An explosive bestseller, Life After Death turned a national spotlight on Damien Echols, who was just eighteen when he was wrongly condemned to death. But one of the most remarkable parts of his story still remained untold. After seeing a documentary about the “West Memphis Three,” Lorri Davis—a New Yorkbased landscape architect—wrote him a letter, beginning a thirteen-year correspondence that witnessed their marriage while Echols was still on death row and culminated in Echols’ release in 2011. Sharing their private letters, Yours for Eternity is a must-read for the legions who followed the case as well as anyone who appreciates an extraordinary love story.
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About the Author
While in prison, Damien was ordained into the Rinzai Zen Buddhist tradition. Today he teaches classes on magick around the country and works as a visual artist. He and his wife Lorri live in New York City with their three cats.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance corrected proof***
Copyright © 2014 Damien Echols Publishing
When we began our journey together, now nearly twenty years ago, we hadn’t a clue what was in store for us. A young man on death row in Arkansas caught up in a terrible sequence of events and wrongful convictions. A woman in New York City who loved to go to the movies. Fate drew us inexplicably together—and we’ve spent the rest of our lives trying to explain the hows and whys of falling in love and building a life. There’s no easy answer for why we wrote those first letters— why a young, successful woman writes a letter to a man in prison—and most especially why we kept on writing those letters. Except that the more we helped each other deal with pain and fear, the greater our hope for freedom and joy grew. There were terribly dark days, months, and years, and yet we survived—as many married people do, regardless of their circumstances. The moments of ecstasy, romance, humor, and companionship burned brighter for the obstacles we faced. Again, like any married couple has faced.
We wrote thousands and thousands of letters to each other between 1996 and 2011, when Damien was released. Sometimes five or six a day. It was a daunting task to reread and select the ones that best told our story, not to mention the occasional letter that we came across unopened—either one of us must have saved it to read later, and received a second or third letter that day and forgotten about it. We spoke too often to keep track. We didn’t always date the letters, so we’ve gone by postmarks here rather than the day they were written, and some span the course of several days before they were mailed. We have hundreds of mailmen to thank for keeping our love alive, and for bringing us both the words we needed to live by every day.
—Lorri Davis and
I really wanted to wait until you had a chance to reply to my letter (if you wanted to) before I bombarded you with another, but I have so many thoughts running through my head—I have decided to write them all down.
By the way—if I am encroaching on your privacy in any way— and you don’t want me to write—please don’t hesitate to let me know. Like I have mentioned already a few times—I don’t know why I feel compelled to have contact with you—I just do—so I will write until you tell me to stop. I found an article in the New Yorker that you might find interesting—I don’t know what your legal situation is—the film doesn’t go into much detail about your appeal—what is happening? I have a friend whose father knows Kevin Doyle—I would like to make your case apparent to him—but only with your permission. I don’t even know what would happen—but I figure the more people who know—the more will be done. I know the movie will help when it comes out—but in the meantime I will tell everyone I know about you.
How far away from West Memphis is Tucker? Do you get many visitors?
In the movie, your family and girlfriend (wife?)—that wasn’t clear—she says you asked her to marry you—but that’s all—they came across as very caring, compassionate people. I hope you have a lot of support from them. I hope you get to see your son. How long have you been incarcerated? What are your days like—do you share a cell with someone? Please excuse my ignorance, I just want a semblance of what your life is presently.
I hope it doesn’t freak you out to have someone that you don’t even know mooning over you so much. It kind of freaks me out that this is happening to me. I cry about it a lot. I am fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to listen to music and draw all day—but since I have become “acquainted” with you it’s difficult—because I think about your situation all the time. I’m trying to figure out a positive way to deal with it. If I don’t—well, I already have, right? I honestly believe that undying hope can do wonders in this world. Damien, I can’t say that I believe in “God”; but something has brought you into my life, and as daunting as it is to me sometimes, I know it’s a good thing.
I hope with all my heart you are O.K.
I am sending you a photograph of the place Father Damien had his colony on the island of Molokai. Isn’t it beautiful? Such a beautiful place for such misery at one time.
