DALLAS, Texas - I have been sitting on this for well over a month at the request the publicist, but today I can finally share this 30-minute interview with Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis. Echols is one of the members of The West Memphis Three who was sent to jail for murder back in 1990s and was released a few years ago after evidence showed both he and his two friends accused of the crime were wrongly convicted.
Today, the documentary West of Memphis opens in theaters; click here for showtimes at the Angelika theaters. It was not nominated for an Academy Award, the only reason I can see is that there have been multiple films made about this subject.
This is the Part II of the interview.
The Big Mac Blog: During the sentencing why not stand up
and scream ‘I’m not guilty?!’
Damien Echols: People always ask me – ‘if that were me’ – no you wouldn’t. It’s a hostage situation. How many times do you see a hostage screaming? Never. You are hoping that if you cooperate you can come out with the teeth left in your head. If you start that they will beat you down. It’s not any imposition for them. These people love doing it. The prison guards get off on hurting you. You scream or yell they will mess you up.
In a hostage situation you know that if they hurt you someone is going to kill them. In this situation they are probably going to get a medal.
Keep in mind we were kids – 16, 17, 18 – and had been sitting in a jail cell for a year before we go to trial. You have been devastated on every level of your being and you have holes blown in you like hand grenades.
The Big Mac Blog: Did you have a moment and thought about
not pleading guilty as part of the agreement to be released?
Damien Echols: No way. I knew I was going to die if I didn’t. I was so sick; I weigh 60 pounds more than I did in prison. I had gotten really sick. Stress. Bad nutrition. I hadn’t seen sunlight in 10 years. No fresh air. I had been beaten. I was losing my eye sight. And you could die by violence in prison any day of the week. I knew I would take that deal. I knew if that deal fell through I knew I was going to die in that cell.
That last week, I hadn’t slept in a week. I was doing everything I could just to get out of that courtroom. People always say you always seem so calm. It’s a weird trick – the more anxious I get the more calm I get.
I just wanted to get somewhere I could rest and I hope I don’t puke myself.
The Big Mac Blog: Hard not to feel sympathy and feel sorry for you – how do
you want us to look at you?
Damien Echols: As a source of inspiration. As people who can go through some of the worst things you can go through and came out the other side still swining. We don’t want them to watch this movie thinking, 'God, life is screwed up what a broken system.' We want them to think I want to do something with my life and I don’t want to waste this precious time that I have. Find what makes your life magical and meangingful and dedicate your life to that. We want them to feel that you can face impossible odds and come out of the other side still alive.
The Big Mac Blog: How are neither of you not swallowed by
bitterness, resentment, rage and anger?
Damien Echols: I was in the beginning. First 2 or 3 years in prison … do you know what it’s like to wake up pissed off? It’s not fun. From the moment your eyes open it’s I hate everybody. You are being tortured by other people and yourself.
There is a quote from Buddhism where they say holding on to that sort of thing is like holding poision in hopes that it will kill the other person. It doesn’t hurt anybody but yourself. I had to find a way to get past it. That’s what led me to meditation. That and my relationship with Lorri.
We didn’t think we would think one day we are going to be together. Never. It was our life is here now. It’s not something that may happen in the future it’s here and it’s now. We had to build something we could take sanctuary in. Those are the things that kept me together.
The Big Mac Blog: How has he changed since he was released?
Lorri Davis: The Damien that was in prison was very disciplined and purposeful. We both were. We were both disciplined by nature. It intensified because there is no quitting and a great deal of grief. Prison is hard so you have to make sure he is safe. He held his space in prison that kept him sane and healthy. That took a lot of work. Everyone thought including me that that man would walk out of prison and that he would be fine and he is going to be able to handle everything because he’s Damien. It took six months, it was The Moth, that taught me he is suffering and every day his filled with anxiety. He is fearful and he does not know what he is doing. He is moving about in the world and everyone thinks he’s fine. That whole time he wasn’t fine. Even now it’s trying to get people to understand it’s worse than coming back from a prisoner of war.
The Big Mac Blog: Do you have moments where you felt
sorry for yourself?
Damien Echols: Not really because that is something that always disgusted me. It made me not want to partake in it. It’s an extremely ugly thing. It’s also crippling – a self-fulfilling prophecy. You bring it on more and more and more.
The Big Mac Blog: Did any of your loved
ones say, 'What are you doing – the guy is in jail?'
Lorri Davis: I wanted four years to tell my family. I wanted to be solid and ground and understanding in what I was doing. I know someone is going to look at me like it was crazy Lori. I needed someone to realize I am working on a case and that this man is innocent. I was so driven. A little obsession in the beginning. Then it became one decision after another.
PART III Coming later ...