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Category: Damien Echols

The simple pleasure

“I miss the rain.  I miss standing beneath the sky and looking up at the moon and stars.  I miss the wind.  I miss cats and dogs.  I miss wearing real clothes, having a real toothbrush, using a real pen, drinking iced tea, eating ice cream, and going for walks.

“I’m tempted to say the thing I miss most is fruit.  I haven’t had a piece of fresh fruit in about eight years, and before that I only got it once a year.  The prison used to give everyone two apples and two oranges on Christmas, but then they stopped, said it was a ‘threat to security,’ along with tea bags and dental floss.  So I haven’t had any in nearly a decade now.  They prevent scurvy by giving everyone a cup of watered-down orange juice for breakfast.  It doesn’t have much taste, but enough vitamin C to keep your teeth from falling out.

“In the end, it’s not the fruit I miss the most, though if you rolled all the deprivations into one thing, it would be this: I miss being treated like a human being.” – Damien Echols, Life After Death

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A plague upon our houses

“Sometimes it’s even more disturbing to see the cases of mental retardation on Death Row than it is to see the insane.  I say this because there is often something very childlike in the actions of the retarded.  To see a retarded person being led to execution is an abomination.  It’s something that should never happen, yet it does.  Sometimes even innocent retarded people are executed, which is a double travesty.  There was a guy here who had the IQ of a child, and it was common knowledge that he did not commit the crime he was convicted of.  He was here because he was taking the blame for something his brother had done.  He was eventually executed in his brother’s place.  The guy was blatantly and obviously retarded, and he lived on a diet of potato chips, candy bars, and cake.  He acquired the money for these things from a nun who came to see him every so often.  Sometimes his mother would come see him, and since they had nothing to talk about they would both put their heads down on the table and sleep.  It was heartbreaking to witness.  I don’t recall ever seeing him take a shower.  He just sat silently in his cell until the day he was killed.” — Damien Echols, Life After Death

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In the bottomlands

“For many people in prison their worst fear is going insane, because once you do all hope is lost.  You will be locked up not only within these walls, but also within your own rapidly degenerating mind.  There is no help, and you wouldn’t even be able to work on your own case in order to get your death sentence converted.  You would sit in a cell playing with feces and screaming at phantoms that no one else could see.  This is not the place you want to lose your marbles.” — Damien Echols, Life After Death


The living dead

“The prison system makes no effort to help the mentally ill.  There are no therapy sessions, no treatments, no cutting-edge drugs.  The only thing they do is shoot them full of Thorazine if they start to get riled up.  You can spot a man doing the Thorazine shuffle from a mile away.  His every action takes ten times longer than it should, because it takes him a Herculean effort to move.” — Damien Echols, Life After Death

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An actual matter of life and death

“The mentally handicapped are executed on a regular basis while the politicians all give speeches about being tough on crime.  I’ve never come across a single murderer who possessed the mental faculties required to fully comprehend the horror of what they have done.  They are not emotionally developed enough to feel empathy.  They live lives of nightmare, yet are not even capable of realizing that.  They are the dregs of humanity, both by birth and choice.  Prison and the prison mentality are not what society has been led to believe they are.  These people cannot even take care of themselves, and they suffer from every health problem imaginable.  There are no attractive murderers here.  It’s like the ugliness inside them manages to transform their facial features so that the outside resembles the inside.  There are no conversations here.  There are threats, taunts, and screams, but a conversation is an impossibility.  Concepts such as love, honor, and self-respect are as foreign to this place as French cuisine.” — Damien Echols, Life After Death

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The truth about the lies

“I live with men who haven’t been in contact with reality for years.  The truth is that insanity is rampant on Death Row, as is retardation.  The law says that the insane and the mentally retarded (the law’s terminology, not mine) cannot be executed, yet it happens on a regular basis.  It’s both sad and frightening.  It’s sad because many of them don’t even comprehend that they’re on Death Row or what awaits them.” — Damien Echols, Life After Death

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Domain of recidivists

“No routine or spiritual practice in the world will dim the reality of daily life on Death Row.  A normal person does not commit murder.  For almost seventeen years I’ve waited for someone to walk through the door whom I could have a conversation with, but it just doesn’t happen.  The people here are all mentally defective in ways that range from mild retardation to extreme schizophrenia.  Others are stuck in some no-man’s-land between sanity and delusion.  There are no criminal geniuses walking these halls.  Most not only are culturally illiterate, but also can barely manage to express themselves in English.  I have never met a prisoner with a college education, and I can count the high school graduates on one hand.  Nearly all lived in absolute poverty, and most were abused in one way or another.  Not a single one of them is capable of functioning normally in society, and it’s not a skill they’re likely to learn when locked in a cell among others who are as bad or worse.  I’ve yet to see any sign of ‘rehabilitation,’ or any program designed to bring about that aim.  Most of the people you meet in prison have been here repeatedly.  Some have been to prison three or four times before making it to Death Row.  They claim to hate and despise everything about prison, but they always come back.  It’s like they’re collecting frequent flyer miles in hell.  They themselves can’t explain it, falling back on excuses such as ‘It’s hard to stay out once you’re in.’  Why?  How?  It’s hard to refrain from snatching an old woman’s purse?  It’s somehow difficult to prevent yourself from committing rape?  Somehow you accidentally found yourself burglarizing a house or stealing a car?” — Damien Echols, Life After Death

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The land that time forgot

“There is no time in prison, unless you create it for yourself.  People on the outside seem to believe time passes slowly in prison, but it doesn’t.  The truth is that time doesn’t pass at all.  It’s an eternal vacuum, and each moment is meaningless because it has no context.  Tomorrow may as well be yesterday.” — Damien Echols, Life After Death

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The rule of the corruption

“I was taken into a broom closet filled with cleaning supplies, and was handed a stack of papers while two cops stood staring at me.  My brain was so numb I could comprehend only about one-fifth of what I was reading, but at least now I knew who had made the confession.  The name written at the top was ‘Jessie Misskelley.’  My first thought was, Did he really do it?  Followed quickly by, Why did he say I did it?  Even in my shell-shocked state I could tell something about his ‘confession’ wasn’t right.  For one thing, every line seemed to contradict the one before it.  Any idiot could plainly see he was just agreeing with everything the cops said.  That’s when I knew why the judge didn’t want to read it our loud.  Anyone with even an average IQ could see it was a setup.  The whole thing seemed shady.

