Free but still not quite exonerated, Damien Echols spent half his life in prison -- much on death row -- as punishment for a crime that he has never been linked to with, say, evidence. Many of those years he suffered in solitary confinement, even as the documentaries Paradise Lost
and its sequels revealed this injustice to the world.
As he recounts in his new memoir, Life After Death, Echols taught himself meditation, the particulars of a host of religions, and even the one thing that might be truly unteachable: how to write well.
He credits his success with the latter to the years he's spent in the company of Stephen King. Echols has never met or communicated with King -- "I don't know that he knows my story," Echols says -- but it's possible that, after 18 years of incarceration, there's no other adult mind with whom Echols has spent more time. The Voice called Echols to ask about King's influence yesterday.
I heard an interview where you said you learned to write from reading Stephen King novels over and over in prison. You were actually reading these beforehand, too, right? More »
It goes back to when I was ten or eleven years old. My grandma got one of his books at a garage sale, and I want to say the first of his I ever read was Night Shift. I'm not 100 percent positive, but that's one of the earliest I remember. The reason it sticks out so much is the cover. It had a hand with a bunch of eyes looking out of it, all wrapped in gauze or a bandage. I thought, "What the hell is that?"