Damien Echols has written a book about his experiences with the criminal justice system and death row to excellent reviews. He has been doing the interview circuit and tonight I heard him on NPR. I wrote an earlier post on the case, but his interview brought the shock of it all back to me again. In spades.
He was released after 18 years on death row. There is no doubt about his innocence. Today he wears dark glasses because his sight degraded so much while in prison. His body is damaged all over for living and sleeping on concrete for 18 years. His mind is damaged so he is slowly reintegrating himself into the world even after two years. He will live the rest of his life suffering the damage to his mind and body that we caused.
The description of the beginning of his life on death row was so chilling I had to write it down. I wanted it as a testament to why I am a criminal defense lawyer. I have a mission to fight against the people who abuse innocent kids like Damien. He entered prison at 18 years old and listening to him describe what he went through makes your hair stand on end. Here is his description of how he was treated:
“The number one thing that makes you think and grow is pain and there is a lot of pain in prison. I barely even know where to begin. It started as soon as I arrived in prison. The guards decided they were going to welcome me to the neighborhood so they carried me to the part of the prison they called the hole. A really dark, filthy part of the prison in isolation where it gets up to 120 degrees in the summer and where they can do anything they want to you. And for the next 18 days they began beating me to death. They beat me, they starved me, they tortured me, just about any way you can torture a human being. They would come to the cell at midnight or 1 am and chain me to the bars and beat me. At one point they beat me so bad I started to urinate blood. They don’t care if you are innocent or you are guilty or what you are there for. Guilt or innocence doesn’t matter to these guards.”
What kind of a sick society do we live in that tolerates treatment like this? It is carried out in our name. How can we stand idly by and allow this to occur? If in the future I ever doubt the importance of what I do I will re-read Damon’s words. Over and over again.