Update: West Memphis Three’s Damien Echols to get time on CNN, and, possible “second chance.” Plus: Exploring “Prison Dharma”

You may recall the story of Damien Echols, who, as a young man, was branded as the mastermind of what has come to be known as the “West Memphis Three.” As teens, Echols and friends Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were fingered as the killers behind the grisly murders of three young boys. Today, Echols is a practitioner of meditation who projects care and thoughtfulness in his words, spoken and written. (As CNN’s David Mattingly notes, people on Death Row, as Echols is, “have a lot of time to think.”) The case has spawned documentary films, activist groups, and books, many of which contend that the WM3 have been wrongly accused and jailed.

Tonight the case gets another high-profile boost, in the form of a CNN news special called “Presumed Guilty: Murder in West Memphis.” It will air at 11 p.m. ET and again on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, and will discuss the possibility of a new, name-clearing trial.

After the jump: sample video from “Presumed Guilty,” as well as a collection of some of the best Prison Dharma articles from the Shambhala Sun’s archives — from people who know the practice from both sides of the bars.

Video via CNN:


prisondharma-sunspace-108Prison dharma: Buddhist principles and teachings, put into practice to give comfort and guidance to the incarcerated. What could be a more worthy cause?

Anyone who’s practiced prison dharma will tell you: It works. So we’ve collected some of the best articles from the Shambhala Sun’s archives, from people who know the practice from both sides of the bars. Just click any article’s title to start reading.

  • Forced to Sit — Prisoner Scott Darnell shares his story of finding compassion on the inside.
  • Finding Freedom: The Death Row Journey of Jarvis Jay Masters — by Susan Moon.
  • Murder, Injustice, and the West Memphis Three — Rod Meade Sperry shares the tale of Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin, and (the now-Buddhist) Damien Echols. Could what’s happened to them happen to any of us?
  • A Roshi on the Row — Kobutsu Malone takes Shodo Harada Roshi on an unprecedented visit to Arkansas’ death row, where two condemned men now practice Zen. One of them, Damien Echols — subject of the HBO documentary “Paradise Lost”— is believed by many to be innocent.
  • The Great Escape — Yoga and meditation help Pippin Ross escape the hell of America’s oldest prison for women.
  • Jamil’s Heart — Through the practice of compassion meditation, Rosalind Harris transforms the grief of her son’s murder into solidarity and friendship with all young African-Americans, whose life of violence and oppression is a national tragedy.
  • A Taste of Freedom — “After more than thirteen years behind bars,” writes Fleet Maull, “a prisoner’s short, bittersweet experience of freedom is a reminder of his guru and the free, cheerful state of mind that is available at every moment.”

Plus: Video: Got “extra” Buddhist books? Here’s at least one great thing to do with them.


    • Sacred Cow says

      it is very strange, but you humans are like that – id rather just kill plants by devouring their delicious bodies

  1. Nicholas G (via FB) says

    Finally. . I have been waiting for this since I read Damien' book and the other book about the case. Religiously falling it and now maybe the West Memphis 3 will be free and the real killers will be brought to justice.

  2. Aha says

    I Couldn't Be More Happy Bout This,
    The Second I Read This Story It Touched My Heart…
    I Always Think Of Them And Ways I Can Help.
    He DESERVES A Second Chance Along With Misskelley And Baldwin.
    It Makes Me Sick They're STILL In Prison And GROWN MEN!
    They Didn't Get To Experience Jack, And Damien Has A Baby…
    What's WRong With Our World? ::(

  3. They're screwed says

    These guys are never going to get out of prison.. The government made a mistake, they don't like to admit they make mistakes. How can you hold someone in prison when the evidence points in another direction? Anyone ever see "The count of Monte Christo" ?

  4. Jerry C. says

    All three should have been released long time ago!!!Just because you look different listen to heavy metal music doesn't make you a criminal.

  5. says

    All of this is documented information from legal documents and the mainstream media.

    Misskelley confessed three separate times, once with his lawyer present. Misskelley also told two other people about the crime before he was arrested. Baldwin told someone else he committed the crimes. Echols was seen in muddy clothes near the crime scene. He bragged about the murder to two other teenagers, stating he killed the three boys. Echols is reported to have either told or bragged about the crime to four people before he was arrested. Echols also had a history of psychiatric treatment. His reported actions included brutally killing a dog, starting fires at his school, threatening to kill his teachers and parents and stating he liked to drink blood.

    Fibers on the murdered victims’ clothing were found to microscopically similar to things in the Baldwin and Echols homes. The serrated wound patterns on the three victims that were consistent with, and could have been caused by, a knife found in a lake behind appellant Baldwin’s parents’ residence.

    Echols' stated under cross-examination that he was interested in the occult. A funeral register found in his room with hand-drawn pentagrams and upside-down crosses. Echols' journal contained morbid images and references to dead children.

    • Remember Buchanan says

      The evidence you refer to here is way out of date. it's been established that Misskelley, who had/has an IQ that places him near mental retardation, was bullied into confessing. Tapes of his interrogation have somehow diasappeared.

      The knife was clearly planted. and the rest is arguably hearsay. Read Devil's Knot and see the first two Paradise Lost movies and you'll see how much you may be missing.

      And I'M interested in the occult — and would never consider hurting anyone like this.

      There's a reason so many people got behind the WM3: because it's just about plain as day that they were victims in the case, too.

  6. says

    No, there is no evidence that Misskelley was coerced. And the THIRD time, he confessed in front of his lawyer voluntarily. The real victims are three little boys that were murdered that day. There are no other legit suspects. one can visit wm3truth (dot) c o m to see all of the different confessions and evidence.

    At wm3truth (dot) c o m website, visit :
    Jessie Misskelley’s 6/3/93 confession: myths and facts

    "Jessie Misskelley is not mentally retarded. Not by any accepted legal or medical definition, at least. No one disputes that he has a low IQ, but that is not synonymous with “mentally retarded.”

    "He was 17 at the time of the crime and confession, and he functioned at the level of a street-smart but low-IQ 17-year-old."

    "Misskelley definitely falls on the non-retarded side of the scale on all these “adaptive functioning” criteria. He lived very independently, going to jobs and hanging with friends with little adult oversight. He juggled multiple relationships with women. Watch Jessie interact with his family in Paradise Lost — he holds up his end of the conversation, uses humor, responds quickly to things other people say."

    One sided books and movies that leave out the prosecutions' side of the story only tell one side of the story. Make sure you also read the other side of the story.