Damien Echols: Love After Death

11 Nov

Last Wednesday Henry Rollins and Damien Echols hosted an event at the New York Public library in promotion for the book “Life After Death” written by Mr. Echols.
By Pam Quinn (writer)

The West Memphis Three.

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Those of you whom don’t know what that is, should definitely read about it. It’s one of many incidences where the flaws of our judicial systems have ruined the lives of innocent people.  In 1994 Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were convicted of murdering three young boys in West Memphis Arkansas. Damien Echols, considered the ‘ring leader’ of the crime, suffered 18 years on death row and was finally released in 2011.

In his book “Life After Death”, Damien mentions what a close connection to winter he feels and how when it snows, something beautiful happens inside of him. Well, the night of his conversation with Henry Rollins at the New York Public Library, the grounds of New York City felt that very snow that Damien looks forward to now since his release.

 

304456_10151154471896902_1017487111_nHenry Rollins and Damien Echols in a conversation at the New York Public Library

Damien has been a hero of mine for some time now, alongside every innocent person suffering time in prison. Damien’s story also stands out because of a very special woman named Lorri Davis.

486310_10151154395976902_972257403_nMe with Lorri at The New York Public Library

 Lorri Davis, in 1996, saw the HBO documentary “Paradise Lost” which chronicles the beginning stages of the trial that would lead to the wrongful imprisonment of the West Memphis 3. She was intensely affected by the documentary and felt so strongly for Damien’s innocence that she wrote him a letter saying so. While he was in prison, Damien received Lorri’s letter regarding her feelings about the case. She felt a strong kinship with Damien as she too was from the South and was very aware of how “jusitice” worked down there. From the very first letter, Damien knew he was in love. She began her letter by stating how sorry she was to invade any kind privacy he was entitled to, but hadn’t experienced much of, since the case had gone so public. This act of thoughtfulness was so different from the support letters he had received thus far. They began writing each other and he would starve for her responses. The first day they spoke on the phone, he called and just asked “Are you okay?” Her heart leaped into her throat as she answered him and began her first conversation with the man she would one day marry.

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For four years Lorri kept her relationship with Damien pretty private from her family. I mean, how would your family reach if they knew you were falling in love with a man on death row? Two years after she began contact with Damien she moved to Arkansas so she could be closer with him and work more diligently on his case with the ultimate goal of getting him exonerated.

The first time they ever touched each other was the day of their wedding. Shortly before their wedding, Lorri introduced her family to the situation and while they were shocked and extremely concerned at first, they educated themselves on the case and Damien and soon enough, became part of his family.

In 1999, they were married in the prison. This was the first time they were able to have physical contact with each other, and due to the post traumatic stress Damien had been through, it was a very overwhelming thing to have someone tenderly touch you for the first time in that many years. When asked what the daily maintenance of their relationship was like, Lorri stated the following:

         “We talked every day. Most of the time we started out each morning. And the phone calls were 15 minutes long and they were very expensive, so we had to be very disciplined about how many times we talked, but almost always we talked         more than once. And then it finally got to a point where I had to schedule and budget how many times we could talk in a         week without completely devastating my bank account. My phone bills were $500 a month and those were just his calls.

         We saw each other once a week for three hours. And we wrote every day. We were never really alone. We could be in a         room together but there would be other people visiting there. There would be times when no one else was visiting and then         a guard would walk through every now and then, and those were nice, but it was very seldom that we were completely         alone together. “

Lorri and Damien’s relationship is so unique and inspiring. Mostly because Lorri played such a HUGE role in the steps leading to Damien’s release from death row in 2011. I only hope that I meet someone who cares about me an ounce of the amount those two care for one another.  Lorri’s voice, and the accumulative voices of his supporters, were heard and the State of Arkansas granted the three men Alford pleas which Wikipedia likes to call the I’m guilty, but I didn’t do it plea. Basically the state of Arkansas didn’t want to be sued by The West Memphis 3 for being wrongfully imprisoned so they had the men sign this absurd plea which stated even though they’re being released, the state had enough evidence to convict them (even though no physical evidence linking these three men to the crime scene were found). Baldwin, originally refusing the plea, changed his mind due to the knowledge that this would be the only way to release Damien from death row. The plea is absolute bullshit so Damien, Lorri and their team struggle every day, to this day, for complete exoneration from the 1993 murders of Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch.

In December of 2012, a movie called “West of Memphis” will be released, which documents the emotional story of Damien Echols’s journey from a life of poverty, to wrongful imprisonment, to becoming an author released from an 18 year hell on death row into the arms of his loving wife, Lorri Davis. I highly recommend you go see it. It will be my Christmas present to myself.

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One Response to “Damien Echols: Love After Death”

  1. Eddie 2012 at : #

    Their story is indeed beautiful and a never-ending inspiration. I fear that you will join the prison pen pal program as a result. Be safe, Pam.

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