Written By November | December 2012 : Page 30

P ersistence of NO VEMBER | Why Amy Berg and Billy McMillin made a new documentary on the West Memphis Three. ision V 20 12 30 • WG A W Written By DECEMBER

Persistence Of Vision

Tom Keller

Amy Berg was both flattered and intrigued in 2008 when she heard unexpectedly from Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. The Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings collaborators wanted to know if Berg might be interested in writing and directing a documentary that they intended to produce. The film would focus on a notorious 1993 multiple murder in West Memphis, Arkansas: Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers—freckle-faced eightyear- olds out for an afternoon bike ride—had been intercepted, hog-tied, and horribly beaten, their small bodies left in a muddy ditch that trickled through a wooded area known as Robin Hood Hills. Three local teenagers— Damien Echols, 18; Jessie Misskelley, 17; and Jason Baldwin, 16—were convicted of the crime, and Echols was sentenced to death as the supposed ringleader. But Walsh and Jackson believed a terrible miscarriage of justice had been perpetrated.<br /> <br /> There were, though, issues that Berg could have considered deterrents to making a film. “The first being how heavy it was,” she says, scrunched down in a white leather chair in the Venice offices of her Disarming Films, Inc., a lean figure wearing an Argyle vest, skinny jeans, and scuffed cowboy boots. Taking it on would mean repeated viewings of grisly crime scene and autopsy photos; interviews with bereaved parents; and multiple attempts to talk to resistant authorities. <br /> <br /> Not that challenging issues were new to Berg. A one-time CNN and CBS documentary producer, her Deliver Us From Evil had been nominated for an Oscar and won her a 2006 Writers Guild Award for Best Documentary. The film revealed a Catholic priest whose sexual crimes were covered up by the highest levels of the Catholic Church, and it brought her to the attention of Walsh and Jackson. It was what convinced them she could be tough enough to deliver their project, which they hoped would result in a new trial for the teens, now adults, in prison and known as the West Memphis Three. <br /> <br /> At the time Berg knew little about the case. Before committing, she felt compelled to do her own research. “I didn’t want to be this person saying, ‘All right, they paid you.’” <br /> <br /> Once her investigation began, she was astonished by what she learned. Among 15 years of accumulated records, she discovered a sloppy investigation and a trial based on an obviously coerced confession from Misskelley, who was mentally slow. Alibi witnesses had been ignored. Fanning flames in the terrified community were the county prosecutor’s charges of devil-worship and ritual slaughter, supported by an unqualified pathologist and a self-styled occult expert with a correspondence degree. Yet the trial judge, David Burnett, didn’t allow important testimony from a U.C. Berkeley expert in false confessions. <br /> <br /> Echols—a troubled misfit who favored black clothing, Stephen King novels, alternative religions, and heavy metal music— became the prosecution’s primary target, depicted as group mastermind with a taste for sucking blood. Not that there was any blood at the crime scene, but authorities contended that the teens had hauled off blood in buckets to ritually drink. “There’s not a soul in there,” the steely-eyed prosecutor, John Fogleman, declared at trial about the handsome, pallid Echols.<br /> <br /> “Every single thing seemed faulty,” Berg remembers. “I had been interested in another case of someone on Death Row that I didn’t think was guilty. He had been executed while I was making Deliver Us From Evil. This story spoke to me in that way: If there’s anything I can do, I’m first in line.” <br /> <br /> When she delved into new research funded through the defense by Jackson and Walsh, Berg found significant new evidence: half a dozen high-profile forensic experts, including doctors Vincent DiMaio and Michael Baden, had independently concluded that the children’s wounds, including a severed penis described in court as inflicted during a Satanic rite, had been caused not by a knife before death, but post-mortem by animals. In an equally important revelation, none of the three teens’ DNA was found at the murder scene, yet DNA belonging to Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Stevie Branch, was linked to a hair under a ligature on one of the murdered boys. “For me, the game changer was the expert witnesses,” Berg says. “This was huge.” <br /> <br /> Defense lawyers had presented the new findings recently to Judge Burnett, only to see him reject them as a basis for a new trial. With Echols moving closer to a lethal injection, Jackson and Walsh wanted a film to expose the corrupt legal system. “We couldn’t believe that in the intervening years, there hadn’t been successful appeals,” Jackson has said.