By: Haley Holmes
The new book by Damien Echols, Life After Death, sheds a new light on an age old problem: wrongful conviction. The supposed mastermind of the ever infamous West Memphis Three, Echols has always been in the limelight. On death row for close to 19 years (for a crime he did not commit), Echols has had an eternity to tell his story. In Life After Death, Echols’ second book, he fully details every aspect of his life leading up to his conviction, during his prison sentence, and some time afterward. Fueled by his ever growing network of supporters (including actor Johnny Depp and rock star Marilyn Manson), Echols may never run out of adequate material, and he certainly didn’t with Life After Death.
As far as non-fiction books go, this may be one of the most interesting ones you read all year. Written in a style familiar to those that have read Anthony Papa’s 15 To Life in Mr. Cruickshank’s art class, Life After Death is simply Damien Echols telling the story of his life and his conviction. In the process, Echols writes what seems to be a memoir, a philosophic essay, and a suspense novel all rolled into one. To each aspect, Echols brings a certain distinctiveness; one unique to his writing alone. The style is refreshing and the tale is harrowing, one that may leave you pondering long after the book has returned to your shelf.
Overall, the writing is inimitable; a style that doesn’t feel too posh, yet also is more refined than simple journal entries (which actually are incorporated into the book towards the end). Maintaining such a style throughout the book helps to maintain interest when Echols begins to wax philosophic (mainly about religion), while his descriptive talents make the horrors he witnessed in Arkansas prisons enough to turn the strongest stomach. Though his order of events can feel jumpy and confusing at times, it is a problem easily accepted. By the third chapter the shifts feel natural and are genuinely unnoticeable. Any issues one can find in this book are dwarfed by the genuine strength of Echols’ imaginative prose.
In short, Damien Echols’ Life After Death truly amounts to an intense chronicle of a life generated in a Hell many can’t even imagine. Compiled in documentaries (Like Paradise Lost and West of Memphis), news archives, and countless websites, the story of Damien Echols has been told and retold time and time again. With Life After Death, you can finally hear the story straight from the horse’s mouth.