My brother recommended the Paradise Lost documentaries to me, something I knew absolutely nothing about, and went into completely cold. I seem to be a bit out of it as a lot of people seem to be in the loop, or to have at least seen the first one.
I watched all three over a period of about five days. I don’t think the documentaries are even particularly good; they're all overlong, and at least three or four hours could have been left on the cutting room floor. But the subject matter just grabs you round the throat. I’m not going to go into all the factual details as you can find them out yourself if you’re interested, but it involves three 8-year-olds being murdered, the ‘West Memphis Three’ – teenagers at the time who were fingered for the murders (basically because they wore black and listened to metal) and one huge miscarriage of justice. Just heart-wrenching stuff.
Spoilers coming! Skip to the next section after the gap if you don't know what happened and might watch them:
Throughout Paradise Lost 2 I was CERTAIN one of the children's stepdad's Byers was guilty (he had his teeth removed!) so by the third one when he changes sides to support the West Memphis Three, it feels unreal. The miscarriage of justice is so huge, so unfair, and so blatant it can’t be underestimated.
By the third one when you see they are STILL in prison in 2011, I was properly panicking. They didn’t show Damien Echols for ages and I was certain they’d fried him. I was certain from the first film he’d be dead before they sorted the whole mess out. And he would have been, if not for these documentaries and the support of such random people as Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp and Henry Rollins.
The fact that they finally released them (after nearly two decades) and still made them plead guilty makes me sick to my stomach. The person who murdered those little boys is still out there. More than that; the police force that conspired to destroy Damien and the other teenagers’ lives should be brought to justice. What they did was unforgivable. The fact they forced them to still say they were guilty (just so they couldn’t sue, I presume) is absolutely disgraceful. I really hope they are going to be appealing from now until the end of time, because that wrong must be righted.
OK, you may read on!
Following watching these documentaries, I tracked down a copy of Damien Echol’s book he wrote on Death Row, ‘Almost Home.’ (I had to track it down online as it doesn’t seem available to buy, unfortunately, well not unless you've got 3 grand knocking about) I highly recommend it, he writes in a very simple-to-read engaging way. I don’t normally like reading about people’s childhood, but he is such a compelling writer. There’s just something very interesting about him, and his matter-of-factness. There is just something so magnetic about him: he had sad, haunted eyes before his near-two decades in prison; now he looks like a ghost, and his eyes tell the whole story even if you didn’t know a word. He is such an eloquent, thoughtful person and he seems so calm in the face of this horrendous shit-storm, and the injustice that they still have to swallow to this day. It was inspirational to read about how he coped in prison.
They’re doing a big Hollywood movie of the story this year, and another documentary, West of Memphis, will be released soon, but this simple book told me more about the story than anything else. The way the police (and later prison guards) treated him was utterly horrific. But when he described becoming a Buddhist, and meeting his wife, it seemed somehow that he was destined for this path in life. His life before prison was even worse, in some ways. And he said he’d go through it all again if it meant meeting his wife. The way he speaks about her in the final chapter of that book is probably the most romantic thing I’ve ever read. I bawled my eyes out.
If you haven’t watched Paradise Lost, watch it. Watch the films, watch the new documentary when it comes out. It’s such an important story, it needs to be heard. I dread to think how many other people are languishing in prison because of prejudice and dodgy, ignorant, prejudiced police.
Also, if anyone has the Piers Morgan interview Damian and his wife, can they let me know? I spent about three hours trying to find a copy. I can only guess they’re saving the good shit for Paradise Lost 4 or it’s in West of Memphis. I can't remember if it was the Larry King interview or a clip of the Piers one I saw where they said to him 'So if you're sitting in prison all this time for a crime you say you didn't do, that must be quite frustrating?' and Damien goes, 'Frustrating is one word for it.' How restrained a reply is that?
It's not frustrating, it's sick. More needs to be done to right this wrong, to arrest the other suspect, and to bring the police to task. This situation has gone on long enough.
In the meantime, I hope Damian writes another book because I really want to read it. I also really hope that him, Jason and Jesse can find some happiness in the outside world. They've waited long enough.