Damien Echols has spent his entire adult life — the past 18 years — on death row for a crime he didn't commit, as one of the West Memphis Three convicted of brutally murdering three 8-year-old boys in 1993. The latest documentary chronicling Echols' struggle, "West of Memphis," chronicles the tireless work that led to the release of Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. But as Echols explains, that work is far from over.
My first reaction after seeing this film was that I didn't want to interview you, that I'd rather you and your wife just be left alone.
Thank you. This is f---ing miserable. I've done 23 interviews, two photo shoots and a press conference in one day. And we've been on the road for two and a half months now doing this, and it's f---ing miserable. It's having to talk about the thing that you hate most in the world over and over and over and over. You don't ever get a chance to rest, you don't ever get a chance to heal. It's like constantly having the wounds ripped back open. And the worst part of all is how you don't even have a personality. People see you and they don't even see a human being. They see this case. They see the West Memphis Three, like I'm not even an individual. Like we're the Three Stooges. I'm Moe, Jason is Larry and Jessie Misskelley is Curly, and that's what they want to force you to be forever. West Memphis Three, what the hell is that? It sounds like a rap group or something.
You pretty much went right from prison to promoting the movie?
This whole last year has been like a frantic scramble to try to build some sort of a foundation that we can have a life on. And in a lot of ways it's been kind of hellish, just trying to... oh gosh, I can't even describe it. But in a way it's like a necessary evil for us because we have to keep doing this. If we want to be exonerated, if we want the person in prison that belongs in prison and we want the people who did this to us held responsible, we have to keep talking about this or it's never going to happen. They'll sweep this under the rug and forget about it. They're hoping we'll fade away. We have to let them know, "We're not going anywhere until you do the right thing."
Do you see this film as a chance to make your case in the court of public opinion?
That's what we've been telling people. When you sit down and watch it, you're watching the case we would've presented had we gone into court.
What's after all of this for you? What are you looking forward to?
Resting. I mean, my long-term goals, what I want to do, what I want to be, the thing that I'm most passionate about is meditation and energy work. It's what helped me survive so long in prison. So I'd like to have a small meditation center somewhere in the town where we live where I can pass that along to people who feel like they have a need for something like that in their lives, who want something to help them through hard times and bad situations. That's what I love, that's what's meaningful to me.