At age eighteen I was falsely convicted, along with two others (the 'West Memphis Three'), of three murders we did not commit. I received the death sentence and spent eighteen years on death row. In August 2011, I was released in an agreement with the state of Arkansas known as an Alford plea. I have just published a book called Life After Death about my experiences before, during, and after my time on death row. Ask me anything about death row and my life since being released.


I just want to say thank you to everyone on here and I'm sorry I can't stay longer. My eyes are giving me a fit. Hopefully we'll get to talk again soon, and we can still talk on Twitter on a daily basis. See you Friday,


Comments: 1715 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

baddaddvice633 karma

It seems most of the world has thought you innocent for quite some time. Did you get any special treatment from prison officials or guards who were sympathetic to your situation?

damienechols1219 karma

Absolutely not. The guards don't really care whether you're guilty or innocent. They believe the brutality should be spread evenly.

Diacrus624 karma

Hello Damien. I remember hearing about your story a while back and was happy that you were able to be let free. My only question for you is, as a former death row inmate, are you for or against the death penalty for any crime?

damienechols1355 karma

This is a really difficult thing for me to think about. And I'm still not entirely sure about the answer. When I hear people talk about it, I always wonder if women who have had an abortion feel the same way whenever they hear people who have never had to go through it expressing their opinions on the matter. It's not as black and white or cut and dry as either side tries to portray it, but all in all I would have to say that I'm against it.

librarian72513 karma

What was the reasoning behind the crazy meal schedules in prison? Why is breakfast at 2:30am? And I just wanted to say all 20 copies of your book in our podunk library system are checked out and there are an additional 30 requests on those as well.

damienechols912 karma

Breakfast is at 2:30 AM so that they can have everyone working in the fields by 5 AM. They want to get as much slave labor out of everyone as they possibly can.

JamestheMames306 karma

Hello Damien. I LOVED your interview on Opie and Anthony yesterday. It was the most interesting interview I have ever heard on their show. Seeing as they are a more laid back show, What was it like interviewing with them compared to other media?

damienechols391 karma

They were more laid back and doing it was a lot more relaxing than most other interviews. They didn't approach things too seriously so it allowed me to not be as serious myself.

codythebeau297 karma

Damien, it’s so great to see you doing this. You have no idea how much you and your story mean to me. I watched Paradise Lost years ago when I was a teenager, and I became enthralled. I’ve had many of my buddies watch it, and I preach about it any chance I get, because it’s a story that is begging to be seen. The way you handled yourself throughout that ordeal was, quite honestly, breathtaking. I expect this to be a high volume IAmA, so I doubt you’ll see this, but just the fact that you might means the world to me. I could ask you hundreds of questions, but for the sake of the IAmA, I’ll try and focus on one. I really love the Graves “Illusions” record and the song you wrote with Pearl Jam (Army Reserve, for anyone wondering). Do you have any plans to write more in a music sense? Is there anyone you’d love to work with now that you’re out? I’m so glad you’re doing this Damien, thank you for everything. You truly are my hero.

damienechols446 karma

One of my musical heroes is Nick Cave. I could listen to him pretty much forever. I think he's a musical genius and I would absolutely love to work with him in any capacity.

Grimesenator289 karma

What thoughts were going through your head the day you went to prison? And what were the ones going through your head when released?

damienechols606 karma

The same thing was going through my head in both instances: nothing. I was so in shock, and in trauma, during both of these times that it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other.

Aecens274 karma

How were you treated by the other inmates? Were there any changes (inmates feelings towards you) when the Paradise Lost documentaries started to gain traction?

damienechols1000 karma

Death row is different from the rest of the prison population. There's a sense of solidarity on death row that you don't have anywhere else in the prison just because you have a common enemy. You don't have time to fight amongst yourselves when you're fighting against the people who are trying to put you to death.

biglost273 karma

Just wanted to say yalls story was the first thing to really push me to seriously think about going to law school. Taking the LSAT in 2 weeks.

damienechols407 karma

Congratulations. Jason actually wants to go to law school himself, he's currently taking his undergraduate classes but hopes to one day get his law degree and help those in the same situation that we were. So you're in good company.

myrinca246 karma

Will you ever be able to remove your guilty plea?

