Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Letter to you, Damien Echols

It's hard for me to say for how many years I've followed the story of the West Memphis Three, but fifteen years may be about fair, for paying specific attention and actually seeking reading (and the documentaries) about the tragedy.

For those unfamiliar with the story, I won't link Wikipedia, only provide the simple story. The West Memphis Three were Jessie Misskelly, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin. In 1993, amid Satanist panic and public furor, these teenaged boys were convicted of the murder of three young boys in West Memphis Arkansas, in one of the more famous miscarriages of justice in the twentieth century. The details abound, so I will not recount them here, but it is a cruelly fascinating episode, and shameful beyond description.

The most famous, and oldest, of the convicted Three, is Damien Echols. He has become well known both for his past and also for his recovery (I will not use the term rehabilitation), but it is always his writing that clings to me when I look again toward this story. It feels cruel to call it a story, though. Perhaps I should say, look again toward these people.

I wish I had a handful of dust
--Damien Echols

One of the things that always strikes me in the heart about these kids - about this one - is that he reminds me indelibly of two of the three great loves of my life. His melancholy and his coloring are powerfully like Mr. X. And his expression of what a disadvantaged - what a battered - life is like echo sometimes in the communications with my first love, who reappeared almost a year ago, and who still breaks my heart at times (not in the way we once felt, of course).

And, seven years younger than I am, I know he's not a child, but his experience sparks in me something like a maternal outrage. The wish it had been possible to protect him. He was just a boy, barely older than the murder victims themselves really, and so the offense at his wrongful conviction and confinement - on death ROW, no less - is compounded by whatever vestige of protectiveness washing around in my guts.

Humanity is filled with so many who respond so much worse to wounds so much less - or illusory - his is an example of grace.

In recent months, face to face with another kind of grace, reading the link above today was inspirational. And, I will admit it, entertaining. In the sense that art entertains, that great writing does - even as it may elevate, or relieve, or release, or evaporate with no ghost but pleasure had - to understand the experience of solitary, of death row, of imprisonment is ... how to choose a word carefully here ... "stimulating" is accurate, but larded with inaccurate implications ... "educational" is right too, but almost so spare of deeper meaning as to fall short rather than overshoot ...

Enlightening. It lightens the soul to know another soul is not burdened by the worst we can do to one another - or has been set free. And it lightens the world to illuminate corners of it most of us will never see, G-d be praised for it.

Image: Wikipedia

His writing is extraordinary, evocative. The piece linked above reads like engrossing fiction; and the fact that it is not is an outrage. Something beyond poignant, something so much more important.

Certain shade of agony have their own beauty
--Damien Echols

Read his writing at the link. It is life itself.


Lilac Shoshani said...

What a powerful and moving post… I have goosebumps. And I LOVE the way you write. You are an excellent writer, Diane! <3

DLM said...

My own post is just meant to observe and mostly point to Damien Echols' own writing. I hope you are responding to what he wrote. Incredible.