The Three are Free

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Saturday, August 20, 2011

On June 3rd, 1993, shortly after the mutilated bodies of three eight-year-old boys were found in West Memphis, Arkansas, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were arrested as the prime suspects in the murders. Evidence to their "guilt": black hair, Stephen King novels, their love for heavy metal music and rumors that the three boys were Satanists.

After questionable police work, no solid evidence and a trial which painted the boys as Satanic, dangerous and cold-hearted killers, Damien was sentenced to death while Jason and Jessie received life in prison.

Now, after 18 years in prison, the West Memphis Three were released today after accepting an Alford plea. The deal, though not perfect, has granted the three, now in their 30's, a chance to live their lives as free men. Something they haven't been able to do since being incarcerated as teenagers.

When I learned about the WM3 around 1999-2000, I became immediately interested and supportive of their cause. It was very obvious to me that there was an incredible injustice which had fallen upon them. Facts had not sentenced these men to prison and death, but fear and ignorance. A need to point the finger at the invisible monster beneath the bed.

Their deal is not perfect and the three men still have to fight to clear their names of the crimes they've been convicted of, but now, as Damien said in a press conference today, they can do it outside of prison.

Damien, Jason and Jessie after being released August 19th.
The WM3 have regained a huge part of their lives. They can breath fresh air. Walk with their families and hold their loved ones. Feel the rain on their faces while most of us duck for cover. Eat a meal in their own home. Wake up to the morning without seeing brick and bars.

Tonight, I find myself happy to see a day I never thought would come for these men. The Three are free. Sleep well tonight, Damien, Jason and Jessie.

Damien Echols, a free man.
Some of you may not know that Damien is a writer and poet. Some of his work has been published but, as you may have guessed, being published while behind bars and on death row is infinitely harder than being published sitting on the outside.

Here are a few examples of Damien's poetry:

My best friend’s uncle
used to tell us stories
about life in Vietnam.
He smoked hand-rolled cigarettes
that turned his fingers yellow
and sipped whiskey straight from the bottle
as he explained how they’d used chocolate bars
to lure the children to landmines.
He chuckled while describing
the way the “gooks” exploded,
but told us we were too young
to hear about the whorehouses
he’d visit on his days off.

In those days you were something
felt but not seen
as you handed me love letters
written in dead languages.
The chain link fence behind me
made cold diamonds on my back
and your head was on my shoulder
with only one breath between us.
Your hair against my face
smelled like woodsmoke and chocolate,
your lust was raw and new,
as jagged and dangerous as rocks beneath the waves.
Now I’m trapped here like a ghost
haunting places that no longer exist,
feeding on frost and hummingbirds
during long November nights.
~Both pieces appeared in Rattle issue #28 in the winter of 2007.

Comments (3)

I wasn't aware of this story. Thanks for sharing.

For more information about the entire story, visit Also, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is a fantastic documentary about the entire ordeal.

I actually only heard of this case a few years ago and I found it devastatingly unsettling. I love that you included some of the poetry...that first poem is fantastic.

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