Thank you for doing this.

damienechols368 karma

The only way that's going to be possible is if the state decides to reopen the case. And that's going to be an uphill fight.

SinisterKid237 karma

What was the first thing you ate after you were released?

damienechols579 karma

I was so traumatized by suddenly being out of solitary confinement, that I wasn't really hungry. And just ate the first thing someone handed to me, which just so happened to be a black angus hamburger.

cardozaa226 karma

Can you explain what it felt like to have been condemned?

damienechols673 karma

If you've ever been punched in the head, you know it doesn't register as pain immediately. A lot of times it's like a bright flash of light, or the sound of thunder, and you're incredibly disoriented. Listening to someone sentence you to death for something you know you didn't do is like being punched in the head repeatedly.

pinkrevision224 karma

What's your greatest fear?

damienechols822 karma

A broken heart.

Dignitas221 karma

Do you feel like society is judgmental on you, since you were a convict for so long, even though you were released on the Alford Plea?

Thank you!

damienechols522 karma

So far just about everyone I've come in contact with has been 100% supportive and understanding.

Saimaeve194 karma

My brother was imprisoned in the Varner Unit in his teens and has been in an out of the Varner and Tucker unit since the mid 90's. Do you feel there is a chance at rehabilitation for young people imprisoned in the Arkansas prison system or is it very hard to get out of that prison mindset of Surviving Day to Day once released?

damienechols445 karma

I think rehabilitation in the Arkansas prison system is next to impossible. Just because there are no programs designed to rehabilitate people. You're basically just locked in a cage for a few years and then tossed back out onto the street.

myrinca187 karma

Were you able to spend any quality time with your child while incarcerated and after you were released?

*Edited to satisfy a grammar nazi who has never made spelling error in his life. Particularly when it is an auto-correction by a phone.

damienechols416 karma

Not really, for the most part I only got to see him once a year around Christmas. He's 19 years old and almost an adult, so it's a really difficult situation that both of us find ourselves in right now. Hopefully in the future we'll be able to forge some sort of relationship.

kansaskel159 karma

What most impresses me about you is your thirst for knowledge and how you continued learning and growing even during your time on death row. It's sadly ironic that that same desire to learn is largely what led to your conviction.

As a psychiatric nurse, I am interested in your thoughts on mental health care (or lack thereof) in the prison system, based on your personal experience with other inmates on death row.

damienechols414 karma

There is no mental health care for inmates on death row, just because they're not going to spend a lot of time and money taking care of someone they plan on killing. Over the years I've seen them execute the mentally insane, the mentally handicapped, and even the brain-damaged.

I think it's detrimental to society, especially when you consider the fact that most people in prison will one day be back out on the street, and they will be just as insane as they were, probably even more so, than when they went in.

whatthefunkster143 karma

What was the hardest part of knowing you innocent while waiting in Death Row? Did they ever give you a date of execution? What was your most enjoyable way to pass time while incarcerated?

damienechols317 karma

My original execution date was May 5 of 1994. My favorite way to pass time while incarcerated was reading. I read thousands of books over the years, but in the end my eyesight started to get so bad that my ability to read was greatly curtailed. I had to narrow down my focus and stick to things that I thought were going to help me survive my day-to-day life, which meant more nonfiction than fiction.

LorrieR130 karma

Hi Damien, You talked on Anderson about how Your health was rapidly deteriorating, can You explain what was happening to you?

damienechols392 karma

One of the most important and biggest things is that I was losing my eyesight due to the fact that I hadn't seen sunlight in almost a decade. I was also showing signs of having pre-diabetes, and was having kidney difficulties due to being severely beaten at one point. I have had a heart palpitation since I was in my early teenage years that grew worse due to the stress of prison life. I was developing arthritis in my hips and knees due to having lived on concrete for almost twenty years and sleeping on a concrete slab.

limac333116 karma

What was the hardest thing to adjust to after you were released?

damienechols326 karma

The constant fear, the free-floating anxiety of dealing with an entirely new world. Everything has changed in the time I was in, and now not only do I have to learn old things again but also completely new things.

damnitnicole99 karma

I was going to ask something similar here; it seems as if you've done a decent job of keeping up with the world, at least based on my uneducated ideas of what sorts of media one is allowed in prison.