The original King Kong was filmed on that rock in the center of the photograph.
That dark figure to the right is me. I was a little reluctant to send you a photograph of me—but I suppose it is only fair.
The graveyard has an empty grave where Father Damien was buried, but his body was eventually shipped back to Belgium.
O.K. I’ll stop for now.
As I said before and will continue to say—let me know if I can send anything in particular to you. If you don’t tell me I’m going to start sending you Danielle Steel novels and really nasty-smelling aftershave and sardines in mustard sauce, and pieces of red string that I find on the street, and last but certainly not least—a large pod of some sort.
I will, too.
Believe me, I in no way think that my privacy is being invaded and I do not mind being “bombarded with letters.” I just sent off another letter to you a couple days ago, which you should have gotten right before this one. I can’t remember if I enclosed those articles I was telling you about or not, so if I forgot, just remind me, and I’ll get them out to you.
Thank you for the article from the New Yorker. I had read it a couple days before; I have a subscription to the New Yorker. I love the little cartoons they print.
I certainly don’t mind you making my case known to Kevin Doyle. I would not object to anything that could possibly help.
Yes, I’m sure the film will convince a lot of people in other states of my innocence, but what worries me is whether or not the people of Arkansas will pay attention. They refuse to look at the evidence and they refuse to listen to reason. All they want is to see somebody die for those crimes and a “freak” like me is just as good as anyone. The whole attitude scares the hell out of me.
Thank you for telling everyone about me. Maybe if everyone were to take as big an interest as you have things could happen a lot faster. It just seems that most people just don’t care, or they’re so close-minded they won’t even try to see the truth.
How far is West Memphis from Tucker? Exactly 147 miles. Yes, I usually have a visitor every week. My family and friends have really pulled together and they try to stay pretty close to me. They’ve been very supportive. No, unfortunately, I don’t get to see my son. He’ll be three years old this year, and I haven’t seen him since he was about 5 months. My girlfriend moved to Arizona and took him with her. I haven’t seen or heard from either of them since the trial. She’s gone on with her life. I really can’t blame her, I guess, since I’ve been locked up 3 years now. Maybe it’s for the best, but it still hurts like hell.
My life? Well, I have my own cell, which I spend 22 hours a day inside of. I’m allowed to go outside for 2 hours a day, but I usually don’t, because I’m not allowed around any of the other prisoners, and when you do go out, you just stand in a fenced square like a dog kennel and bake in the sun. I spend most of my time just lying on the bed listening to the radio and reading. There’s absolutely nothing to do, but for some reason it still seems like time goes by incredibly fast. It’s kind of hard to believe I’ve been here this long. It doesn’t seem like it.
No, I don’t believe in Christianity’s version of God, either, but from the very beginning of this situation, I’ve felt that there had to be a purpose for all of this. Now I just have to figure out what the purpose is, so I can go home. J Maybe this is just a way to pay off some karma I’ve built up in the past or something.
Thank you for the picture. Yes, it is beautiful. I hope to one day be able to go there for myself.
Why are you afraid for me to see what you look like? I’m not so shallow as to judge you by your physical appearance. Just relax and be natural. Trust me, we’ll get along great.
I’m not sure that I’m in need of any Danielle Steel novels, nasty-smelling aftershave, bits of red string, or a pod of some sort, though I do appreciate the gesture. J I can only have things made of paper. Remember, I am a dangerous lunatic. J
Right now, my first appeal hasn’t even been heard yet. My case goes before the Arkansas Supreme Court on September second. We expect to be denied though. We don’t expect to get any help until we reach federal court.
I guess I’m going to close for now, but I can’t wait to hear from you again. You’re a sweetie.
What People are Saying About This
“Reconstructed from thousands of letters the pair exchanged over 16 years, this tender and unusual narrative offers a rare, courageously intimate view of a love that should never have survived and yet did.”—Kirkus
*Praise for Life After Death by Damien Echols*
A New York Times Bestseller
A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
A USA Today Bestseller
A Wall Street Journal Bestseller
A Kirkus Reviews “Best of 2012” nonfiction selection
“Damien Echols spent eighteen years on death row for murders he did not commit. Somehow, in the depths of his unspeakable nightmare, he found the courage and strength not only to survive, but to grow, to create, to forgive, and to understand. Life After Death is a brilliant, haunting, painful, and uplifting narrative of a hopeless childhood, a wrongful conviction, a brutal incarceration, and the beginning of a new life.”
