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4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (2,366 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Damien Echols Narrator: Damien Echols Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: September 2012 ISBN: 9781101579602
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In 1993, teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.—who have come to be known as the West Memphis Three—were arrested for the murders of three eight-year-old boys in Arkansas. The ensuing trial was marked by tampered evidence, false testimony, and public hysteria. Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison; while eighteen-year-old Echols, deemed the “ringleader,” was sentenced to death. Over the next two decades, the WM3 became known worldwide as a symbol of wrongful conviction and imprisonment, with thousands of supporters and many notable celebrities who called for a new trial. In a shocking turn of events, all three men were released in August 2011.

Now Echols shares his story in full—from abuse by prison guards and wardens, to portraits of fellow inmates and deplorable living conditions, to the incredible reserves of patience, spirituality, and perseverance that kept him alive and sane while incarcerated for nearly two decades.

In these pages, Echols reveals himself as a brilliant writer, infusing his narrative with tragedy and irony in equal measure: he describes the terrors he experienced every day and his outrage toward the American justice system, and he offers a firsthand account of living on Death Row in heartbreaking, agonizing detail. Life after Death is destined to be a riveting, explosive classic of prison literature.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “His story will appall, fascinate, and render you feeble with tears and laughter. A brilliant memoir to battle literary giants of the caliber of Jean Genet, Gregory David Roberts, and Dostoevsky.”

    Johnny Depp

  • 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. John Grisham
  • 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
  • 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
  • “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
  • [A] tale of romance, resilience, and the power of the written word. Stephanie Palumbo, O, The Oprah Magazine
  • 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)
  • [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)
  • "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. Johnny Depp
  • [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. Booklist
  • This is a stunning piece of work. Such hope while faced with injustice. Damien teaches us how to live. Eddie Vedder
  • 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)
  • 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. Henry Rollins
  • “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.”

    John Grisham, #1 New York Times bestselling author

  • “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

  • “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.”

    Henry Rollins, former front man of Black Flag

  • “A dual memoir, partly about Mr. Echols’ boyhood and partly about his prison life…[It is] so well told that Life after Death sometimes sounds like the work of a ghostwriter. But the book reprints enough…pages of Mr. Echols’ prison writing to make it very clear that the literary talent is entirely his…A haunting book.”

    New York Times

  • “[An] evocative, chilling memoir.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “Exceptional…Echols is at heart a poet and a 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…Essential reading for anyone interested in justice or memoir.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A USA Today Bestseller
  • A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
  • A Kirkus Reviews Top 25 Book for Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Caroline | 2/9/2014

    " I gave this book 4 stars for 2 reasons. First, because of the strong emotional connection I felt towards the author. The first time I heard about Damien Echols and the West Memphis Three was a few months ago when I happened upon the book Devils Knot, a documentary about the case and trial of the three murdered boys in Arkansas. Normally I stay away from true crime, especially something so violent as this, but curiosity led me to read the back of the book. As I was skimming its contents a guy in the bookstore said to me "dont worry, they didnt do it". He didnt explain and just walked away. Now I'm interested. I devoured the book and felt outraged at the injustice. I started looking online at articles and newspaper clippings from the trial to piece as much as I could together. The story and Damien lingered in the back of my mind for months. Then I found about his release from prison and heard about this book he wrote recounting his childhood, the arrest, time in prison and his future. I kept thinking to myself how strange that I would happen upon Devil's Knot, which was written more than 10 years ago, within months of Life After Death. The second reason is because I think Mr. Echols did a fantastic job of condensing and organizing not only his childhood, but the seventeen years he spent in prison, where I can only imagine time isn't easily measured. Autobiographies scare me- how could you possibly choose from a lifetime of experiences to accurately portray yourself? His honesty and sincerity is alarming and refreshing, and yet he keeps an air of mystery about him to keep the reader from getting arrogant and too close. The fact that he is willing to share anything about his life with the rest of the world is confusing for me, but I am so grateful that he did. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Rachel Whaley | 2/1/2014

    " Poetic and heartbreaking, this is a memoir of Damien Echols 19 years in prison on Death Row for a crime he didn't commit. He flashes back and to the present, telling the reader about his life leading up to his arrest, and reflecting on what his time in prison has done to him. It's absolutely astounding to read of his personal strength and the support group he had on the outside. If you're looking for lurid details of the West Memphis Three case, it's not really here, as Echols tells you. This is how a man faced absolute hell, head on, for half his life and came out the other side. It's beautiful, disheartening, horrifying, and hopeful. Wonderful writing. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Leighanne Hatfield | 1/30/2014

    " going to be a classic "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Beth | 1/22/2014

    " Damien's story is so many things: heartbreaking, frustrating, disgusting, horrifying, unbelievable. But he writes it beautifully. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Teri | 1/12/2014

    " I've always been interested in this case. The book was told completely from Echols point of view and consisted of a lot of his writing from his time in prison. Not a bad read but it won't knock your socks off "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Zoeynickole | 1/11/2014

    " This book is a must read for anyone who has any interest in social issues. This story takes you into the depths of poverty and becomes a coming of age story. The challenges grow as Damien gets arrested and tried and sentenced to death. He takes you intimately every step of the way and the takes you into the prison system and shows you what it is like to be a prisoner. Also, a close peek into spiritual awakenings and what can happen with in. I will never be the same and cannot wait to see the documentary. I feel like I know Damien now. He is very open and does not leave out any details. I hope to meet him in a book signing someday. When ever I feel down or troubled I will think of Damien Echols and how he survived the unthinkable and came out a spiritual giant!!!!! Wow and WOW!!!! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Bri | 1/5/2014

    " I just won a giveaway copy of this book. I'm looking forward to receiving and reading it, and being able to update my review! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Johnny Hirschfeld | 1/3/2014

    " It was sad, yet enlightening to read this. Damien does a good job projecting life on Death Row. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sebastiaan van Jole | 12/27/2013

    " So glad they are free now.. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Marie | 12/26/2013

    " Highly recommend the Paradise Lost documentary series on the West Mmphis 3, if you haven't seen it yet. I was hoping this book would be on par with the series, but not so much. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Suzie | 8/11/2013

    " THIS WAS VERY DISAPPOINTING "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jason | 4/10/2013

    " Thanks Honey, waiting made it better. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Stacee | 12/23/2012

    " A heartbreaking and eye opening story told in an interesting narrative. Definitely a book and a person I won't ever forget. "

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About the Author

Damien Echols grew up in Mississippi, Tennessee, Maryland, Oregon, and Arkansas. At age eighteen, he was arrested along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley and charged with the deaths of three boys, now known as the Robin Hood Hill murders, in West Memphis, Arkansas. He received a death sentence and spent almost eighteen years on Death Row, until he, Baldwin, and Misskelley were released in 2011. The West Memphis Three have been the subject of Paradise Lost, a three-part documentary series produced by HBO, and West of Memphis, a documentary produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Echols is the author of a self-published memoir titled Almost Home. He and his wife live in New York City.