Could you possibly elaborate about some of the "new" things?

damienechols685 karma

One thing is just how to navigate in the outside world. I had been in a box for almost twenty years, so moving from point A to point B was something that became very difficult for me once I was released. I also had to learn how to walk again, because for the past 18 years every time I went anywhere I had chains on my feet. So when I got out, I was constantly tripping over my own feet, and tripping down stairs. I had to relearn how to walk without chains.

[deleted]113 karma

Hi Damien, thanks so much doing this IAmA. Since you're a big music lover, I'm curious: what's the first album you bought upon being released from death row? Thanks!

damienechols379 karma

I immediately ordered everything by Danzig that I hadn't already heard, everything that had come out since I was locked up.

mike808hawaii108 karma

Would you (or do you) ever go back to prison to visit any of the prisoners you met?

damienechols405 karma

No. First off, because I've never been back to Arkansas since I left. But secondly, because the state of Arkansas said that I'm not allowed to. You don't really make friends in prison, but you can develop an understanding with someone that no matter what happens, they watch your back and you watch theirs. There was one guy like that that we looked out for each other pretty much the whole time I was in prison, and it's an unpleasant sensation to know that he's there alone now.

ludgate1299 karma

What has it been like living in New York City since you were released last year? And now you're moving to Salem, MA, which is a much sleepier place. How did you and Lorri decide on the move?

damienechols202 karma

I love Salem because it's an incredibly magickal,beautiful place. It's the sort of place where I'm actually in the majority. A lot of the people have the same loves and interest that I do. I'm looking forward to a place where things slow down, and I can rest for a while.

JamestheMames89 karma

When you were released, What kind of new technology are you most blown away by? As I am sure it changed drastically while you were in prison.

damienechols200 karma

I don't use very much social media, other than Twitter, which I really enjoy. Most other social media is still beyond my technological know-how at this point. I use my iPhone quite a bit, but I'm still pretty uncomfortable with a computer.

Luba_Luft87 karma

What was the most disturbing thing you saw or experienced while incarcerated?

damienechols242 karma

There were so many things that I barely even know where to begin. A lot of it would be the executions. There were between 25 and 30 executions during the time I was on death row. I once saw two men stabbed repeatedly. I've seen men beaten so bad they were unrecognizable. I saw a man who had been burned with homemade napalm. The list goes on and on. I saw a lot of things that I'll carry with me to my dying day.

Luba_Luft70 karma

Damien, what advice would you give to those suffering from depression, or those being teased for being 'different'?

damienechols362 karma

For those being teased about being different, I would say don't give up the things you love, the things that make your life magickal, or the things that make you different, just because you're being put under pressure by those that don't understand. Because if you give up those things then you're really living out a slow death sentence yourself. If you don't embrace the things you love and hold onto them, then you're not really alive.

ilikepeachtea68 karma

Were other inmates intimitated by you?

damienechols151 karma

Not really. Most other inmates on death row have their own problems to worry about! I was the last thing on their minds most of the time.

stellalukin62 karma

Now that we all know what an amazing writer you are, what do you see yourself writing about in the future?

damienechols128 karma

What I would like to write about in the future are things that interest me outside the case. Things like meditation, energy work, the Tarot, and maybe just my future life experiences.

