What would any of us do if we were locked up on Death Row for nearly two decades for a heinous crime we did not commit? How would we spend our days? How would we stay sane?
For Damien Echols, one of the ‘West Memphis 3’ falsely convicted of murdering three young boys in 1993, a spiritual life gave him hope where his reality could not. And to express – and facilitate – this spirtual journey into Buddhism, he turned to art.
Echols has now opened an exhibit of the works he created on Death Row at the Sacred Gallery, an exhibition space at a tattoo parlour in SoHo. I visited the exhibition this evening and, while the art was simple and understated, the depth of the experience and emotion behind the pieces really affected me.
The most interesting details were those that gave insights into his day-to-day life in prison; how he was only given one razor a month and used it to painstakingly cut out images for his collages; how he used book covers to make boxes with hidden compartments so he could hide images of his loved ones from guards; how he became so used to using Q-Tips to paint that, when he finally acquired a paintbrush, he used the Q-Tips anyway.
Here are the only images he painted with a paintbrush:
I’d wanted to visit the exhibition as, a couple of weeks ago, I saw a new documentary about the case followed by a Q&A with Echols, who now lives in New York.
In the Q&A, I asked whether he had ever heard from the victims’ families (who were initially crying for blood). He said one gave him a watch with the words ‘Time Starts Now’ inscribed on the back. This man is beyond inspiring, and it breaks my heart to know he lost all that time.