<br /> <br /> Sleuthing Truth <br /> <br /> At the time Berg set foot in Arkansas in 2009, it had been a decade since filmmakers tackled the trial of the West Memphis Three. But she was not, of course, the only one to look at the case. It had been Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger’s 1996 Emmy- winning documentary, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, and their 2000 follow-up, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, that had originally questioned the trio’s guilt. Celebrities Johnny Depp, Henry Rollins, Margaret Cho, Eddie Vedder, and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines came on board, influenced by the first film to fight for the trio’s cause. Vedder and Pearl Jam even financed an early round of DNA tests. Then, after seeing the first documentary in 2005, Walsh and Jackson jumped in to fund further research. Says noted San Francisco appellate lawyer Dennis Riordan, who worked on the case: “There’s no question that they came in at a particular point and advanced the investigation to a whole other level.” <br /> <br /> Since then, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, aired on HBO and was nominated for 2012 Oscar and Emmy awards. Devil’s Knot—an Atom Egoyan–directed feature, starring Reese Witherspoon and based on legal reporter Mara Leveritt’s book about the West Memphis Three—is poised for a 2013 release. “From the beginning, what I was able to bring to this was a fresh perspective, because I wasn’t there in 1993 when everyone was on the witch hunt and caught up in all the drama,” Berg says. “We were not looking into a competitive film thing. There was a guy on death row.” <br /> <br /> One of her first moves was to watch the earlier documentaries, which she viewed as a call to action rather than definitive. She also met with Lorri Davis, a New York landscape architect who had seen Paradise Lost at the Museum of Modern Art when it was first released. Davis had written to Echols, began working on his behalf, then in 1999 married him in a Buddhist prison ceremony, and moved to Arkansas to continue the fight. Photogenic and fresh-faced, with auburn hair and an engaging, gap-toothed smile, Davis, like her husband, would become a producer on West of Memphis, as well as a major character on screen. <br /> <br /> “Everyone has an idea of women who marry prisoners,” Berg says. “With Lorri, her connection with Damien wasn’t based on a desperation in her own life. It was about his case and his story. She was always fighting for the underdog as a kid. It’s like a fairytale in a way.” <br /> <br /> Six months into her research, Berg met Echols himself, his life force a surprise to her in someone who had been beaten and tortured in prison and left for years in solitary confinement. <br /> <br /> “He was amazing,” Berg says. “This clear man who said every day that he liked to get up and get to work. He was meditating. He was running in place a few hours a day. He’d read 1,000 books, and he was so articulate. He wasn’t living in the darkness. He was living in the light in a room that was smaller than this office.” She gestures around her space that can barely hold three chairs, a coffee table, and a child-size desk. “He hadn’t been in the sun in eight years. His eyesight was practically gone, and his teeth were falling out.” <br /> <br /> Nonetheless, with his penetrating brown eyes, moviestar good looks, and hypnotic Southern drawl, the wronged Echols would prove a sympathetic and charismatic central figure around which to tell his horror story and that of his railroaded companions. <br /> <br /> Ring Bearers <br /> <br /> By the time Berg met Jackson and Walsh to map out strategy over three days at Shutters Hotel in Santa Monica, a year had gone by. <br /> <br /> “Literally because it was Peter Jackson, we wanted to do a great job. Not that we wouldn’t for somebody else, but it was an extra level of intimidation,” Berg says, about herself and Billy McMillin, her West of Memphis editor and co-writer. McMillin had won the 2006 Best Editing award at Sundance for the Oscar-nominated Iraq in Fragments and worked with Berg on the documentary she produced, Bhutto, about the assassinated Pakistani politician, Benazir Bhutto. (Berg has remarked that she found similarities between the eye-for-aneye conservative religious cultures of Pakistan and those in West Memphis, Arkansas.) They requested an additional editor and got one: “We asked for that assistant editing position from day one because I was so afraid of losing footage, or anything else that could go wrong,” Berg says. <br /> <br /> She and McMillin made the decision early on that she would travel to Arkansas to film, and he would stay in L.A. “Way better for him,” says Berg. “He got to do the art of it.” <br /> <br /> For both of them, of course, the choice was about the art. Because of the personal nature of the material she deals with, Berg likes to keep a small set, and McMillin has a rule. “I try to not meet the subjects, to create an objectivity block,” he says, sitting in Berg’s office, a slender figure in geek-cool plaid Shirt, shorts, and glasses. “You want to make everything you’re editing be based on what’s on camera or in a recording. It’s Amy’s job to get emotionally invested in the characters and fight for them, and it’s my job to be the counterweight, to keep it in balance. It was tough. We both have kids. We know what it would be like, or I guess we don’t know what it would be like, but we can both imagine what it would be like to lose a child like that.” <br /> <br /> One of the first sequences Berg filmed, over two days, draws gasps now from audiences, who react to its shocking visuals and evidentiary implications. Without giving too much away, it involves a giant turtle latching onto the arm of a turtle breeder in a viselike grip, and other turtles feeding on a pig corpse. “It was not a pleasant thing to do,” Berg says. “Now it’s one of my favorite scenes in the film.” <br /> <br /> Driving sequences give a sense of how spread out Arkansas is, and wintry landscapes underscore how much, during those years in his prison cell, Echols missed his favorite season—and how close he was to death. <br /> <br /> As the shoot progressed, Jackson and Walsh were “amazingly filmmaker friendly,” Berg recalls. “This is your film, but we’re here if you need anything.’ Peter called me sometimes from the set of The Hobbit when I was going in to interview someone: Don’t forget to ask him this. It was great that they were so engaged. We’ve had producers before who were not so supportive, and there’s such a difference. I am telling you, I don’t ever want to do it another way again. You can set yourself up to have some boundaries, but I’ve never had the authority to do that.” <br /> <br /> Bad producers, she says, want to see dailies and stringouts too early in the game, then demand too much input: “They don’t understand the process, so you’re constantly trying to justify yourself when you know exactly what you’re doing. With this film, I knew from the first month of edit that we were going to have a great beginning, middle, and end, because we had done so much prep work.” <br /> <br /> But the hardest part in writing and editing West of Memphis turned out to be deciding which beginning, middle, and end to pursue. They started by telling the story of Echols’ childhood, with voiceover recordings of him reading from the eloquent journals he kept while in prison. He had an early life filled with darkness: a father who disappeared for years, a brutal stepfather, and poverty so crushing that moving to a one-room trailer felt like luxury. <br /> <br /> But there were so many other choices.<br /> <br /> “We could have done the story of Lorri and Damien,” says Berg, whose words often tumble out in a rush of enthusiasm. “We had letters, and all these amazing phone conversations, and their history, and that was a beautiful story.” <br /> <br /> Sometimes Davis and Berg butted heads. “Damien and I were a little, in the beginning, wary of sharing our personal lives. I give her all the credit in the world for being single-minded,” Davis says, about Berg. “She’s stubborn and hard-headed. I’m not like that now I don’t think. But when I was working on Damien’s case I was stubborn, so we got along well. Amy and I will be friends forever.” <br /> <br /> Then there was the investigation, and Baldwin and Echols’ 17-day trial, which had been recorded. Misskelley was tried separately, and McMillin and Berg ran all the proceedings over and over, for a while fighting to keep out heavy legal points, thinking that they would undercut the emotion of Echols’ saga. <br /> <br /> “You watch archived footage, and you’re like, Oh, my God, it’s old, it’s boring, it’s heavy,” Berg says. But as they delved more into the trial, they began writing tight scenes, putting them together to illustrate unethical courtroom behavior: conflicting testimony from a medical examiner; witnesses Berg tracked across the country who would admit for the first time to her camera that they had been pressured to lie on the stand; alibi witnesses Whose statements had been ignored; original footage of the lead prosecutor and the judge, but also interviews in which they spoke about the case to Berg, professing their continuing conviction in the boys’ guilt. “It was all about what shows misconduct, loss of faith, manipulation, and lies,” Berg says. “So it became much more dramatic, in the Greek tragedy formula, than it was when it was in our heads.” <br /> <br /> They also had the story of the Hobbs clan, who had lost Stevie, his death raw as ever to his mother, Pam. Divorced now from Terry and grappling with the suspicion that her ex-husband had possibly murdered her child, Pam said she felt as if she was still in the ditch with Stevie, trying to crawl out. The Hobbses could have been their own documentary, the filmmakers thought. “What that family has been through: drugs and prostitution; abuse and poverty; sadness and false beliefs in the system,” says Berg. Adds McMillin: “We had entire character arcs built on the whole Hobbs family. Incredible stories.” <br /> <br /> For months he and Berg worked with an opening act about Pam Hobbs. Her inability to move on reflected a community in limbo, they believed, because of the unresolved answer to the crucial question: If the West Memphis Three were not guilty, then who really did kill her son? Who could have sadistically tortured and murdered three children? <br /> <br /> Something didn’t feel right about that storyline, though, and Berg realized that the Hobbs sequence slowed the film down. “I remember when it totally came together for me, because I was struggling,” she says. “I was in the shower, and I had this vision of starting with the arrests. It changed the whole scope of the opening act for us, because it got you engaged in a different way.” <br /> <br /> Just as the three beautiful little murdered boys could have been anybody’s children, so could the three teens being marched through a jeering mob: the baby-faced Baldwin; Misskelley, confused and hanging his head in shame; and Echols, in shock, in one shot exhibiting a defiant teenage grin through the back window of a cop car.