Sweet_Jenilee60 karma

Thank you for reaching out to so many people. I absolutely love your work. It has brought me so much hope, inspiration, and comfort. I experience this Earth with so much more appreciation, fervor, and love because of your art and writing. In the future, do you plan on creating anything that details your Magick practice and/or energy work?

damienechols154 karma

Yes that's actually what I'd like to be able to write about the most. My long term goals are to be able to open up a meditation center and share with people the same techniques and practices that allowed me to survive in the harsh prison conditions. I hope that maybe they'll be of benefit to other people.

terrhasadeathwish58 karma

Do you feel like you got most of the recognition and Jason and Jessie got put on the back burner? It seems nobody cares as much for them as they do you. Also, have you and Jason mended your friendship?

damienechols158 karma

One of the reasons that I gained more recognition than Jason and Jessie is because they refused to speak to the media while we were in prison. I was the one who had to become the face of this case, just because no one else really could. Their attorneys did not want them speaking to the media, nor did mine want me, but I disregarded that, and chose to speak out for myself. I think Jason and Jessie would have gained more recognition had they chosen to do the same. But they didn't, and it's like they say, the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the most grease. In this case I felt like I really didn't have a choice other than to be the squeaky wheel.

aimstergal57 karma

What was it about Lorri's first letter to you that hit the mark with you more than all the others? What stood out that made you trust this person?

damienechols162 karma

It wasn't anything that she said, it was more just the energy around her letter. I knew by the way she expressed herself that this was someone completely unlike anyone I had ever known before, and I had this immediate desire for more. I wanted to know everything she thought, everything she felt, and still do now. I've never came across anyone who's half as magickal as she is.

luckysock2950 karma

Did it take some getting used to normal food again? What are your typical meals like nowadays?

damienechols187 karma

You have to get used to food out here because in prison there's no salt, no pepper, no butter, no cheese, no flavoring of any sort. The food is incredibly bland, and often borders on mush. Out here everything has a strong vibrant taste to it, even things you may not particularly care for. So out here it's like all the food is practically exploding with flavor, and it makes you want to eat more.

My typical diet these days is about 75% Mexican. I've went through different food stages since I was released, and for a while I was obsessed with Japanese and ate almost nothing else. For another few months it was Italian. But when I first got out, the thing I craved most and ate constantly was fruit. In prison there is no fruit, because the administration says you may make alcohol out of it. I hadn't had fresh fruit in many many years, and wanted to eat it nonstop to make up for lost time.

Gards2749 karma

Did you think that you would ever get out or had you given up hope?

damienechols141 karma

I didn't believe that I would be executed because I had hope from all of the people who gathered around us and supported us and gave us their time and energy. But I was afraid that I was going to die due to the fact that my body had started to deteriorate very rapidly.

[deleted]48 karma


damienechols187 karma

I still haven't seen Paradise Lost in its entirety. I've watched maybe 15 minutes of it, and it was too much to take. I could understand why it had such an impact on so many people, because it's incredibly realistic. When I tried to watch it, it was like being there and experiencing it again. I seriously doubt if I'll ever sit through it, because I just see no reason for reliving those horrific times yet again.

social_lurker45 karma

Is Johnny Depp actually as strange as he comes across in the media?

damienechols187 karma

I don't find him strange at all. I actually find him very relatable, he's kind, generous, and extremely supportive on every level.

westj200142 karma

I think that you have such a gift for writing. I know you were a prolific writer while in prison, do you continue to write now that you are out? Do you have any favorite writers?

damienechols165 karma

Definitely number one on the list would be Stephen King. I've read his books over and over, to the point where many of his characters feel like old friends to me. And I really do believe my ability to write came from reading his books repeatedly.

I'm a big fan of nonfiction writers like John Michael Greer, Michelle Belanger, and Doreen Virtue. Some of their writing is extremely inspirational and encourages you to delve deeper into your own spiritual practices.

In the realm of fiction, there's a book by a woman named Donna Tartt called 'The Secret History' which is probably one of the best stories ever written. It's not exactly horror, but there is a lot of psychological darkness to it. And it's incredibly well written.

YourNewPepPep41 karma

Hi Damien, I've been following your story since the first Paradise Lost movie. Just want to say that I admire your strenght.

Did you manage to find inner peace with all this situation or do you still get angry towards the the investigators, the lawyers or the Arkansas state?

Thanks for doing this!

damienechols157 karma

If I sat around and dwelled on the situation for long periods of time, I would probably be angry. But I don't. There's too much life ahead of me, and I'm too busy looking toward what lies in the future to spend all my time looking backwards.

