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October 1, 2018 66 mins

As a teenager, Damien Echols along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley—known as the West Memphis Three—was convicted in 1994 of killing three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, AK. There was no DNA linking the WM3 to the crime, and some of the DNA found at the crime scene even seemed to implicate the stepfather of one of the victims. The case gained national attention soon after the teenagers’ arrests when word was leaked that the murders were committed as part of a satanic ritual. A key prosecution witness in the second trial was a self-proclaimed cult expert who stated that the murders bore “trappings” of the occult. This testimony, combined with testimony about books Damien Echols read and some of his writings, plus evidence that he and Jason Baldwin liked heavy-metal music and several black t-shirts were found in Jason Baldwin’s closet, helped to convict the two teenagers. Damien Echols was sentenced to death; Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life without parole, and Misskelley was sentenced to 40 years. Following a 2010 decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court regarding newly produced DNA evidence and potential juror misconduct, the West Memphis Three negotiated a plea bargain with prosecutors. After serving more than 18 years in prison, all three of the WM3 took the Alford Plea, which meant that the state of Arkansas admitted no wrongdoing. While in prison, Damien was ordained into the Rinzai Zen Buddhist tradition. Today he teaches classes on Magick around the country and works as a visual artist. He and wife Lorri live in New York City with their three cats. He is the author of High Magick: A Guide to the Spiritual Practices That Saved My Life on Death Rowand the *New York Times *bestseller Life After Death and Yours For Eternity(with his wife Lorri Davis). This episode was recorded live in front of a studio audience at the opening of The Church of Rock & Roll.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:02):
I've never been to trouble in my life. I didn't
even have a parking ticket, and you know what I mean.
I was brought up like cops are the good guys.
I didn't know what was going to happen, but I
do know that everything was stacked against me. Everything like everything,
this isn't supposed to happen this way. I'm innocent. I

(00:22):
know I'm innocent. I know I had nothing to do
with this. How is this possible? I grew up trusting
the systems. I grew up believing that every human thing
should do the right thing. And that's why, even though
I was dealing with corrupt people, I wasn't going to
brave anyone to get me out of prison because I
wouldn't live with the fact that I braved my way
out of my wife's death. I'm not innocent to proven guilty.

(00:46):
I'm guilty until I proved my innocence. And that's absolutely
what happened to me. Our system. Since I've been out
ten years, it's coming little ways, but it's still broken,
a totally little trust in humanity after what happened to me.
This is wrongful conviction. Welcome back to wrongful conviction. With

(01:21):
Jason flam that's me and today we have an episode
that um, I'm actually kind of intimidated to even do
because I'm interviewing a personal hero of mine, Damian Echols. Damian,
welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me.
And it's extra special because we're here recording in front
of an audience at the Church of Rock and Roll

(01:43):
in Las Vegas, of which you have been an incredible
part and I'm so grateful to you for your participation.
But I want to start this episode by apologizing to
you on behalf of um, the entire human race, for
what is just and unbelievable. Um, there's not a right

(02:03):
word for it, but nightmare, sago ordeal um that never
should have happened in the first place. And I just
wanted to tell you upfront that I'm I'm, I'm inspired
and uh just in incredibly moves by by your presence.
And so so with that being said, before I get

(02:23):
all gushy here, UM, let's get right into it. So, UM,
I'm gonna ask you questions, some of them I already
know the answer too, because I'm familiar with your story,
but not not all the details. But let's go back
to growing up, Um, your childhood. Um, did you have
brothers and sisters? I did. My family history is kind

(02:44):
of odd and convoluted, just because my mother and father
were both married about five times each. So I have
a lot of uh you know, half siblings, step siblings,
full siblings. So, UM, my family into the vary at
any given time. It could be anything from just me
and my sister too. I think like the most was

(03:08):
like seven of us at one time, seven children at
one time, so it was kind of all over the map.
And I've heard you talk about the fact that you
grew up so poor that when you finally moved to
a trailer, it was like you felt like you were
like the Jeffersons moving on up right. UM, I mean,
can you describe how what did that look like? I
mean you were did you grow up in West Memphis? Well,

(03:28):
when I was really young. Um. One of the things
whenever Lorie was working with the investigators looking back over
the case and they were getting like my school records
and things like that, one of the investigators was saying, this,
this can't be right. The school records show that sometimes
you moved as often as every two weeks and I
did you know. I lived in Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Maryland,

(03:53):
um Oregon, just everywhere. We were constantly moving, you know,
my parents or my dad at you sort of thought,
you know, maybe if we go to this place, then
you know, somehow another will escape poverty. You know, there'll
be a better job, a better place to live, a
better something down the road. So we were constantly moving
from place to place looking for something better than what

(04:15):
we had, trying to escape poverty basically. But we would
always at the same time end up coming back to
either Tennessee or Arkansas because that was where we had,
you know, the most family members at least some sense
of support or community. So we went all over the place,
but would always end up coming back there. And for
you growing up in this really, I mean I didn't

(04:38):
even know every I mean every two weeks. You were
literally a nomad, right and an American nomad um. And
I've heard you talk about I watch your moth presentation,
which is wonderful if anyone wants to go online and
see it just I mean, it comes right up on
your Google Tamyan nichols Um. It's a ten minute video. Um,
that is very, very powerful. So you talked about how

(05:00):
for you and this is why it's so exciting and
interesting to be here right now the Church of Rock
and Roll. We talked about how music and books, but
really your way of sort of taking yourself out of
this really miserable situation in many ways that you were in. Absolutely.
You know my family, Um, I have a ninth grade education.

(05:21):
I dropped out of school when I was in ninth grade.
And that's more than anyone else in my family has.
You know, if you look through my whole family tree,
you won't find anyone with so much as a high
school diploma. Uh. So we didn't have you know, like
a lot of books or a library or anything in
our house. For me, I I used to skip school
and go hang out at the library all day. As
odd as that sounds, I would hide in the library,

(05:42):
read books, bring them home, because when you're reading, you know,
you're you're even if it's only in your head. You're
going different places, seeing different things, having different experiences, and
you don't have to focus on the fact that you're
eating rice again for the you know of time this week.
And then you had a sort of an outsider. Um,

(06:08):
you're you're an outcast, right. Um. And as as partially
has result of that, or maybe it was a cause
and effect whatever, you ended up being inadvertently putting yourself
in a situation where when one of the most terrible
crimes not only the history of Arkansas but in the
history of America, um or the world happened, there were

(06:29):
there were these very small minded uh people around who
sort of came to this instinctual call it conclusion that
it must be the weird kid, right, it must be
the kid that wears black and listens to heavy metal.
Because this was in the We're going back to right,

(06:52):
and many people will already know part of this story.
But on that tragic day, three little eight year old
boys went out for a bike ride and disappeared, and
they turned up sexually mutilated. One boy was castrated, they
were tortured, hog tied. Um. It hurts me just to

(07:14):
say it, um. And their bodies were dumped in a
swampy riverbed. Um. So we know, I know from decades
of working on wrongful convictions that when you get a
crime like this, especially at a small community but anywhere,
there's a lot of pressure that nobody wants to have

