovering freedom in New York City. The author also effectively displays his intelligence and sensitivity, qualities the Arkansas criminal justice system had no interest in recognizing during Echols’ ordeal. Essential reading.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“This is a stunning piece of work. Such hope while faced with injustice. Damien teaches us how to live.”
“[Echols’] case garnered worldwide attention, but [his] memoir is about as far away from a publicity-seeking I-was-wronged story as possible. The author opts for a meatier, and certainly more haunting, account of his life behind bars, coupled with flashbacks to his childhood....Echols is a talented writer, and when the book dips into his own spiritual and philosophical beliefs...it achieves the kind of emotional resonance that many similar books lack....A tragic and often disturbing story."
"Damien Echols suffered a shocking miscarriage of justice. A nightmare few could endure. An innocent man on death row for more than eighteen years, abused by the very system we all fund. His story will appall, fascinate, and render you feeble with tears and laughter. A brilliant memoir to battle with literary giants of the calibre of Jean Genet, Gregory David Roberts, and Dostoevsky."
“[T]his is an eloquent, even bitterly lyrical, portrayal of how an innocent man can slip through the cracks of the legal system and struggle to survive. Compelling and deeply moving, in the tradition of Helen Prejean’s Dead Man Walking and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, this memoir will appeal to a wide audience.”
—Library Journal (starred)
“In this searing, finely wrought memoir, Echols recalls his poverty-stricken childhood, the trial of the West Memphis 3, and the harsh realities of life on death row … The most affecting sections are Echols’s philosophical musings on all he has lost, his thoughts often influenced by Zen Buddhism. In one journal entry that survived the guards’ purge, Echols contemplates what he misses the most while in prison. The answer is a heart-wrenching and simple commentary on American prison life: ‘In the end it’s not the fruit I miss most... I miss being treated like a human being.’”
—Publisher’s Weekly (starred)
“[A] tale of romance, resilience, and the power of the written word.”
—Stephanie Palumbo, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Echols is a writer whose talent is commensurate with the task of telling this story....The man who has emerged from death row at last is not quite a hero, but he’s something far more interesting: an artist—and, most definitely, well worth meeting.”
—Laura Miller, Salon.com
“Gripping…Echols has already lived a remarkable life, one forged in tragedy and all manner of iniquity. That he is able to write so movingly about the many trials he endured speaks volumes about his intellect and character.”
—Jesse Singal, The Boston Globe
About the Author
Damien Echols was born in 1974 and grew up in Mississippi, Tennessee, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. At age eighteen he was wrongfully convicted of murder, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley, Jr. Echols received a death sentence and spent almost eighteen years on Death Row, until he, Baldwin, and Misskelley were released in 2011. The West Memphis Three have been the subject of Paradise Lost, a three-part documentary series produced by HBO, and West of Memphis, a documentary produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Echols is the author of a self-published memoir, Almost Home. He and his wife, Lorri Davis, live in New York City.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.