<br /> <br /> Clues to Writing <br /> <br /> For Berg, sometimes wading through red tape during the shoot was tough. “We were trying to investigate something that we had initiated, and we would get frustrated when the lawyers would find out what we were doing and tell us to stop,” she says. “We always talked our way through it, and it was always clear that Damien’s life was more important than a film. Sometimes as a filmmaker you just want to push through. But we always had the best intentions.” <br /> <br /> Since some West Memphis Three figures, including Terry Hobbs, had sold their life story rights over the years, Berg faced other roadblocks, but she persisted with potential sources. “I just kept calling and showing up. I never let someone say ‘no’ before I hang up. I always say, ‘You know what, I’m going to call you back in a couple of weeks.’” <br /> <br /> McMillin and Berg ended up with 800 hours of new footage to work with, plus 200 hours of archival, with stringouts Of each character. They had been editing since eight months into the shoot. <br /> <br /> “For me, with writing, it’s always a visual process,” says Berg. “So when I’m doing interviews, I’m always making a list of all the important things.” From the road, she had sent notes to McMillin: Pam, divorced, got into drugs, father died, her daughter runs away, and so on. Then McMillin would create a visual character arc and send it back to her. They transcribed everything into a file that grew to 13,000 pages. Important, since Berg admits that sometimes she hears something different in her head from what someone has actually said. “We did a good job, as much as we could, to be organized, with so many dead-end stories and rabbit holes that you go down,” says McMillin. <br /> <br /> At various points they had to reshoot because something simply didn’t come together. “We were never, never done filming,” Berg comments. “There were so many times in the middle of edit when we had to go back down.” But it was “magical,” she says, how it worked out in the edit. “Writing happens at so many stages in a documentary, but the real, final script comes in the edit bay. You have all these great ideas and outlines and stories, and there are so many great scenes that are—not actually on the floor, because we don’t use the floor anymore. How do you say it?” <br /> <br /> “They’re in the archives,” McMillin puts in, helpfully. <br /> <br /> “It’s sad,” Berg goes on. “We would have these long discussions about getting rid of things. But Billy and I think very much alike. We challenge each other in all the right spots.” <br /> <br /> Twice they visited Jackson and Walsh in New Zealand, the first time for notes and the second for long days spent editing. “With Fran and Peter, in the editing bay, we were, literally, ‘We have to get this under two hours.’ And then, of course, there were so many things we kept adding every time we’d take something out,” Berg remembers. “And Peter was, ‘Don’t worry! I made Lord of the Rings!’” <br /> <br /> A Half-Way Out <br /> <br /> The end to the project proved bittersweet. In May 2010, Judge David Burnett, who had dismissed the request for a new trial, was elected to the state Senate. “All this hoop-de-la about new evidence,” he says to Berg’s camera, his eyes cold. “There is no new evidence.” The Arkansas State Supreme Court disagreed. In August, it granted lawyer Riordan’s petition for an evidentiary hearing that could lead to a new trial and in November overturned Judge Burnett’s previous rulings. All appeared on track for the West Memphis Three to get their long-awaited new day in court. <br /> <br /> It never happened. In August 2011, Arkansas hammered out a deal for an unusual legal maneuver known as an Alford Plea: Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley could be released, if they would plead guilty in their own interests while asserting that they were innocent of committing the crimes. This would leave Arkansas without the possibility of wrongful conviction lawsuits that could cost up to $60 million but would leave the men with felonies on their records. Baldwin wanted to leave prison completely vindicated and initially refused to accept the offer, meaning the deal would be out. But Baldwin was persuaded and ultimately relented, believing Echols’ life was in danger. The three were free, yet without the exoneration they deserved.