(07:37):
fat pressure, and everybody wants to calm the community, and
so the authorities are more prone to developing theories that
in a in a more calm environment might not make
sense and they might not pursue. But in this case,

(07:57):
somehow or other, they and this was their in the
Satanic panic as well. Right back then, um, for those
of you who are old enough to remember, in the
early nineties, there was this very strange thing that was
going on in America. There was rumors of Satanic cults
and stuff like that. None of them turned out to
be true, but that's beside the point. So what happened, Well,
you know, for me my entire life, the thing that

(08:18):
has been most important to me, that that I love
the most, that my life always sort of revolved around,
was Western hermeticism, ceremonial magic, all the way back from
when I was a child. But I lived in a
incredibly right wing fundamentalist town where I mean, there are
places in this town where you come to a you know,

(08:39):
four four corner stop and on all four corners of
the street will be churches. If you weren't like it
was like Starbucks. Now, yeah, that's exactly what it was like.
It was like, yeah, churches were like Starbucks is there? Um?
And if you didn't belong to, you know, one of
these mainstream for that area, mainstream fundamentalist religions, you were

(08:59):
automatically viewed as suspicious. You know, you you were Satanic.
That's what they thought. And it didn't matter if you
were a Buddhist or a Hindu or something like that.
You're still satanic. You just don't know you're a Satanist.
You're just being you know, tricked by the devil into
thinking there's some other religion. But then whenever you start,
you know, bringing factors in, like the fact that I

(09:21):
actually did love ceremonial magic, and that's been one of
their things that you know, they harp on forever that
that is Satanism, that those two things, there's no difference
in those. Um. So that was a huge part of
what made them focus on me as well. You know,
that was what they thought made me a freak. They think, automatically,
you're a Satanist. It would take a Satanist to commit
a crime like this. Stick all those things together and

(09:43):
they didn't even look for anybody or anything else. No,
and they ignored in this case. What's really stomach churning,
aside from so many other factors, but one of the
things that's really so upsetting is the idea that they
ignored obvious signs you have that pointed to at least one,
arguably up to three other individuals, including uh and this

(10:08):
this is just it's too strange to even believe. But
the fact is that there was a local restaurant, was
a Bojangles or something a Bojangles where the manager called
the cops that night and said there was a guy
covered in mud and blood that stumbled into the into
the fast food place and went into the bathroom. And
to their credit, the manager called up and a police

(10:31):
officer came but didn't investigate, and they ultimately collected evidence
from that bathroom that he went into, which there was
blood all over the place and mud, and they lost
They lost it, right, they lost it. So I mean
not only that, but also even after they did DNA testing,
you know, years later they do DNA testing, find out
that the DNA does not match me or the other

(10:52):
two guys they convicted. To this day, they still have
not run that DNA through codis to see who it matches.
They refused to do that. Yeah, which is you know,
which is so strange. And I talked about on the
show a lot because in a case like this, especially
in the small community, the people who are doing the
investigating live in that community. By definition, they may bring
in outside experts, but a lot of them live in

(11:13):
the community. And you know, as as a dad, myself,
or as as any as a citizen, as anybody, everyone's
got relatives, everyone should be concerned for their own safety.
When you have somebody out there who's capable of this,
this sort of pure evil, you would think it for
no other reason than purely selfish reasons. You would want
to get that person off the street because that's a
you know, that's a really scary situation. So um, but

(11:37):
that that's not what happened, And it happens too frequently
that these various factors combine to result in a tragic outcome.
To tragic outcomes. Well, in this case many because there
were three of you, all your family members are affected.
And then the fact that the actual perpetrators rolled out
to remain free and there and there again we're obvious signs.
I mean, the one I just talked about. The various

(11:58):
signs pointing to the stepfather of one of the boys,
um including a bloody knife that had the kids blood
on him that was found to belonged to him. I mean,
this one kind of came with instructions, and I know
that it's difficult, and I have no one of these
people that I'm not an anarchist. I believe we do
need a system of law and order, and I think

(12:19):
a lot of there are a lot of very good
police and judges and prosecutors out there. But in this case,
you ran into the perfect storm. It's a small town,
high profile clime, complicated crime because the crime scene itself
was a muddy riverbed, not the easiest place to collect evidence.
It seemed to have been scrubbed to some degree. And
then all the pressure and what people don't realize also,

(12:41):
you know, just most people's knowledge of the legal system
comes from watching TV, which is complete and absolute fiction.
They don't, you know they And it fosters this idea
that these people, these judges, these prosecutors, these attorney generals,
that they have these positions because they're somehow moral people.
They're good people who are looking out resigned. Since that's
excuse me, society In actual fact, these are politicians, just

(13:04):
like senators, just like congressmen. Their number one priority is
winning that next election. So they're going to do or
that next case exactly, whatever the community is pressuring them
to do. That's the way they're gonna lean because they
want to win the next election. So in this case,

(13:36):
they focused on you, and then they had to find
a way to get to you, right because there was
no evidence connecting you to it. Did you know the
boys never even heard of them, even in a small
I mean, it's got to be a very small community.
I think that everybody would almost know every But of
course I'm from New York, so I sound ridiculous, but
you know what I mean, it sounds really small to me,
West Memphis, Arkansas. I mean, we keep in mind, these

(13:57):
are eight year old kids. You know, it's an entire
generation than me or the other two guys even convicted.
Were there were you know, no reason that we would
know him. They were in elementary school. We were already
you know, in junior high getting ready to go into
high school. Um. They also lived in you know, the
suburbs and the next town over. Technically we didn't even
live in the same town. They lived in West Memphis.
Me and the other two guys lived in the next

(14:19):
town over, which was called Marion, So you know, it
wasn't like there was any reason for us to ever
even come in contact with each other. And Jason Baldwin,
let's just talk about Jason for a second, because he's
one of my favorite people. I called him before, the
best Jason I know, UM, and he's been on the show.
That was an awesome experience interviewing him, and just an

(14:41):
amazing guy. He just recently got somebody off of death
or I saw on Instagram today actually that he uh
he helped to uh free a guy um from death row,
which is such an incredible accomplishment with his organization. UM. So,
Jason was your sort of one and best and pretty
much only friend at the time, right, And he was,

(15:06):
I mean from just appearances physical appearances, he was sort
of he didn't have the same stigma that you did, right.
He was sort of just an average looking kid, very
very young looking, uh must away a hundred pounds or less,
long blonde hair, didn't look like a killer, but but
to them, you did. And he got caught up in

(15:27):
all of this too, just because he knew me right, unbelievable.
So so they found away and that way was Jesse Miscale.
So from your view, and I want to know the moment,
like I know, when the when the cops came to
your door and your life turned into the living nightmare

(15:48):
that I think is everyone's primal fear um. So they
originally went after Jesse, and they sort of tricked him
into confessing and he immediately recanted after where he confessed,
but he was I mean, he was slow, right. He
had a few of somewhere between seventy and seventy two,
and they interrogated him. I think the I can't remember

(16:11):
exactly how many hours it was, it was something like
between twelve and fourteen hours. And they're telling this guy,
who you know, has an i Q that's way way
below normal. They're telling him things like, you know, just
tell us what we want to know and we'll let
you go home. So they finally get this guy to confess,
and he can't get anything about the crime scene, right
because he wasn't actually there, so he didn't know anything.

