Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review: "Life After Death" by Damien Echols

 Title: Life After Death
Author: Damien Echols
Publisher: blue rider press
Date Published: September 18, 2012
Pages: 416

How I Heard About It: I'd spent my life, up to now, in ignorance of the "West Memphis Three" and Damien Echols' battle to fight the system, to escape Death Row.  My hair stylist, Cotton, shares my love for documentaries and mentioned Paradise Lost and West of Memphis, films which detail the events surrounding Echols' wrongful accusation and imprisonment.  Obsessively researching this horrific failure of "the system," I learned Echols had released a 2012 memoir and sought it out promptly.

Two Sentence Summary: I won't do this gorgeous memoir the disservice of rehashing a saga that is already well-documented via a variety of media. Echols speaks candidly, poetically, about what can only be called a journey through absolute hell.

I have now come to realize that the only names I need are the ones that have been in my book of destiny since the very beginning.  If I want to keep moving forward, then I have to keep looking back. I am rejuvenated by drinking from the oldest and deepest wells.
-p. 99

Things I Think: I have never walked away from a book so astonished with, so inspired by, the capabilities of human tenacity.  Along with two others, Echols spent eighteen years in maximum security prisons, falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned for murders he clearly did not commit.  He journaled from the confines of Death Row, from a cell in which he could only take two steps and was, in turn, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, tortured by prison guards, freezing.  Locked up at age 18, this man began studying Buddhism, practicing zazen and yoga on a regular basis.  His insights into meditation and spiritual fastidiousness would be extraordinary under any circumstances; the fact that these insights were born of a mistreated teenager kept entirely isolated, without cause, is what makes "Life After Death" (and its author) epic.  A story like this cannot just be told in beautiful prose.  It must be told in poetry, and Echols' steady hand has certainly accomplished this. 

I'm not content to settle for one experience when there is a whole lifetime of experiences to be had.  I am so hungry for knowledge that I live several lives to acquire it. A Catholic and a Buddhist, a reader and a writer, a sinner and a philosopher, a husband and a father, a Native American and a white man - I no longer have any desire to fit into one category.
-p. 265

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