“Wrongfully imprisoned by willfully ignorant cops, prosecutors and judge, Damien Echols draws on all his wits and his unique view of humanity to survive eighteen years on death row. My admiration for him, and the strength of his spirit, increases with every page.”
—Sir Peter Jackson, Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter
“I am in awe of Damien's ability to write so beautifully, with such ease, humor and honesty—this is inspired storytelling, a wonderful book!”
—Fran Walsh, Academy Award-winning screenwriter, composer and producer
“The life of Damien Echols is a journey similar to that of the metal that becomes a samurai’s sword. Heated and pounded until it becomes hardened, it can hold its edge for centuries. It is incredible that Damien endured and survived one of the most tragic miscarriages of American justice, and emerged such a centered, articulate and extraordinary man and writer. Life After Death proves that he paid dearly for his wisdom.”
“Exceptional memoir by the most famous of the West Memphis Three. [B]are facts alone would make for an interesting story. However, Echols is at heart a poet and mystic, and he has written not just a quickie one-off book to capitalize on a lurid news story, but rather a work of art that occasionally bears a resemblance to the work of Jean Genet. A voracious reader all his life, Echols vividly tells his story, from his impoverished childhood in a series of shacks and mobile homes to his emergence after half a lifetime behind bars as a psychically scarred man rediscovering freedom in New York City. The author also effectively displays his intelligence and sensitivity, qualities the Arkansas criminal justice system had no interest in recognizing during Echols’ ordeal. Essential reading.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“This is a stunning piece of work. Such hope while faced with injustice. Damien teaches us how to live.”
“[Echols’] case garnered worldwide attention, but [his] memoir is about as far away from a publicity-seeking I-was-wronged story as possible. The author opts for a meatier, and certainly more haunting, account of his life behind bars, coupled with flashbacks to his childhood....Echols is a talented writer, and when the book dips into his own spiritual and philosophical beliefs...it achieves the kind of emotional resonance that many similar books lack....A tragic and often disturbing story."
"Damien Echols suffered a shocking miscarriage of justice. A nightmare few could endure. An innocent man on death row for more than eighteen years, abused by the very system we all fund. His story will appall, fascinate, and render you feeble with tears and laughter. A brilliant memoir to battle with literary giants of the calibre of Jean Genet, Gregory David Roberts, and Dostoevsky."
“[T]his is an eloquent, even bitterly lyrical, portrayal of how an innocent man can slip through the cracks of the legal system and struggle to survive. Compelling and deeply moving, in the tradition of Helen Prejean’s Dead Man Walking and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, this memoir will appeal to a wide audience.”
—Library Journal (starred)
“In this searing, finely wrought memoir, Echols recalls his poverty-stricken childhood, the trial of the West Memphis 3, and the harsh realities of life on death row … The most affecting sections are Echols’s philosophical musings on all he has lost, his thoughts often influenced by Zen Buddhism. In one journal entry that survived the guards’ purge, Echols contemplates what he misses the most while in prison. The answer is a heart-wrenching and simple commentary on American prison life: ‘In the end it’s not the fruit I miss most... I miss being treated like a human being.’”
—Publisher’s Weekly (starred)
“[A] tale of romance, resilience, and the power of the written word.”
—Stephanie Palumbo, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Echols is a writer whose talent is commensurate with the task of telling this story....The man who has emerged from death row at last is not quite a hero, but he’s something far more interesting: an artist—and, most definitely, well worth meeting.”
—Laura Miller, Salon.com
“Gripping…Echols has already lived a remarkable life, one forged in tragedy and all manner of iniquity. That he is able to write so movingly about the many trials he endured speaks volumes about his intellect and character.”
—Jesse Singal, The Boston Globe