(16:32):
They didn't care. The only thing they cared about was
the fact that they got him to say yes. And
most people you know, on a jury. Even today, they'll say, well,
nobody would confess to something they haven't actually done. We
know now that that's not true. You know, all the
studies show that something like over half of the people
who are falsely convicted end up being forced into confessions
in one way or another. And this guy was just

(16:53):
another person that got forced into a confession. And we
also know, Damian, that the most people who are most
susceptible to this our adolescence. We now know that the
human brain isn't fully formed until you're twenty five, but
when you're he was sixteen, right, and he was sixteen
or seventeen seventeen, and with his low i Q, he
was totally outmatched, overwhelmed, and probably after twelve and fourteen hours,

(17:16):
he would have confessed to, you know, killing Abraham Lincoln example,
I mean, just to go home because that that tiny
room and the you know, and everybody being on top
of you. Um, you know, it's not a situation anyone
ever wants to find themselves in. And and we know
now from study after study that people will say and
do almost anything to get themselves out of there. So
and he kept changing his story. It didn't make any sense,

(17:38):
but it was good enough for them, and then he
got them to do exactly what they brought him in
there for, and he was just collateral damage. They didn't
really care about convicting him, but they had to because
he had now confessed, and in order to get you
and to make his confession make even a modicum of sense,
they had to bring him along for this terrible ride
as well. And so he implicated you and Jason, and

(18:02):
then they said, okay, now now we can we can proceed.
And then one day, one night it was I guess right.
You were home with Jason, yeah, watching movies. You had me, Jason,
my younger sister, and my girlfriend. At the time. We're
just at home watching TV. You know, by this time,
we had been harassed by the cops for probably a
month straight. They were at our house, either my house

(18:24):
or Jason's house, or stopping us on the street, you know,
just messing with us non stop every single day. So
when they showed up this night, we figured it was
just more of the same, you know, we thought they
were just here to harass us again. We didn't realize
they were coming to arrest us this time. So take
us through that because it's it's so terrifying. But um,

(18:45):
you know, like I said, we were sitting there watching
TV and they start banging on the door. You know,
they're they're just beating the hell out of it, like
they're gonna knock it in. And at first, you know,
I said, don't even answer the door, slid him stand
out there and beat on it. Um, but they wouldn't.
They didn't go away this time, so we go open
the door. Immediately. You know, whenever I opened the door,
it looked like pretty much every cop in West Memphis

(19:07):
standing with their guns pointed at me. They rushed into
the house, start destroying everything. Uh. They put me in Jason,
both in handcuffs, throw us in the backs of cop cars,
drive us to jail. Uh, they put me. They immediately
separated us. I wouldn't see Jason again for years. Well,
I saw him for a short period of time at

(19:27):
the trial, but we weren't allowed to communicate in any
way whatsoever. You know, even though we're sitting at the
same table, They've got me at one side and him
at the other, and they will not even let us
talk to each other. So we wouldn't, you know, talk
to each other again. For almost twenty years. I think. Uh,
but okay, here's another thing. My brain goes dead a lot.
I will forget what I'm talking about, because, like you

(19:49):
were just saying, people's minds are still forming all the
way up until they're twenty five years old. I was
arrested when I was uh nineteen, and I spent almost
a decade in solitary confinement, So I lost a lot
of things that people take for granted, like uh, face recognition,
voice recognition. I have almost no short term memory whatsoever.

(20:12):
I will a lot of times forget what the hell
I'm saying right in the middle of a sentence. Uh.
Whenever I'm doing talks, I'll tell the audience set beforehand,
I'll say, if I forget what I'm saying, I'll have
to ask and you'll have to remind me what the
hell I was even just talking about. The reason I'm
telling you this now is because I just forgot what
we're talking about. UM, no problem, I can. I can
bring you back. And I know you mentioned to me

(20:33):
UM weeks ago when we were talking about during this event,
that that that was the case, and that actually there's
a study being conducted UM at Columbia University about the
effects of solitary long term solitary confinement on the brain
because for you, yeah, you didn't, You didn't really need
those functions exactly when you were in solitary staring at
four walls all day long with no contact. Well, it

(20:55):
takes huge tolls on you in many way. You know it.
It almost cost me my eyesight because you're in this
small space and out here your eyes are constantly changing focus.
You know, you're looking at stuff far away, stuff close up,
You're looking at all different colors. I didn't do that
for twenty years, so I started losing my eyesight over time.
Uh My, I was in the hospital for a day

(21:16):
two weeks ago because my lungs are so screwed up
from breathing in years of tear gas that I have
lots of attacks of bronchitis. Uh. It has screwed me
up so bad that, like two weeks ago, I walked
into a diner, um ordered some food, passed out on
the floor. I come to the waiters are around me.
They're saying, are you okay? Do we need to call

(21:36):
them that one one? I'm like, no, just give me
a minute, let me sit here next thing, I know,
you know they'd called the ambulance because I passed out again.
I didn't even realize it. Uh. So it takes a
toll on you in huge ways that last for the
rest of your life. You know, there's no way for
me to physically rectify the things that they did to me. No,

(21:58):
and we want to get into that too, because the
you know, the way you were treated. Um, even had
you been guilty of this horrendous crime that you were
in fact innocent of, there's no excuse or justification for
the torture that was inflicted upon you. Um. It's you know,

(22:21):
it's just shocks my conscience and I think it should
shock everyone's. So you were thrown in the back of
the cop car, brought to the police station. Okay, well
we're at the police station. Uh. I don't know what
they did with Jason. They carried him off somewhere and
like I said, I wouldn't see him again for almost
a year. They put me in a cell that was
about the size of a phone booth. It's not what

(22:41):
you see on TV when you think of a prison cell.
You know, there's no bed, there's no toilet, there's no sink.
There was no anything. It was literally a cell that
they had. There was just enough room to stand in. Uh.
And they even could you even sit down? No, I
mean maybe you could, you know, sit like Indian style
on the floor if you wanted to. Who But it
was literally fun I've seen those. Yes. Yeah. They left

(23:03):
me standing there all night long. Um. The only thing
every so often one of the cops would come in
and say, are you ready to make your confession yet?
I would just stand there and look at them. They
would leave. I stood there all night long until the
next day they got me and took me into a
courtroom and told me I was being charged with Well,
first they when whenever they take me into the courtroom,

(23:24):
they tell me, uh, you know, somebody's already confessed to
this crime. They've implicated you. They're saying you were the
ring leader of this. So now what you need to
do is confessed to this and say no, you weren't
the ring leader. They were trying to put the blame
back on them, or you're gonna die because of this.
I can't even figure out who the hell they're talking about, because,
like I said, I've only got one friend in the

(23:44):
entire world, and that was Jason Baldwin. I knew it
wasn't him because he was with me, and I knew
he didn't do it. I knew he wasn't going to
confess to something he hadn't done. Um, So I didn't
realize who it even was that it confessed until the
next day. Whenever they take me into the courtroom, they
say who it is, and they ask, uh, you know,
how do you plead all this sort of thing. They

