Book Title: Life After Death
Author: Damien Echols
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Age Appropriate: Adult
Stars: 4 Stars
Description: 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.
This book was full of “I’s”: Interesting, infuriating, internal and most of all, inspiring.
Interesting: I was already familiar with the WM3 case from the HBO documentaries, but this story told a more personal side of Echols childhood, events leading up the arrest and his time spent on death row. I loved hearing the story from his perspective.
Infuriating: At times it was hard to stay impartial when you hear how poorly the kids were treated by the authorities. Plus how prejudice and bullying lead to circumstances that spun wildly out of control. I know many people think, “this could have been me.” Which I believe is why the WM3 garnered so much support over the years.
Internal: Echols opens up and shares snippets of what feelings and trials go through the head of someone on death row. Granted, this is by no means a “woe is me” story, yes there are times of despair, but there are also times of astounding beauty.
Inspiring: How can someone who spent 20 years wrongly imprisoned be so passionate, full of life and filled with positive energy? It was a long difficult road, but Echols came out the other side mostly intact. If only all of us had that strength.