Life after death: the shocking true story of an innocent man on death row is probably not a book that I would have chosen to read, but a customer told me about it (one of the perks of my job!) and an interest was sparked. I was also curious about the New Zealand connection with this – Peter Jackson produced a film about it called West of Memphis, which the library has on DVD.
Damien Echols was one of three teenagers arrested and charged with the murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Echols was fingered as the ring leader and was sentenced to death. All three men were eventually released in August 2011.
Echols’s early life was one of poverty and despair, living in miserable circumstances in an unhappy family setting. He mentions that he spent hours in the West Memphis Public Library, as he was a keen reader, and wanted to educate himself. He continued reading through his time on death row.
He describes the long build-up to his arrest, where he started to get attention from the police and the events leading up to the arrest. The most harrowing part of the book is obviously his time on death row, where he gives insights into the inmates’ daily lives, the abuse suffered from prison guards, and so on. It takes you through his journey of swinging emotions triggered by hope one minute and despair the next, his search for spirituality, and his interactions with the people he met (including Peter Jackson) who helped him in his fight for freedom. What really shines through is his courage and determination, and his amazing ability to remain sane in insane circumstances.
And is there a title that you wouldn’t ordinarily have chosen to read, but which was recommended to you and which you ended up really enjoying? Why not pay it forward in the comments below?