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Life After Death by Damien Echols

Life After Death (edition 2012)

by Damien Echols

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Damien Echols is one of the West Memphis Three, three teenagers who were tried and convicted of the murders of three eight year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. Prosecutors alleged that the killings were part of satanic rituals and that Damien was the leader of the group. Damien was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelley Jr. was sentenced to life plus two 20-year terms, and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The three spent nearly 20 years in prison before new dna evidence emerged neither matching the victims or the defendants and the West Memphis Three were offered a plea deal allowing them to be released.

I cannot say wether or not I believe Damien's claims to innocence but the book was very interesting and kept my attention throughout. I do recommend it as a good read. ( )
  clayhollow | Apr 8, 2014 |
Given how horrific the ordeal Damien Echols went through was (years spent on Death Row for a crime he didn't commit), it feels a bit churlish to give his memoir a low rating--but this book was a disappointment to me.

The title "Life After Death" made me expect a focus on the process through which he and the other members of the "West Memphis Three" were finally freed from prison and perhaps some thoughts about what it's been like to readjust to life outside. Instead, more than half the book is given over to rambling recollections of his childhood which don't have much of a connection to the case and in which Echols comes across as arrogant and decidedly lacking in sympathy for other people. While this might be forgivable if Echols were a better writer, much of the prose in these sections is clunky and tedious to get through.

Echols does do a superb job of evoking the horrors of Death Row later in the book and there *are* some worthwhile passages there, but it takes a very, very long time to get to them.

I do have a lot of admiration for Echols' strength in surviving his hellish experiences and am impressed that he has done so without being overcome by anger and hatred. I just wish the book had explored his case and departure from Death Row in greater detail and that the passages dealing with his childhood had been edited down a bit! ( )
  mrlzbth | Feb 6, 2014 |
An awesome, intelligent account of an amazing injustice. The detail with which the author recounts his life is mesmerizing. It is obvious that he possesses extraordinary perception. And more than that, his language does not fall short at any moment of the ability to express that perception. ( )
  cliffhays | Dec 27, 2013 |
recommended by: Joy

I’d like to see the 2 documentaries and given how overbooked I am, perhaps I should have just seen them and not read this book, but I’m glad I read it. I plan to see the films too, and take a look at the several websites listed in the book.

I knew life was unfair by the time I was 7, and never screamed out the commonly used line by children that (something) isn’t fair, but some things are utterly ridiculous. What happened to the author is one of those things.

This account was more horrifying that most fictional horror tales. The more prison memoirs I read, the more I’m appalled. I’ve been against the death penalty since I was a kid, and the more I know, the more I’m convinced that even incarceration should be just for those truly dangerous to society (many penitentiary workers would qualify!) and then they’d better make sure those imprisoned really are guilty of the crimes of which they’re convicted.

I’m wondering if the real killer(s) have been brought to justice, or if they’re known. One man was briefly mentioned in this account but I don’t know if there has been any follow up with that.

Our “justice” system needs an overhaul, at least in many places. Our punishment system is abysmal and there really is no excuse.

I appreciate that this book is an autobiography and covers his early life and not just the period starting with his arrest and incarceration.

I don't relate to the spiritual practices so important to the author and I'm uncomfortable with some of his judgmental attitudes, and derogatory things he writes about some people, some who I can see deserve it but many who I don’t think do, but his perspective is very interesting, though I don’t think he’s always rigorously honest with himself, including re his “suicide attempt” though I’m glad he survived.

It was an eye opener to read about all described here.

While this book is thought provoking and infuriating, I mostly hope it's a catalyst for change in the "justice" system.

I think this book should be required reading for all who work in the prison system and the court system, all law enforcement officers, all college students who plan to work (even tangentially) in the field, and this would also be a great “scared straight” kind of book for high risk youth and young adults.