(24:05):
refused to even read the confession in the courtroom. Uh.
They asked me, did I want it read? I said yes,
And they wouldn't read it even after they asked me
and I said yes. Instead, they take me out of
the courtroom into a janitor's closet with mops and brooms.
They give me a transcript, a type transcript of this confession.
When I started reading it, it's immediately obvious why they

(24:27):
didn't want this thing read in court. It made no
sense whatsoever. You know, you're talking about this story that's
like a like a Frankenstein patchwork thing that they've sewed
together out of many statements made by somebody with an
i Q of between seventy and seventy two and they would.
What they would do is when he would confess to
something and wouldn't get anything right, they would come back
into the room and say, well, do you think maybe

(24:50):
this could have happened or even I mean even more
blatantly obvious. The first time they asked him when did
the murders happen? And he said something like eight o'clock
in the morning. Well, they knew that wasn't true because
all three of the kids were in school. So they
come back later and they're like, well, do you think
it could have been a little later in the day,
like when was it? Was it around like lunch or
was it around dinner? And he'll say, yeah, it was
around dinner. Well, they still knew that wasn't true because

(25:12):
the kids hadn't even disappeared yet. So then they would
come back and say, well, you know when it happened
when you did this, was it getting dark outside? And
he'll say, yeah, it was getting dark outside. Well, at
that time of year, you know, it's not getting dark
to like eight or nine o'clock at night in that
part of the country. So gradually what they did was
shape this thing to make it what they wanted it
to be. That's why they didn't want it read in court.

(25:34):
I read this thing. They put me in another cell
where I would stay for almost the next year, Uh,
while I waited to go to trial. When we do
go to trial, the evidence that they present us against
us as things like, UM Stephen King books. Uh, the
fact that we owned Metallica T shirts and albums, UM

(25:55):
posters that were hanging on our walls. You know, things
that were from like skateboarding magazines, UM ceremonial magic books.
This is the evidence they had that the prosecutors tell
the jury that these things are not only evidence that
that we're guilty, but their evidence that I don't even
have a soul, that this is how evil I am.

(26:15):
They came back in. I think our trial lasted slightly
under a month something like that. They came back in.
They sentenced me to death three times. Uh. They sentenced
me to die by lethal injection three times. They sentenced
Jason to life in prison without parole. The other guy

(26:36):
they sentenced to life plus forty years. They immediately take
me to the court from the courtroom to death row,
where I would not see Jason again. I saw him
maybe twelve fifteen years later for maybe twenty to thirty seconds. Um.
They used to bring other prisoners in to clean the barracks,

(26:58):
and he was one of the prisoners they brought in
day to clean death row. So he comes by myself
mopping and sweeping. That was the first contact I had
with him in like fifteen years by that point. Uh.
David Jason talked about when he was on the podcast,
how the first day in prison he was released into
the general population and basically the entire weekend. Uh. He said,

(27:21):
pretty much everybody in the in the prison took turns
beating him up. Um. He was certainly in no position
to defend himself, but he did the best he could. Um.
But obviously he had no chance. He was also he's
also just a very small, slight guy. I mean he's
not he's not playing linebacker anywhere, you know what I mean.
He as I said, he was almost a hundred pounds
when they started and probably barely over by the time

(27:42):
we were convicted a year later. Um. But for you,
you were taken to the worst literally the worst part
of one of the worst prisons. Um, you were taken
to the whole of of holes. Really, right as I
heard you describe it, it it was the darkest, deepest, lawless,
filthiest place in the prison. My situation was different from Jason's,

(28:05):
and that, like he describes how they put him in
general population, he spends you know, I don't even know
how long fighting, sustaining all sorts of physical damage, skull fractures,
broken collar bones. At one point he was hit in
the face with a padlock and it messed his nose
up so bad that it bled for like a year afterwards,
on and off. Finally, when he did see a doctor

(28:27):
um they realized what it was is that his nose
had been shattered and one of the bone shards was
sticking out, and they had to go in and pull
the bone shard out of his nose and cauterize it shut.
For me, it was the guards. Death row is different
from the rest of the prison just because everybody on
death Row has a common enemy. You know, everyone knows
that these people are trying to murder you on a

(28:49):
daily basis. You don't have time to squabble with each
other because you're too busy fighting to survive against the system.
So for me, exactly, every time my life was in danger,
it was all always prison guards. So whenever I first
get there, they decided they're just gonna welcome me to
the neighborhood. You know, it's nothing personal. They take me
to the whole and spent the next eighteen days beating

(29:11):
the hell out of me, starving me, uh, pretty much
doing everything they could possibly think of to torture um
being to me. Uh. The only reason they didn't kill me,
and I do believe they planned on murdering me back there.
The only reason they didn't kill me was because there
was a deacon from the Catholic Church that used to
come into the prison and bring communion to inmates on

(29:35):
death row. So sometimes the sewage would overflow and you
would end up, you know, spending a couple of days
standing like ankle deep raw sewage. Well, the guards aren't
going to clean that up. When that happens, they bring
other prisoners in to clean it up. So they bring
these other guys in from population. They see what the
guards are doing to me and go to this deacon
from the Catholic church that's coming in, and they told
him they're killing this guy back there. They're beating him

(29:57):
to death every day. This guy goes to the war
and says, I know what you're doing, and if it
doesn't stop, I'm going to start telling people. I'm going
to go public with it. That's the only thing they
care about, you know, the only only concern they have whatsoever,
is that people in the outside world will find out
what they're doing inside those walls. So they took me
out of the hole after about eighteen days and put

(30:18):
me back in a regular cell on death row. If
not for that guy and those inmates coming in to
clean up the sewage, I probably would have not have
even lived the first year that I was in prison.
It doesn't sound like you would have lived the first
month under those circumstances, but you did. There's so many

(30:42):
twists and turns, and it's really remarkable the fact that,
you know, so many incredible people got involved. Um, the filmmakers,
various celebrities, including Eddie Vetter, not the mains, Johnny Depp,
Um you actually a little like Johnny by the way, anyway.

