I married a prison inmate

Last updated 05:00 15/07/2014
Amy Berg, Damien Wayne Echols, Lorri Davis and Peter Jackson
Reuters

PREMIERE: Director and screenwriter Amy Berg, producers Damien Wayne Echols, Lorri Davis and Peter Jackson pose at the premiere of West of Memphis at the Sundance Film Festival.

lorri
Getty
FREED: Lorri helped Damien adjust to life on the other side of the bars.

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I met my first boyfriend, Reed, in high school. He was sweet, but after two years my attention turned to a bad boy who lived down the road.

After college, I continued my landscape architecture studies in England. I returned to live in Columbus, Ohio, where I met my ex-husband, David. He was a musician and the most eccentric person I'd ever met. He toured often and we grew apart, but rather than discuss breaking up he had a one-night stand. I was heartbroken and cut my hair short and dyed it white.

I moved to New York in 1989 and got a job at a design firm. I was interested in film, and in 1996 I saw the HBO documentary Paradise Lost (about the trial of three West Memphis teenagers convicted of the sexual mutilation and murder of three prepubescent boys).

I felt compelled to write to Damien Echols, who had already spent two years on death row. I instinctively believed in his innocence and in my letter I offered help in any way I could. I wasn't sure he'd reply, but when a letter arrived I was strangely excited. He thanked me for "taking notice".

We began to write every day. I knew Damien's circumstances were brutal, but he withheld the most horrible aspects from me. Instead, we wrote about books, art and our thoughts. By June we had written hundreds of letters. He called me his "little monkey".

We were in love. Damien was and is the most fascinating person I've ever known. He is incredibly intelligent and deeply spiritual. I also love the fact he has that "Southern gentleman" quality.

My first prison visit was in the summer of 1996. Damien appeared in leg irons and wrist cuffs but they were removed once he entered the room. He weighed 53 kilograms and had dark circles under his eyes. Once I was over the shock of his appearance, we both climbed up on the counter and talked like we'd just seen each other the day before.

While he was allowed to mail things, Damien sent me a shirt he'd been wearing. It smelled of cloves. I sent him a lock of my hair. I still have his shirt. I will keep it always.

As we couldn't be together physically, we formed connections by doing identical things at identical times of the day. Like making moon water. Each full moon we placed a glass of water on a ledge so it caught the moon's reflection. It was removed before the sun touched it and kept in a dark place. Every night at the same time, we took a sip and thought of each other. It was such a romantic, wonderful thing to do.

I never believed a man was capable of true and complete love. I always believed they were always looking for something else - better sex, a more beautiful body. But he's never done anything to make me feel that way.

I moved to Arkansas to be near Damien and to work on his case. It also became a financial necessity, as an out-of-state call cost $25 (NZ$28.30) for 15 minutes. We married at Tucker Max Security Unit in a Buddhist ceremony in December 1999. Damien was 24 and I was 36.

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It was the first time we were able to touch. While it was wonderful, I didn't comprehend that for Damien, having people touching and hugging him was traumatic. He had been in solitary confinement and hadn't been touched by anyone in six years.

I'd never considered having children, but having a child together named Indigo became our fantasy. The idea faded, but I became a stepmother to Damien's son, Seth. When he was eight he used to visit, but he grew apart from us. He's now 20 and lives on the other side of the country. It's tough, and it's a relationship we have to work on.

In 2011, after 18 years, Damien and his co-defendants were released from prison. A deal was struck where they agreed not to sue the state for wrongful imprisonment, and pleaded guilty while maintaining their innocence.

From the court we went to a hotel in Memphis and the next morning, campaigner, fund-raiser and dear friend Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder flew us to his house in Seattle to celebrate. But Eddie and I didn't realise the degree of Damien's post-traumatic stress, as he presented so well. In time I discovered that Damien was scared of everything. He was fearful of going outside. He had forgotten how to do the simplest things, like eat with cutlery.

Our biggest challenge is our transition into this new world of interviews, book and film tours, and discovering how and where we are going to finally live. But life's not scary any more. And if that's our biggest challenge, I think we're in pretty good shape.

*As told to Robyn Doreian.

Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row by Damien Echols & Lorri Davis is out now.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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