Maximum security prison areas in American prisons would be considered by us to be cruel and unusual (and inhumane) punishment if we were to evaluate them in any other country. It’s bad enough that people guilty of their crimes are there. The fact that there are innocent people there, including some on death rows, including some of those executed, should have every reader wanting to lobby for change.

And shame on so many people who are written about in this book.

I wish nothing but the best for Echols and others in similar situations. ( )
1 vote Lisa2013 | Jul 20, 2013 |
Life After Death tells an amazing story of survival—an innocent man condemned to 18 years on death row. When I imagine something like that happening to me, I feel like I would go insane.

I read the book because I saw Mr. Echols being interviewed a few months ago on CNN and I was very impressed at his calm demeanor. He did not seem angry or bitter. I bought the book as a gesture of support, since the Arkansas justice department had forced him to accept a deal that, with his release, would not allow him to seek redress from the state for his years of unjust imprisonment.

This is a rare glimpse inside Death Row by an intelligent, sensitive man.

His story reminded me of a Chinese story I heard, called "Who Knows What is Good or Bad?" You can read my blog post here: http://kathleenbrugger.blogspot.com/2012/12/who-knows-whats-good-or-bad.html> ( )
1 vote KatieBrugger | Jun 6, 2013 |
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Silently I sit by. Watching men pace their cells Like leopards. Bring their nails With furrowed brows. The scene speaks for itself. - Damien Echols, Varner Super Maximum Security Unit, Grady, Arkansas
For Lorri
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Saint Raymond Nonnatus, never was it known that anyone who implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided.
"December tastes like Hershey's Kisses. The month of December and those little Herhsey Kisses are conncected in a way that I can't quite articulate. For me, at least. I do know that eating a Hershey's Kiss is like an act of commniun-like taking a tiny taste of December into myself. I don't like to eat them any other times of the year, because I don't want that special association to fade....My favorite time of the year is from Dec 20 until sunrise of Dec 25. During that stretch of time I can feel the entire world come to an absolute standstill. On these few days the hair on the back of my neck stands on end, and the world feels like a pendulum that has swung all the way to one side and hangs suspended for a split second before beginning the reverse swing., At sunrise of Dec 25 the spell is broken and we begin the swing back in the other direction. Those magickal days are gone for another year, and my vigil starts all over again....When I picture heaven, I see a place where it's always December, every radio station plays hair band, and every time I check my pockets they're full of Hershey's Kisses. There's a Christmas parade on every street, every day is my birthday, and the sun always sets at 4:58 pm."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399160205, Hardcover)

In 1993, teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.—who have come to be known as the West Memphis Three—were arrested for the murders of three eight-year-old boys in Arkansas. The ensuing trial was marked by tampered evidence, false testimony, and public hysteria. Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison; while eighteen-year-old Echols, deemed the “ringleader,” was sentenced to death. Over the next two decades, the WM3 became known worldwide as a symbol of wrongful conviction and imprisonment, with thousands of supporters and many notable celebrities who called for a new trial. In a shocking turn of events, all three men were released in August 2011.
Now Echols shares his story in full—from abuse by prison guards and wardens, to portraits of fellow inmates and deplorable living conditions, to the incredible reserves of patience, spirituality, and perseverance that kept him alive and sane while incarcerated for nearly two decades.

In these pages, Echols reveals himself a brilliant writer, infusing his narrative with tragedy and irony in equal measure: he describes the terrors he experienced every day and his outrage toward the American justice system, and offers a firsthand account of living on Death Row in heartbreaking, agonizing detail. Life After Death is destined to be a riveting, explosive classic of prison literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:40 -0400)

Falsely accused of murdering three eight-year-old boys in Arkansas, eighteen-year-old Echols, deemed the "ringleader" of the West Memphis Three, was sentenced to death. Then in August 2011 the WMT were released. In these pages, Echols describes the terrors he experienced every day and his outrage toward the American justice system, and offers a firsthand account of living on Death Row in heartbreaking, agonizing detail.… (more)

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