(31:03):
So um, so yes, so many people got involved because
it was so obvious that this was such a terrible
miscarriage of justice, and because it was such a such
a a the crime itself was so unimaginable, right, and
I think that drew attention to it and then the

(31:24):
result was so obviously wrong that it made for let's
face it mean, media is important in these things, and
in this case the movies. Was it the movies that
started it? What? How did the I mean? And I
want to talk about how you survived, and I know
you're gonna lead us in the meditation afterwards, which I'm
really looking forward to because if I can find one

(31:46):
percent of what you've got through that meditation, um, it'll
make my life better. So, um, so what was the
tipping point that started to get people interested? Because here
you are, like just a guy from the middle of nowhere,
convicted of the most notorious crime in the history of Arkansas. Um,

(32:07):
the odds of you ever seeing daylight again were extremely slim.
The odds of you dying in a prison cell or
an electric chair were extremely high. Um what happened? The
only thing that saved me was, you know, really, quite frankly,
the vanity of the politicians that were involved. They allowed

(32:29):
cameras in the courtroom. They thought, you know, this was
gonna be a slam dunk thing. Nobody's gonna question this.
They're gonna send Jason off to prison, murder me sweep
this under the rug. They're all gonna go out like
heroes and everything's gonna be fine. So they let these
cameras in the courtroom HBO. Uh. Two guys named Joe
Berlin Dur and Bruce Snowsky. They come in, set cameras

(32:51):
up and film the entire trial from beginning to end. Uh.
Though that footage would eventually become a documentary, a series
of documentaries. But the first one came out, and I
think it was it was called Paradise Lost, and it
aired on HBO. If not for that, we would still

(33:12):
be in prison right now, or I'd probably be dead
right now. People started to see the documentaries, uh, you know,
all over the country, and then eventually all over the world.
You know, these things went all over the world. People
would see them, and people started getting involved in the case.
You know, everything from really people would do, uh, bake
cakes and have like cake sales to raise moneys to

(33:35):
raise money for to pay for like you know, lawyers,
private investigators, whatever it was. Because most people also don't
comprehend the amount of money it takes to fight a
legal case. Over the I was in for eighteen years
and seventy six days. Over that time, it cost us
about five million dollars to fight this case. Because you know,

(33:57):
even things like DNA testing, when you think of DNA testing,
you watch it on TV, it's always the state doing it.
You know, they didn't do anything in our case. We
had to raise the money to pay for DNA testing ourselves,
which in and of itself ended up being close to
half a million dollars. Right, And now the good news
is it's become much more affordable. Um DNA tests can

(34:18):
now be done for thousands of dollars, not hundreds of thousands,
not tens of thousands, just thousands of dollars. And I
do want to I'm glad you pointed that out because
it's important to recognize the role that the general public
played in this. Right, it wasn't just celebrities, exactly. It
wasn't just filmmakers. There were people, I think it's fair
to say, all over the world who saw this movie
and it's so painful to watch. And now we have
the modern day equivalent with making a murder and Brendan Dascy,

(34:40):
I guess you could say, right, except he wasn't sentenced
to death. But when you watch Brendan Dascy, you know,
his interrogation, you can get a sense of what the
Jesse Miscally interrogation must have been like. And a couple
of things that I want to mention about his his
false confession. One is that he recant did it immediately
after he gave it, but nobody cared. The other thing
is that they interrogated him for as you said, twelve

(35:02):
to fourteen hours, but they only recorded a half an
hour of exact right, So what does that tell you?
I mean, it's really they apparently they didn't want a
recording of them telling him all the information that he
didn't know, since he wasn't there. That would have been inconvenient,
so to say the least. So there you are, and
I guess you're kind of getting these little rays of

(35:24):
hope while you're in the most hopeless situation that anyone
can be in. Right, are you aware at this time
of everything that's going on? This this and how important
was it to you when people would write letters? Because
it's one of the things I tell people when they
asked me what can I do? I'm just a regular person.
I don't have any access on any influence whatever. I'll
tell people. Go to the website, go to Innocence project
dot org. Go to your local innocence project. There's innocence

(35:46):
projects all over the country. Um, write letters, talk to
talk to people, write letters to journalists. But also, I
mean you must have been getting a lot of mail
at this time, and how how important was that? Because
I talked about writing letters to people who are on
the inside is being you know, one thing that almost
anybody can do exactly, you know, and it really does
help because it gives people inside something to focus on

(36:06):
other than prison, other than you know, the walls you're
trapped in twenty four hours a day, other than the brutality,
other than the deprivation and degradation and everything else. It
gives you something to think about other than all of
that stuff going on, which really does preserve your sanity.
So even just doing something as simple as writing a
letter to someone in prison really does change their life

(36:28):
in a very marked, profound way. For me, you know,
this was I still haven't seen the documentaries. Uh, I
don't watch stuff like that. So the only way that
I would really know that it was that things were changing,
that things were happening. One is the mail gradually started
to change. It went from in the very beginning getting

(36:51):
you know, there was a trickle of letters started right
after the documentaries come out, Like you would get three
five letters a week. It built up two by the
time I got out. The people in the mail room
at the prison hated me because they would come to
my sale with like big plastic you know, mail crates
full of mail and they would have to stand there

(37:12):
and get people to come help them open it all
up and make sure there's no contraband or anything in it.
And they hated me for that. Um So I knew
about it from that angle, just because the mail was increasing.
And I would call Laurie every day and she would
tell me, you know, Eddie Vetter is doing this, or
these people in uh, you know Seattle are putting together

(37:34):
this benefit concert, or you know, whatever it was. She
would tell me about it. And you know, in one way,
yet kind of helps you're thinking about it when you're
on the phone, But in all honesty, the second you
hang up that phone, that stuff is happening in a
different world. You know, it's so far away that it
has almost no impact on the fact that you are

(37:55):
fighting every fucking day of your life just to survive.
You know, the fact that you know people are having
like a bake sale in Nebraska or something. Theoretically, you know,
somewhere in the back of your mind, somehow it gives
you a little hope, but you don't think about that
in the course of your daily life. And the course
of your daily life, all you're doing is trying to

(38:17):
survive another day in prison. And and you know, I
want to talk about the death penalty too, because everyone
knows I'm a very vocal opponent of the death penalty.
I don't think it has any place in a civilized society.
And most of the world agrees, certainly almost all of
the western world degrees. America is in the very uh

(38:37):
in the top five of all countries in the world
in terms of the number of people we execute. And
it's not a good list to be on. UM And
we know now that we execute a lot of innocent people.
We don't we can't prove the exact numbers, but um
it's been proven that something like five percent of people
on death row will have been exonerated. But that doesn't

(38:59):
that doesn't tell us how anyone are in there still
that we haven't been able to get to because as
you said, it's a it's a time time consuming, uh
difficult and expensive process. And there's also estimates now people
who do work in this field, like the Southern Poverty
Law Center organizations like that, they're now estimating that as
many as one out of every ten to people on

(39:22):
death row are innocent. So think about the facts. If
it's one out of every ten, if they told you
that one out of every ten planes were going to crash,
you wouldn't fly anymore. Everybody would demand that the system
be fixed. But since it doesn't affect everybody, you know,
it's executions. Most people don't have a loved one, a
family member, anybody else they know on death row, it
sort of slips under the radar. Yeah, it's a it's

(39:44):
a really scary number. And we know some of the ones.
I mean Cameron Todd Willingham as a movie being made
by professor at Columbia. Now about that case in Texas.
An innocent guy who was executed for the the arson
fire that wasn't arson. There was an electrical fire that
killed his kids. Um, all three of his kids would
have faith that was um. And so we know that
there we we have a number of names of people

(40:06):
who have been executed who we know now were factually innocent,
where people have confessed to the crimes that they were
convicted of. Um, it's it's all just very very troubling
and disgusting and it needs to be abolished. It doesn't
accomplish anything, it doesn't help, it doesn't reduce crime, it
doesn't scare anybody off a murder thinking that anyone who's
crazy enough to go and do something like that is

(40:26):
not thinking, well, life in prison okay, but death penalty. Yeah,
I'm gonna hold off, you know. I mean, I'll just
go have a V eight you know what I mean,
Like it's not happening so um, But for you, how
I mean the execution date itself, how did how did you?
I mean, I want to know how you dealt with
any of this right and then ultimately talk about your
exoneration and what you're doing now. Um, so were you

(40:50):
aware when did you have a date set? How many
times was it moved? And how did you? I mean,
how are you even here and not just bouncing off
the laws? Are not sitting in the corner of some
bar downtown, you know, with a with a bottle of
scotsh I think my original execution date was May five,
of either n or nine. I think something like that.