Rebeccca_Morgan40 karma

What are your favorite things to do around Christmastime? I read that you love to eat Hershey Kisses, but only in December. Are there other things you enjoy only eating at that time of the year? I would send you a box full of Hershey Kisses in December if I could. You deserve them and so much more.

damienechols164 karma

Around Christmas I just like to go out walking, because there's an energy in the air that's completely unlike any other time of the year. My two favorite days are Christmas Eve and Halloween. I do love to eat Hershey's Kisses, but only in December, because that's what keeps them special. If I ate them any other time of the year, they would lost that special quality. Right now whenever I eat one, it's like having a tiny piece of Christmas on your tongue. Maybe it's because I relate them so much to childhood, but whatever it is, they're still incredibly special to me.

Badass_Officer_Code39 karma

What was the hardest thing to overcome while in prison?

damienechols105 karma

The hardest thing to overcome in prison is the stagnation. There aren't many opportunities for growth or self-development in that environment. You have to really seek out new ways of expanding your horizons. I would usually do this through reading, through writing, and through various visual arts over the years. The average IQ on death row is only about 85, so most people there aren't capable of doing these things for themselves.

westj200137 karma

A perfect day would be: _________________

damienechols170 karma

Having snacks, resting, and just having people that you love around you. It's also pretty high at the top of the list to see your book reviewed in the New York Times :)

thirtytwoflavors32 karma

Hello Damien, I was just wondering how you and Michale Graves went about and came together to collaborate on the album Illusions together? Are the two of you still or going to do any more collaborating? I saw and met Graves back in 2008 and it was one of the most touching and intimate shows I have ever been to. The album Illusions is by far my favorite album of all time.

damienechols49 karma

Michael Graves is a truly great guy, whose work comes straight from the heart. He and I corresponded with each other in prison, and it was his idea to take poems that I had written and put them to music.

dantheadultmale30 karma

Since your release, are there any movies or TV shows you've been drawn into?

damienechols119 karma

I've tried to watch some of the movies and TV shows that are out now but it's really difficult for me to get into anything. The ones I've tried to watch and that I have the most interest in are Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy. As for movies, my favorites are anything in the supernatural/horror genre. I don't like slasher movies. I like the ones that have some sort of magick to them.

myrinca25 karma

What is the last tattoo you got?

damienechols83 karma

The last tattoo would be a crow on the back of my right hand that Johnny and I got while we were in Toronto just to celebrate the Film Festival.

iamthejer21 karma

i've seen on twitter you are a life-long wrestling fan. Who are some of your all-time favorites or favorite matches?

damienechols66 karma

The Rock-Hogan match was probably one of the greatest I've ever seen.

skullxbones19 karma

I went to the Voices for Justice show in Little Rock. Is there any way you'll ever come back to the State?

damienechols68 karma

I won't entirely rule it out, but it will probably be quite a while. Right now the thought of doing it would just be too traumatic. Everything there would just remind me of what was done to me. Maybe one day I'll be able to get beyond that, and visit places that I used to love.

westj200112 karma

How was it travelling overseas for the first time? I have read that you've been to New Zealand. What was that experience like?

damienechols48 karma

It was physically hellish, just because my body wasn't ready for something that harsh. Flying for 26 or 27 straight hours takes a tremendous toll on the body. Still, it was worth it. Getting to see another country and another culture gives you a different perspective on your own.

jonswan10 karma

Thanks for doing this. I'm sure your wife was integral in keeping you alive while in prison. Other than her support and love, what kept you fighting? Books? Music? Letters from supporters?


damienechols49 karma

Letters from supporters made me realize how many people there were out there that cared, and that definitely kept me afloat in times of distress. Books were a source of solace, they were the only escape I had from the prison environment. And a great deal of my time was spent practicing meditation to help me deal with the pain and stress that I was going through. All in all the main two things that kept me alive were my wife and my spiritual practice.

alinamo8 karma

Do you, or did you, happen to participate in any chanting along with your meditation practice?

damienechols35 karma

Yes, but it was mostly Gnostic Christian or esoteric Judaic chanting. There was also long periods of different Buddhist chants that I would do in preparation for ordination purposes.