Freeing the West Memphis Three
Damien Echols’ Art Premieres in San Francisco
It has been 12 years since Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley -- collectively known as The West Memphis Three -- were convicted of the brutal killings of three 2nd-grade boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. And it’s been 12 years that the West Memphis Three -- now all around 30 years old -- have been sitting in prison, wrongfully accused.
The trials that occurred in the small Christian town in 1993 are nothing less than a modern-day witch-hunt. There was no physical evidence to convict the boys, just an overriding hysteria or ‘Satanic Panic’ brought on by the fact that Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley wore black and listened to Metallica. Baldwin got life without parole. Misskelley, who is borderline mentally-retarded and was coerced into an error-filled confession, received life plus 40; Echols awaits lethal injection on Death Row.
To make it through the long days of solitary confinement, Echols creates art: “All of the artwork is made here in my cell, where I am 24 hours a day for the most part. I’m usually sitting balanced on the edge of my bunk hunched over whatever I’m working on, which is balanced on my knees,” wrote Echols in an interview with Anje Vela and Lady Monster.
He uses Q-Tips, paint acquired by trading food, two pencils, and magazine clippings cut with a disposable razor to create his all-consuming paintings, sketches, and collages: “Whatever art form I’m working at …I absolutely cannot rest until the piece is complete. It refuses to let me walk away until it comes out how it wants to come out. If art is not sentient, then there’s no point wasting time with it. I look at artwork as an energy current made visible.”
This Friday, at the Skeleton Key benefit auction in San Francisco, Echols’ art will be shown for the first time. About 26 of his pieces will be auctioned off, along with work from supporters such as Bob Gruen, Mick Rock, Floria Sigismondi, Shepard Fairey, and Norman Reedus. Henry Rollins, Jonathan Richman, and former Misfits frontman Michael Graves (amongst others) will speak and read poetry written by Echols. The event is sponsored in part by Eddie Vedder; and, all proceeds will go to Echols’ defense fund, which is currently preparing an appeal for federal court.
“It seems to me,” says Mick Rock, “that these three guys were railroaded because they looked strange to their community. This is supposed to be the land of the free. They need help, and I'm more than happy to give what I can to get the word out -- and Damien Echols is clearly an artist of talent."
Skeleton Key will be held May 12th at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco. For more information on the event and future events, and how you can help out: skeletonkeyart.com
To learn more about the case: wm3.org
Watch the three-part documentary on the case, called Paradise Lost, available at amazon.com
Read Echols book, Almost Home: My Life Story Vol 1, amazon.com
Check out Echols’ blog at myspace.com/almosthomevol1
Photos of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley by Grove Pashley