<br /> <br /> Berg is not happy. “We want to know why they’re not investigating someone else,” she says. The someone that she and McMillin would like authorities to look at is Terry Hobbs, implicated in the DNA results. That evidence aside, a P.I. hired by Jackson and Walsh dug up police reports of past violence by the stepfather. “Look, we can’t definitively say that he did it, but we can say definitively that these guys didn’t. And that there’s a sheaf of evidence that points in that direction, and it’s incumbent on law enforcement to go down that path.” The potential $60 million expense to the state of Arkansas if someone else is found guilty is an obvious answer to the state’s lack of activity. “But we just want a better answer than that,” says Berg. “I don’t think the guys even want money.” <br /> <br /> In September, hoping to up public pressure to get Baldwin, Misskelley, and Echols exonerated, Jackson paid for a series of free screenings in Arkansas, where at press time Senator David Burnett was running for reelection and the latest prosecutor Scott Ellington was making a bid for Congress. “They all made their Careers off this case,” says Berg about the local good-old-boys legal community in Arkansas. “It’s very strange.” <br /> <br /> Celebrities continue their support: Johnny Depp showed up at the Toronto Film Festival when West of Memphis was screened; and rocker Dave Navarro, of Jane’s Addiction, took to the stage at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse to lead a Book Soup–sponsored Q&A with Echols, who was on a cross-country tour to promote Life After Death, a memoir about his childhood and life in prison. [See sidebar.] <br /> <br /> Navarro, all black leather and tattoos— the tattooed Echols had personally added one to the musician’s wrist recently— prefaced the session by saying, to a murmur from the bookish crowd, “I am not a reader. I don’t like it.” He went on to say that he did like Life After Death. On stage, hiding behind the black Ray- Bans that he needs to protect eyesight damaged by years spent without sunlight, Echols suggested the importance of prison reform: “Almost everybody who goes into prison will some day get out,” he said. “It’s not a good idea to drive these people stark-raving mad and bring them back into your neighborhood.” <br /> <br /> Navarro admiringly told Echols, “You’ve become an incredible, important thinker and teacher for this generation—” a “teacher” who has a felony conviction on his record and who was at first turned away by Canada when he tried to enter the country to attend the Toronto Film Festival. Amy Berg, seated next to Lorri Davis, looked on from the audience and joined in the two standing ovations for Echols.<br /> <br /> Disarming Films has five other projects in the works, including a Janis Joplin documentary; Berg has written her first narrative screenplay, about the musician Jeff Buckley; and she is set to direct the Diane Lane feature Every Secret Thing next year. Still, she isn’t done with the West Memphis Three. She muses about whether Peter Jackson will want her to head back to Arkansas to interview yet another source who has surfaced recently. “Having them on the outside, but still fighting for the exoneration, makes it feel like it’s not over,” she says. “Just a new phase of what we’ve done.”<br /> <br /> The Haunting of Damien Echols<br /> <br /> Damien Echols’ head is tipped back against a plush lobby banquette in the faded hipness of the Sunset Strip’s Mondrian Hotel. On the third leg of a multi-city tour to promote his prison memoir, Life After Death (Blue Rider Press; $26.95), Echols cannot remember if this is his fifth or seventh interview of the day. <br /> <br /> “One day we did 12 straight hours.” His melodious voice is barely above a whisper. “I went to one interview at 7 o’clock in the morning and then kept going until 7 o’clock at night. A lot of interviewers haven’t read the book. They don’t care.” <br /> <br /> Maybe some haven’t, but reviewers have, and they do care: “Searing, finely wrought,” said Publishers Weekly. “A work of art,” praised Kirkus Reviews, comparing Echols to Jean Genet. “I now obsessively watch Amazon.com,” Echols says, rousing from his weary slump to demonstrate, fingers punching at his smartphone: “It fell two places. It went up three. I check every 10 minutes.”<br /> <br /> For a ninth-grade dropout who grew up in a miserably dysfunctional family he describes as “right next door to illiterate,” things are looking good. Or as good as they can look after the nightmare of being wrongfully convicted for the brutal 1993 murders of three young boys. <br /> <br /> “The cells of my body store fear the way others’ do fat,” Echols writes in the book. “Every terrifying and traumatic thing I’ve ever experienced is still held within my muscle fiber as well as in my brain tissue.” <br /> <br /> Maybe this is what makes him jump and stop talking as raucous voices from businessmen boom through the lobby; the hotel echo is not unlike that inside a prison. Out for a little more than a year, Echols admits that he still feels “weird.” <br /> <br /> And who wouldn’t? Eighteen years inside for something you didn’t do—18 years in prison—just might have that impact on a depressed kid without a place in the world, and no expectation of finding one, but who discovered an alternate reality by reading and exploring religions: Catholicism, Buddhism, Wicca. “I’ve always been a writer,” Echols says, embarrassed nonetheless that his teen angst journals were introduced as evidence against him in court. <br /> <br /> Most of the book was written while enduring punitive solitary confinement. “Fifteen percent I’ve written since I’ve been out, but most of that was just bridging the other stuff.” <br /> <br /> Writing wasn’t that easy once he was released from prison. He and his wife, Lorri Davis, immediately fled Arkansas for Seattle and then New York, penniless and relying on the kindness of others. There were three months in New Zealand, staying with Lord of the Rings’ writers Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson. Then they lived in an unoccupied apartment of Jackson’s in New York, until the roof fell in and had to be repaired. For now, he and Davis have settled in Salem, Massachusetts, where he hopes to start a small meditation center. “I want to pass on some of the things I learned in prison that helped me survive.”