By the time he turned 36, Damien Echols had spent half his life on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. How he managed to sustain hope and sanity in the bowels of a supermax prison is just part of the story found in Life After Death (Blue Rider Press), his compelling account of injustice, mental and physical torture and an in-the-nick-of-time rescue.
The infamous child-murder case that led to the egregious convictions of Echols and two teenage co-defendants, known as the Memphis Three, has been the subject of multiple HBO documentaries and isn’t the focus here. The book is part memoir, dealing with a dirt-poor childhood in trailers and unheated shacks; part primer on how to survive the brutality of the Arkansas prison system (gnawing over childhood memories helps, as does Echols’s esoteric spiritual quest); and a deeply affecting tale of how Echols’s dim hopes of vindication grew as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and others campaigned on the trio’s behalf, ultimately leading to their release last year. Echols credits all sorts of people for their aid, but it’s also clear from his voracious reading and incisive writing that language itself is part of his salvation.
Echols will sign books and join yours truly in a discussion of his dark journey at 7:30 p.m. at the Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th Street; for more information, visit www.tatteredcover.com.
Fri., Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m., 2012