Ordinarily, I’d declare that anyone who doesn’t know about the West Memphis Three has been living under a rock for the last few decades. There have been more than enough documentaries and public-awareness initiatives on the matter, but even if you’re just a TMZ/InTouch fanatic, odds are you’ve heard about the support they’ve garnered from Henry Rollins, Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and Peter Jackson amongst many others.
Then again, I know that the “information superhighway” often breeds ignorance.
I had the pleasure of meeting Damien Echols at the NYC Tattoo Convention a few weeks ago. We were introduced by a mutual friend. We were both also wearing tinted glasses due to vision problems (him: 10 years in the darkness of solitary confinement; me: hereditary neurological issues).
"Damien, I’m Brian," I said. "It’s really good to see you out."
"Hi, I’m Damien," he replied. "It’s really good to BE out."
My friend Kevin at Sacred Tattoo/Gallery hit me with an email last week. They had taught Damien the basics of tattooing (also he had just gotten certified for a blood pathogen class) and he was going to be doing small tattoos of “X”s; all proceeds would go to help his legal bills. There was no way I could say no.
When I first walked into the shop, I could tell he didn’t recognize me - nor did I expect him to. After a decade in solitary, I can only imagine trying to cope with twitter, much less all the people who know you because they’ve been following your tale. It must be brutal to have no friends and no sunlight and then, one day, have a million friends and all the freedom you could desire. This is why we have repeat offenders, I suppose; the pressure is too much.
When I finally sat the in the chair after Kevin and Nick had helped him set up I asked, “How’s it going, brother?”
"Something occurred to me yesterday…" he replied with a bewildered smile. I realized that having a million friends is all this guy ever wanted. More importantly, he wants to talk - actually TALK - to each and everyone of them, because he’s been so hungry for another human who isn’t carrying a billy club or talking through plexiglass.
"Yesterday marked the anniversary of my stint in jail." (Ed. Note: I got a few details mixed up in my retelling of this statement - then again, so did his prosecutors… often) His pure honesty was palpable. "I used to hate that day. I used to dread it, thinking, ‘That’s another year of your life… GONE.’ But that day rolled around yesterday and… it still freaked me out, but…"
"Nothing wrong with getting freaked out by happiness," I replied.