<br /> <br /> When readers ask why there is much about his childhood and prison in his book but little about his trial, he’ll admit: “I don’t like writing about this case.” <br /> <br /> And he didn’t want to keep watching trial footage while West of Memphis was being made. “When it was still in its very rough stages, I thought, God, I don’t want to see this. I don’t want to go through this shit again. This is fucking misery. Yet When I sat through an early cut, it held my attention all the way through, end to end.” <br /> <br /> Naturally, he hadn’t known what to expect from his producer title. “It was something completely outside my frame of reference. We actually had to work. It wasn’t like our names were just stuck on there. We worked our asses off. Every single cut, every time something was changed, you had to go back and watch it over again. Make notes about what other changes you would like to see.” <br /> <br /> As Echols remembers it, he snapped at Amy Berg periodically: “She would come up with, Well, what do you say is the reason why parents whip their kids in the south? She would have this theory that connected somehow to feudalism in medieval times. And I would say, ‘What the hell are you talking about? That’s rich-girl talk. People here beat their kids because they don’t behave.’ In the beginning, I thought, She does not get this. She doesn’t understand my life or the world where I came from. Then when I saw the first cut of the movie, I thought, She does. She got it. She got it dead on.” <br /> <br /> He considers Walsh and Jackson part of the legal team. “It wasn’t like they just threw money at it. They were involved in every aspect of this case. Every day, Fran would send a list of emails saying, ‘This person needs to be talked to. You need to contact this forensic expert and see what they have to say about things.’ They were involved. And still are. They’re like family to us.” <br /> <br /> As for writing: “What I hope will come of this book is people will read it and like the feel of it enough that they’ll want to read about something other than the trial.” He sounds wistful. Any thoughts of screenwriting? “I’m working on it now. We’ve been talking with Johnny Depp about taking the book and doing something with it. If not a theatrical movie, what would be even better would be a three-part miniseries.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, he hopes to have his name cleared one day. “I cannot explain it,” he writes in the book, “the way my soul gibbers and shrieks for some sort of closure.” <br /> <br /> Which is the underlying motive for this book tour, the reason for book signings and television appearances. “The state of Arkansas is not going to do anything to solve this case or get us exonerated,” Echols says. “We carry the entire weight of the case at a time when we should be able to forget it.”<br /> <br /> Running In Hell<br /> <br /> After 18 Years On Death Row For A Crime He Never Committed, Damien Echols Wrote A Memoir Of Prison, Life After Death, Now In Its Third Printing. An Excerpt:<br /> <br /> I don’t know why I started running. I don’t even remember starting: I was suddenly just doing it. Being trapped in a cell meant I had to run in place, so that’s what I did. I ran so hard that I lost all track of time. Eventually, I passed out. The world just went black, and sounds seemed to be coming from the far end of a very long hallway. I did it again the next day, only this time I put on two pairs of socks, because of the blisters on my feet. I ran until I found myself crawling toward the toilet on my hands and knees, retching and dry-heaving as I slipped in my own sweat. What should have been horrible was somehow beautiful. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I felt closer to all things divine than I ever did in any church. I had run for over two hours without stopping for so much as a drink of water, and I had discovered a new world. <br /> <br /> By the third day, my feet had started bleeding, leaving little smudges and droplets all over the floor, but I wouldn’t even notice them until later. I don’t understand how there can be magick [sic] in the repetitive movement of the body, but I’ve found it. <br /> <br /> There are times when my mind screams at my body to stop, that it’s not possible to go for one more second. I ignore it and push beyond that point. Only by pushing beyond every boundary that my mind and body pose can I swim in the dark, deep waters that I need. That’s the place where anything worth having comes from. It’s the pain of destroying my boundaries that let’s me scan the current for messages in bottles. They come from downstream with a ghost inside each one. I don’t know who or what casts those bottles, at least not yet. Those with less curiosity or ambition just mumble that God works in mysterious ways. I intend to catch him in the act.

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