(41:17):
They weren't going to waste any time. No, no, they weren't.
And I got even closer to it than I should
have gotten because the attorneys that I had were so
incompetent that they thought I was automatically going to be
given a stay. I got within weeks of my execution
date before they realized, oh, we actually have to file
a stay to keep them from killing this guy. So
I could have been killed just by accident, just incompetence. Yes, yeah, um.

(41:42):
After that, usually what happens is you get an execution date.
Whenever you go from state court to federal court, Like
after the your state court, your state supreme courts denies
your appeal, they set you an execution date. The federal
courts didn't decide whether they're going to hear your case
or not. If they do decide, and they don't have to,
if they do decide to hear your case, they'll give

(42:04):
you a stay of execution, and then they'll hear your
case and it'll go on for a while longer. If
they decide, we're not even gonna hear it, then they're
just gonna kill you. Um I brain went day again.
If they if they decided to hear your case, they're
gonna kill you, right And here you are back in
ready to be executed within weeks. That was it. So
what happened is, by this time, you know, the documentaries

(42:25):
had started coming out. People all over the world had
started to hear about the case. You know, they were
I don't even you know, can't even count how many
TV shows and and magazine articles and newspaper articles, and
you know, people had started putting together website. So it
I mean, what was happening to us was spreading like crazy.
They knew that if our case went from state court

(42:48):
to federal court, there was a good chance the federal
courts were gonna hear it, that they were going to
realize what was screwed up, and they were gonna throw
the whole case out. They didn't want that to happen,
so instead of setting me an execution and allowing me
to appeal at to federal court, they just sat on
it and held it. In the eighteen years and seventy
six days that I was on death row, Uh, I

(43:08):
never got to go to federal court, it was still
I mean, the swelling of support grew so much that
finally the state court decided, we're going to have to
do something about this because it's making us look really,
really bad. It's bringing too much attention. And just like whenever,
you know, when I was in the hole and I
told you, the only thing they cared about in the
prison is that people on the outside world are going

(43:29):
to realize what they're doing. Same way with with judges, prosecutors,
all that the only thing they're concerned with is that
people in the outside are going to realize that this
case isn't what they're telling people it is. So after
that amount of time, they finally decided there's going They said,
we're gonna have a new evidenciary hearing and all the
evidence is finally going to be heard, all the new

(43:51):
DNA evidence. By that point, not only do we have
the DNA evidence, but we had all sorts of witnesses
that had come forward and said, you know, one woman
admitted that the only reason that you tried to implicate
us was because the police told her she had she
had committed credit card fraud and they were going to
charge her unless she helped them out with this case.
So she came forward and admitted to that there were

(44:12):
eyewitnesses who said they saw one of the victims family
members with all three victims within an hour of the
time they were murdered. And this was not known at
the time that we went to trial. So the prosecutors
know all this stuff is about to come out in court,
so they started talking with our attorneys and they come
up with this deal um called an Alfred plea. I

(44:34):
had never even heard of. This thing made no sense whatsoever.
What an Alfred plea means is that you are accepting
a guilty plea while being allowed to legally maintain your innocence.
The only reason this thing exists is so that the
state can't be held responsible for what they've done to you,
you know. And like I said, I was dying physically,

(44:54):
you know, health wise. I knew that if I didn't
take this deal one way or another, I was an
We're going to live to see the outside of those walls,
you know. The prosecutor came to us and pretty much said, yeah,
you'll win this case if you go to federal court,
but we can draw this out for another five years,
another ten years. Every time the judge sets a date,
we can ask for an extension, we can appeal any

(45:16):
decisions made, or you can accept this deal and go
home tomorrow, literally tomorrow, but you can sign these papers
and walk out of this prison. But there was another catch,
which is that they insisted that all three guys do it.
And they had an amazing amount of leverage there too,
because now it goes back to your friend Jason Baldwin, right,

(45:37):
And Jason was ready to fight the case, but he
wanted to He wanted to be declared innisent after everything
he had been through. But they held a little bit
of uh, I mean not a little bit. They held
a huge um, a huge hammer um, which was that
they made it known to him that if he decided

(45:58):
he wanted to fight the case, they were going to
execute you. And and that friendship that you guys had
had from when you were teenagers now here it is
eighteen years later. And it's really interesting, right that one
woman that you spoke about, who also changed her story
over time, she got to keep her credit cards while
sentencing you to death. That's really, let's face it, right,
that was the deal she made. She somewhere in her head.

(46:19):
She decided that was a good deal. Now, maybe she
thought you really were guilty, and they probably convinced her
of that. Let's hope that was really the case. But
one or another, for the sake of a couple of
credit cards, UM, and and the difficulties it would have
caused her if that, you know, went to court. Whatever,
she was more than willing to roll over on you
and and and have an innocent guy go to his death.

(46:42):
But so Jason now had really a Sophie's choice, right,
he had to accept this Alfred plea UM allow the
state to um force him to live his life as
a convicted felon UM and never be able to sue
for compensation. And there's the added element of the fact
that when Alfred please are given an accepted typically it

(47:05):
means that they won't go reopen the case because as
far as they're concerned, it's still closed. So there's no
justice for the kids, there's no justice for their families. UM.
But it was a convenient thing that allowed a certain
number of people to save face and allowed you to
go home. So so you took the Alfred play. I

(47:27):
think anybody in your situation would have. And UM, when
you when the alternative was death. It's a pretty easy
decision to make. And how long after you took that
did you get to go home? About a week later? Um,
what the hell was that? Like? I mean, it was honestly,
it was kind of horrendous because I didn't know that

(47:49):
I was going to get out until the night before
I got out. The night before I got out, they
came and got me and took me to the county jail,
And I knew then they wouldn't be went through this
amount of trouble because the county jail was like several
hours away from the prison. So I knew they wouldn't
be going through this amount of trouble, you know, taking
me several hours away from the prison unless I am

(48:10):
getting out. So I knew there was a chance I
might get out, but I didn't know I was going to.
So in that week I did not sleep, I did
not eat. I began, at that point edging towards a
nervous breakdown. The day we walked out of prison, I
did not have one single penny of money in my pocket.