“It’s no great wonder to me how the cops could make Jessie say the things they wanted him to say.  If they treated him anything like they did me, then it’s quite amazing that he didn’t have a nervous breakdown.  They used both physical and psychological torture to break me down.  One minute they’d threaten to kill you, and the next they’d behave as if they were your best friends in the world, and that everything they were doing was for your own good.  They shoved me into walls, spit at me, and never let up for a moment.  When one of them got tired, another came in to take his place.  By the time I’d been allowed to go home after previous interrogations I’d had a migraine headache, and I’d been through periods of dry heaving and vomiting.  I survived because when pushed hard enough I acted like an asshole, just like the cops themselves.  My point is that we were just kids.  Teenagers.  And they tortured us.  How could someone like Jessie, with the intellect of a child, be expected to go through that and come out whole?

“It makes me sick and fills me with disgust to think about how the public trusts these people, who are in charge of upholding the law yet torture kids and the mentally handicapped.  People in this country believe the corrupted are the exception.  They’re not.  Anyone who has had in-depth dealings with them knows it’s the rule.  I’ve been asked many times if I’m angry with Jessie for accusing me.  The answer is no, because it’s not Jessie’s fault.  It’s the fault of the weak and lazy ‘civil servants’ who abuse the authority placed in their hands by people who trust them.  I’m angry with police who would rather torture a retarded kid than look for a murderer.  I’m angry with corrupt judges and prosecutors who would ruin the lives of three innocent people in order to protect their jobs and further their own political ambitions.  We were nothing but poor trailer trash to them, and they thought no one would even miss us.  They thought they could take our lives and the matter would end there, all swept under the rug.” — Damien Echols, Life After Death (emphasis in original)

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Death before death

“In this part of the world all shrines are built to honor the great spirit of mediocrity.  The celebrations are for mediocre events, and everyone praises a mediocre god.  Heads upon pillows dream mediocre dreams and loins all give birth to mediocre offspring.  At the end of a pointless life awaits a mediocre death.  Love comes wrapped in a bland little package and fulfillment of the biological urge leads to swift decline.  There are no monuments to greatness in this land of stupor.  Down here in the deep, dark South we know and live with the real world.  Candy-Land idealism is quietly suffocated in the relentless humidity.  This is the world where fist meets face.  This is where the calluses on a man’s hand are bigger than his conscience, and dreams get drowned in sweat and tears.  Mutually assured destruction rides the roads on gun racks in the back windows of pickup trucks.  The goodness of human nature gets packed away with childhood toys, and the only third eye I have is the one I use to watch my back.  Everyone puts on their Sunday best and pays tribute to religion’s slaughterhouse and then dines on a 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.  No one here moves quickly, but everyone moves with absolute certainty.” – Damien Echols, Life After Death (emphasis in original)

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Cook’s tour of hell

“The guards brought another tour in today.  This happens every month or so.  Sometimes they bring in a group of teenagers they want to scare into submission.  The kids stand around shuffling their feet as the guards tell them that if they continue living the way they are now, then sooner or later they’ll wind up here.  They always say that Death Row is the worst.  They tell the tourists that in this barracks are the people who would murder their children and rape their grandmothers.  In truth, the people who commit the most heinous crimes aren’t on Death Row.  They’re out in the general prison population with much lighter sentences.  Most of the people on Death Row are here for no other reason than that their case got more publicity than others.  The difference between a man receiving a prison sentence and a man receiving a death sentence could be decided by nothing more than a slow news day.” – Damien Echols, Life After Death

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Poverty’s burden, pride’s price

“That year was one of the poorest my family ever lived through.  There was much excitement one day about a week before Christmas when three older men in suits showed up at our door carrying boxes and bags of food.  I think they were either Shriners or Masons, but I can’t remember.  I do remember my mother hugging them all and thanking them over and over while my sister and I ran around their legs like hungry cats, anxious to see what treats were in those sacks.  My mother was crying uncontrollably and kept hugging those men.  They didn’t say much, just told her she was welcome and left as quickly as they came.  This was our Christmas dinner.  We received gifts from such groups more than once.  Most often it was the Salvation Army.

“My father was deeply ashamed for having to accept a handout.  That’s something that gets drilled into the heads of white males in the South from the moment they can speak—never accept anything that you haven’t earned for yourself.  Having to accept the handout deeply wounded my father in some way that pushed him close to the edge of an emotional cliff.  I wasn’t old enough to really understand it; I just knew that my dad was acting strange, and that he was chewing his nails so viciously that sometimes it looked like he was going to put his whole hand in his mouth.  Now I know it’s because a man who accepted a handout wasn’t really seen as being much of a man—especially by the man himself.  Any man with two working arms and legs who signed up on welfare wasn’t seen very differently from a thief, a liar, or a rapist.” – Damien Echols, Life After Death

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