Review: Life After Death
Damien Echols is infamous for being part of the so-called West Memphis 3. Convicted of murders he didn’t commit, Echols spent eighteen years behind bars, including several years on Death Row. Echols and his two mates who had also been convicted of murdering three young boys were released late 2011. Life After Death reveals what it’s like behind bars and how Echols came to be there.
The book is pieced together from a previously published memoir plus journal entries, essays and letters Echols wrote from inside. This gives the book a disjointed narrative, culminating with inconsistent tense; in one paragraph he’ll be writing in the present tense even though he’s now out of prison, while in the next he’ll be writing in past tense about the same thing. This gets quite confusing, especially in later chapters when he seems reluctant to talk about his last months in prison, instead just copying-and-pasting earlier writings. This in itself isn’t a bad thing; as Echols repeatedly tells his readers, he is tired of being thought of just as that guy, the one on Death Row (or used to be on Death Row) for the murders of those little kids. I wouldn’t want to keep rehashing it either, so sure, it’s acceptable to c’n'p previous writings… just change the tense.
Having said that, the book smacks of “I’m not the guy you think I am”. He’s spiritual, spending most of his time reading everything he could lay his hands on, talking to spiritual leaders, learning and practicing meditation and generally keeping to himself. He writes about his childhood but skirts around much of his teenage shenanigans. For example, he writes that the detective for juvenile problems was “obsessed” with Echols for no reason. Further investigation reveals that this detective had reason to believe Echols was part of a Satanic cult; which is never mentioned in his book. Echols himself has admitted (though not in this book) that he once drank blood from a living human’s arm. Echols’ insistence in his memoir that there was no reason for the cops to be on his tail just doesn’t ring true.
Taken with a grain of salt, Echols’ story is hard to put down. He perfectly captures the feelings of loneliness and depression that so many teenagers suffer. As yet, the murders of the three young boys remain unsolved, and if you’re looking for a theory as to what happened to them, you won’t find it here. Instead you’ll find a regular guy caught up in a whirlpool of injustice and the need to lay the blame on someone. Definitely do your own research though, the bits he omitted often fill in gaping holes in his narrative plus add an interesting alternate viewpoint.
8 out of 10 bookmarks.