(48:31):
I didn't have so much as a suit of closed
the change into I had nowhere to go. I had nothing.
We didn't think of stuff like that. Whenever I was
in prison. We're just thinking, keep these people from killing me.
Go home. That's the finish line. That's it. So that's
what we had always been working towards. We didn't realize
what was going to happen whenever I walked out of

(48:52):
those gates. Keep in mind that not only had I've
been in prison for almost twenty years by that point,
I had spent almost the last decade of that in
solitary con finement. So I went from a decade of
solitary confinement to being out on the streets of Manhattan
literally overnight. And it shattered me psychologically. I can't remember
the first two years that I was out of prison.
If you put together everything I can remember within the

(49:15):
first two years that I walked out, it may equal
a couple of hours. Uh. It destroyed me in every
way that it possibly could. We weren't counting on any
of that. I've had two nervous breakdowns due to not
only that, but also once we're out. Uh, you know,
you're constantly You've got the media coming at you, asking

(49:36):
you every day all these questions about being in prison,
about the case, all this, so you get to the
point where you're thinking, why the fund did I even
get out? I'm not even out of prison, you know,
I'm out here, but it's the only thing people are
asking me about. It's the only thing people are talking
to me about. You know, random people walk up to
you on the street and start start talking about the case.
So it's not even like you're out of prison anymore.

(49:58):
It's just like the prison is in your hit all
the time, you know. You Maybe it was like when
I was in prison, at least I could have a
mental and emotional life separate from the prison. Entire days, weeks,
months would go by when I wouldn't even think about
the fact that I was in prison because I was
so busy trying to build a life for myself. When

(50:19):
I got out, it almost felt like I was having
to think more about prison than when I was in
and it destroyed me in every way that it possibly could.
But there's a there's a real silver lining here, right
and that silver lining um sitting only a few feet
away from us right now. And um, how did how

(50:40):
did you meet Lori? And how and what's the I mean?
I can see when you two together it's like there's
like an orb You're like a glowing orb. I think
you can probably see it from the space station. Um, so,
how did you meet her and what's what does that
meant to you? Laurie was one of the very first
people who saw the first documentary back in six whenever

(51:00):
it came out. She was living in New York at
the time. She was a landscape architect, and she used
to get before it came out on HBO, they had
like several small screenings and and like you know, art
house type theaters, and she got tickets to one of those,
went and saw the movie and said she couldn't stop
thinking about it. And you know, just like I was
saying while ago about how much letters mean to people

(51:21):
inside the prison, she sat down and wrote me a letter.
And this was back you know, before the Internet was
everywhere and you could find anything in the world just
by googling it in three seconds. You know, she had
to go through a lot of effort in trouble just
to get the address of the prison, just to find
out where I even was. Uh, whenever I got the
very first letter from her, the minute I opened it,

(51:42):
I knew that this was someone unlike anyone else that
I had ever known, And it kind of goes back
to what you were just saying about the ORB. Honest
to God, felt like as long as we were together,
as long as she was looking after me, as long
as she was in my life and working on this case.
From that moment on, I honestly felt like these people

(52:03):
cannot hurt me anymore. I'm safe. And it was true
as long as she was in my life. I mean, yeah,
there was a lot of bad stuff in prison, but
it was like it never got to worst case scenario.
Somehow or another. Things would always turn around, Things would
always work out. It was like we had uh divine
intervention on our side. In a lot of ways. LORI

(52:25):
ended up doing more work on my case than the attorneys,
private investigators, and everybody else put together. After they did
the DNA testing, She's the one out there digging through
people's garbage to find cigarette butts to try to match
the DNA too. She was the one out there, you know,
doing the fundraising. Um if really she was doing everything
she could to keep people from forgetting about this case. Well,

(52:48):
I mean for our landscape part with that, for our
landscape architects, she's a damn good investigator. Just uh, you know,
publicists um, advocate um and you know, and it's just uh,
just a ton of respect and admiration for you, Laurie,
and I can say because you're sitting here and everything
that you've done and everything that you are so um.

(53:10):
So you you're together now, UM you're here at the
Church of Rock and Roll um at opening weekend, which
I'm so, like, I said, so grateful to both of
you for coming and and what's this experience been like
for you? It's been actually pretty amazing. You know. I
think I've only started to come out of shock and

(53:30):
trauma and become happy and everything else probably within the
last two years. We've been out for about seven years now,
so probably within the past two years is whenever the
real actual healing started and I started being able to
focus on things that I wanted to focus on building
a life. And you know, one of those things was
doing what we did here today or last night, like

(53:52):
with the commitment ceremonies, and being able to talk to
people about, you know, things that means something to me personally, uh,
and develop real relationships with people based on things other
than just the case. Last night. I would have people
like twenty one year old kids who have no idea
who the hell I even am, don't care. They were

(54:13):
coming to the commitment ceremonies, wanted to do the commitments
not because it was me, but because they love each other.
They want to be part of it, whatever it is.
Stuff like that, that is what's rewarding. That's what I
love doing, you know, things that are are real. Yeah,
And I've had the opportunity to see parts of some

(54:33):
of the ceremonies and also to talk to some of
the people who participated in them, and the stories are beautiful.
I mean, people who were UM on the verge of
breaking up after twelve years of marriage and and and came.
I think they came because you were you and they
wanted to have that. They wanted to get some of
your special brand of of magic UM. And now they're

(54:55):
you know, now they're recommitted to each other. And and
other people who found some new level to go to
and whatever relationship they're in UM, and you're giving them
their certificates and the embossing on the Church of Rock
and Roll logo, And I mean, for me, it's just
an unbelievable feeling to know that we're having that kind
of a positive impact on them, on you because of them,

(55:19):
and then on everyone who's around, UM, sitting in the pews,
because we have pews outside and we have the UM
what do you call that when people do the fingers
the two fingers up in the air, the rock and
roll sort of the horns, UM, we have those in
Neon out by the So I'm trying to give people
a visual. And we're gonna be taking this on the
road and hopefully bringing it to other cities near you,

(55:41):
whoever you are, where you're listening, UM, And I'm really
excited about that. And I think we're just gonna do
a lot of really really great stuff together. UM. And
So my favorite part of the podcast everyone, and we're
now in our seventh season, UM, is when I get

(56:02):
to stop talking entirely and just turn turn the mic
over to you, UM and and get your final thoughts
on anything you want to talk about, whether it's how
people can get involved or what people anything at all.
I mean, you can talk about the weather if you want, UM.

(56:23):
So before I do that, I want to say again that, UM,
I appreciate you being here and sharing your your thoughts
and your wisdom and your your courage, um, and your story,
because I know it's not easy with our audience and
with everyone in the room here at the Church of
Rock and Roll. So um. And then I'm going to

(56:43):
turn it over you for final thoughts, and then we're
all gonna we're all gonna meditate under your guidance, which
I'm super excited about. So actually, what I usually do
instead of, you know, always tell people the reason I
do stuff like this is not to force everyone to
hear me ram along like a jackass. I'm here to
talk about whatever people want to talk about, you know.

