Book Review: Life After Death by Damien Echols
You want to see some truly scary stuff? Real-life scary? You must watch the documentary Paradise Lost and all it’s follow up films. They are fascinating and brutal movies about the murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Tennessee and the subsequent railroading of three teenagers for the killings. Labeling the three Satanists because they listened to heavy metal music and one the prosecution labelled the ringleader had an interest in the occult..he had checked out books on the subject from the local library.
I watched the original movie (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills) back in the late 90’s and I came away from it not totally convinced that the teenagers were innocent. I was 100% positive that the Memphis police department was as incompetent as could be, at least on this case. They saw black clothing, heavy metal and interest in Aleister Crowley and decided that these boys did it…no need to look any farther.
I will not go over the case here (it is all in the films), but it became clear that the convicted had nothing to do with the masochistic murders. Many a celebrity felt the same way. Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines were all very vocal in calling for a new trail for the boys who became known as the West Memphis Three. Henry Rollins put together a benefit album with funds going to help out with the legal bills. After 18 years in prison they were finally released in 2011.
This memoir is heartbreaking, nostalgic and above all a story of survival against injustice and the brutal existence of life on death row. Damien grew up dirt poor and pictured himself as a misfit. He expresses that ‘the world is against me’ vibe throughout the book and tends to give off contempt for humanity, which is understandable with what he has been through. He comes across as a narcissist. What I mean to say is that Damien does not seem that ‘likable’, but being self-centered is not a crime.
The book is highly entertaining with the recounting of his upbringing, the trial and his years in prison. He is a capable writer until he forces the poetic pseudo-intellectual babble. He writes endlessly of magik (yep, spelled with a ‘k’), winter and his patch-work religious philosophy.
Here is an example of his cumbersome passages…
Everyone puts on their Sunday best and pays tribute to religion’s slaughterhouse and then dines at the cannibal communion. People put their backs to the stone in the field and push until their entrails rupture, and they drag their meals from the earth with bleeding hands. Education is foreign to the sunburned beasts of burden, and the painkiller comes in black-labeled Tennessee bottles.
Okay, in fairness the whole book is not like that…but when he goes off on one of those ‘I must be a writer’ sections it is flat out dull. The book is insightful to the life of a death row inmate and the brutality of guards and hapless, often mentally impaired prisoners. I found the case summary written by David Jauss that was included at the end of the book to be an excellent overview on the trial, subsequent appeals and new evidence.
Rated – 3 out of 5 Stars