I recently picked up Damien Echols new book “Life After Death.” Echols haunting story of survival in solitary confinement left me brimming with tears and deeply moved. I have been following Damien’s case for years, and always felt as though he was innocent of the charges brought before him. He was a dirt poor, articulate kid from the wrong side of the tracks that ended up spending nearly twenty years in a box for crimes he did not commit.Like many people who find themselves in solitary confinement, Damien was a poor, disenfranchised citizen of a community where he was not accepted.
“Life After Death” is a compelling read. Mr. Echols weaves a story about a life that has so far been defined by several enormous tragedies. He writes about his hard scrabble childhood, and the colorful people who raised him. As interesting as it was to read about his past, the crux of the story has to do with Damien Echols time spent in solitary confinement, which is hard to swallow due to how unfair he was treated by the AK prison system.
The sheer terror that the book evokes prompted me to do further research regarding this subject. I discovered that many inmates who are sent to solitary are usually confined to their cells for nearly 23 hours a day. Such was the case with Damien. Damien’s experienced horrors while on death row that are unconscionable. Many of the ghastly things Echols witnessed are being repeated across the country in prisons in California, Texas, Mississippi, and good ole Arkansaw. Amnesty International recently released their disturbing findings which reveal a lot more about solitary confinement than I had previously known. According to Amnesty International, prison inmates in California who are confined to “the hole,”experience life in a jail cell the size of a closet for nearly 23 hours a day. These prisoners are often abused in numerous ways by guards, and lack any type of health care. They lack interaction with other inmates, sometimes for more than a decade or more. They are essentially left to decay, like a wild animal in a petting zoo cage. Attractions for the morally bankrupt prison guards who spend their shifts taunting and abusing inmates who have no chance at rehabilitation.
The majority of people in solitary confinement are singled out by prison guards for being gang members. Placing more and more men and women in solitary confinement is now routine in certain prisons in California.This system of severe psychological punishment is being widely used and abused. Initially, this type of confinement was used for the most violent, disturbed prisoners. These days, an inmate in some of these prisons may find themselves spending the remainder of their days in a tiny hell hole for hanging out with the wrong crowd.1,000 prisoners in one facility in California were reported to live in cells with no natural windows or light. Just ask Damien what happens when a person does not have access to sunlight.
I could write about this topic for hours. As for Damien’s new book, I highly recommend reading it. He is a man of immense resiliency, who survived being convicted of crimes he did not commit. Most compelling is how he recalls what it was like to live in a place where he suffered immense loneliness and mental torture due to lack of contact with the outside world. He was confined to a box and survived nearly half of his life in horrible living conditions. Perhaps his voice will resonate with those who are on the fence about solitary confinement. Solitary confinement needs to be abolished.