(57:05):
That's that's the reason I'm here is because and that's
the reason everybody else is here. I'm sure you know,
when people hear these stories, they probably have things that
come to mind that they wonder about that maybe we
didn't touch on or whatever it is. So I usually
just like to give people the opportunity if there was
anybody that had a question or anything out of everything
we just talked about that you'd like to know the
answer to, or hear more about, or anything else, I'm

(57:26):
willing to you know, whether it's prison life, whether it's
the case, whether it's life after whatever the hell it
is you want to know about. If there's any question
you have, I'm open to it. Oh, this is a
new thing we since we usually recording the studio without
an audience. Now we have that opportunity, so we will
open it up for just a few questions because then
we do want to get to the to the meditation.
Does anybody have a question for Damien? Damian? Thank you

(57:48):
for sharing your story with us. It's flabergassing here that
all that actually happened to you and you had to
live through it. Um, through all of your darkest hours,
how did you find the strength to fight through that?
I think, um for those at home who might not
be able to hear the question. Uh, he asked, even
before Laurie found me, before she started taking on the case,
Like during my darkest hours, what it was that allowed

(58:11):
me to keep surviving on a daily basis in prison?
And really what it comes down to, and this is
incredibly important. You know, keep in mind they say that
your average person in prison even when you take you know,
we're talking about the guy in our case that gave
the confession that only had an i Q of seventy
to seventy two. Even when you take that out of
the equation, the average i Q of the person in

(58:31):
prison is only about eighty five, so that's still well
below you know, average IQ level. So a lot of
people aren't capable of even doing this, which is why
it's so important that help come from the outside world.
But what it comes down to is finding something to
focus on other than the prison. You know, I would

(58:52):
see guys in there on a daily basis that didn't
have people in the outside world, that weren't capable of
constructing a routine or anything else to give them something
to focus on. So their full attention was taken up
by the fact that they were on death row. They're
waiting to be executed, and you see him snap all
the time. You know. I would see things like one day,

(59:12):
this guy, he just starts screaming and beating on the
walls of his cell with both fists until both of
his fists are just busted and bloody. They take him
and he's screaming that the devil is in his cell.
All they do they take him out, wrap his hands up,
and throw him back in his cell. People go insane
because they are focused on the prison all the time.

(59:33):
So really what I did was I had to find
ways to give myself a life outside of that environment.
And for me, a lot of it was you know,
like we were talking about earlier reading at one point,
you know, like I said, also, I only had a
ninth grade education. So after Lorie especially came into my life,
I started hearing about all these things that I didn't
have within my frame of reference, you know, like Camu

(59:55):
and Dickens and told Story and Douystoyevsky and all these
sorts of things. So I decided, um, I want to
know what the hell people are even talking about whenever
they're talking about these things. So I started devouring books
that I honestly didn't even really have a great deal
of interest in, you know, even things like the works
of Freud and Young and things like that, just because

(01:00:16):
I wanted to know what it was about, uh, and it.
I did eventually reach a point where I thought, none
of this stuff is really feeding me in any substantial way.
You know, I'm taking in a lot of abstract knowledge
and concepts and stories and writing styles and things like this,

(01:00:36):
but it doesn't make me happy in any way. So
one day, after we had filled up in entire storage
facility with books. I stopped and went back to the
things that meant something to me. So a lot of
it for me was reading a lot, working out a lot,

(01:00:58):
meditation a lot. You know. The heart and soul of
my life when I was in prison, and even now
that I'm out of prison, was ceremonial magic. By the
time I got out of prison, I was doing meditation
and energy energy work for up to eight hours a day.
And part of what destroyed me whenever I got out,
you know, the psychological devastation. For some reason, when I

(01:01:19):
walked out of prison, I could not read anymore. Like
I would try to read a page, and I would
read the same page over and over and over, and
I couldn't retain what I had just read when I
got to the bottom of the page. I couldn't watch
TV shows, uh, Like I said, I didn't even have
face and facial recognition. So I would go to dinner
with people, meet them two days later and not be

(01:01:40):
able to even remember who they were. Um. So that
screwed me up a lot. But really what it came
down to in prison, what allowed me to survive was
not thinking about prison, coming up with something else to
focus on other than the horror that was going on
around me. Damian, I love your optimism and your lust

(01:02:02):
for life. I would love to know what your idea
of a perfect day is. Now, what does that look like?
A perfect day is one when I live in New
York up in Harlem. A perfect day to me is
a day when I don't have to get on the subway,
when I don't have to walk out my front door
at all. I get up in the morning, I start

(01:02:24):
going through my daily meditations, daily energy work, take a break,
and this may sound crazy, but I actually take pleasure
and clean in the house. That's what really. One of
the things that also helped me whenever I first got
out was doing laundry. I had never done laundry in
my life, but I would go into the laundry room
where the washer and dryer was, and something about that

(01:02:44):
was like being in a rocking chair. To me, it
calmed and soothed my nerves. So really, a perfect day
to me, I don't leave my apartment, I don't get
on the subway. Um, I'm back up now. Like I said,
you know, it shattered me, like I couldn't even read.
I'll so couldn't do magic, I couldn't meditate, I couldn't
do anything. I went from eight hours a day to
not even being able to do eight minutes a day.

(01:03:07):
So I've gradually built up over time until now I'm
back up. Some days I can do on a really
good day between five and seven hours, So that's a
perfect day to me doing that, ordering pizza um and
playing with my cats. I think we have time for
one more question. I was just wondering if you were

(01:03:28):
aware of any groups that are fighting for justice for
the three boys. Do you think the real killer will
ever come to light? I think, honestly I do. I
think it will come to light. But you know, like
I was saying earlier about the politics of everything involved,
I honestly think before that happens, a lot of the

(01:03:49):
people who have a vested interest in keeping this covered up,
who you know, to preserve their jobs, can't let the
truth come out. I think a lot of those people
will either have to retire or move on or whatever
it is, and new people who don't have a vested
interest in this will have to come on board. Who
who will actually look at the evidence, who will actually
hear the case? So yeah, I do think one day,
eventually something will happen. Um. I honestly, I don't keep

(01:04:13):
up with the case. Uh So, I don't know of
any organization. The only organization I know of two legal organizations.
One is the Innocence Project, which Jason is on, and
the other one has Proclaimed Justice, which Jason Baldwin is on. UM.
And the only reason I know about those two is
because of you know, personal relationships. I don't keep up

(01:04:35):
with UM to me, you know, like I was just
describing a perfect day. To me, a hellish day would
be a day when I had to read like a
court brief or a legal brief or you know, watch
a true crime show or any of that sort of thing.
So those are, I honestly, the only two organizations that
I know anything about it at all. I'm really glad
to ask that question. That was a great question. So anyway, UM, now,

(01:04:59):
I just want to say again this has been an
awesome experience for me. Thank you everyone for being here
at the Church of Rock and Roll, and thank you
Damien for everything you're doing and for being a guest
on Wrongful Conviction. Thank you so much for having me. Well,
let's fucking meditate don't forget to give us a fantastic review.

(01:05:31):
Wherever you get your podcasts, it really helps. And I'm
a proud donor to the Innocence Project and I really
hope you'll join me in supporting this very important cause
and helping to prevent future wrongful convictions. Go to Innocence
Project dot org to learn how to donate and get involved.
I'd like to thank our production team, Connor Hall and
Kevin Wardis. The music on the show is by three

(01:05:53):
time OSCAR nominated composer Jay Ralph. Be sure to follow
us on Instagram at Wrongful Conviction and on face Book
at Wrongful Conviction Podcast. Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom is
a production of Lava for Good Podcasts and association with
Signal Company Number one
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