Death Row Art From Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three

January 15, 2013 | Marina Galperina

In 1993, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin were convicted of grizzly torture, mutilation and murder of three prepubescent boys. There was no DNA evidence. The case was muddled with legal misconduct and overshadowed by the Evangelical Christian town’s Salem-style panic. They called them “Satanists.”

The West Memphis Three were released from prison in 2011.

Damien Echols was on death row for 18 years, awaiting the wrongful verdict of lethal injection. Using q-tips, pen cartridges and anything else he could scavenge or trade, he found solace in making art and studying Buddhism. The art works are now on view at the Sacred Gallery NYC in SoHo. Echols explains:

These pieces of art are all things I created from my cell on death row,where I spent 18 years for a crime I did not commit. During that time, I had to scavenge for any supplies I got, often bartering for them in the prison underground.

I eventually received ordination in the Rinzai tradition of Japanese Buddhism. This is the same tradition that trained the samurai in ancient Japan. It was this background which was the driving force behind much of my artwork. Most of it was the result of me attempting to turn my cell into a shrine,where I would practice meditation from 5 to 7 hours a day.

Most of the pieces I created over the years were either given to friends as gifts of gratitude or destroyed by vindictive prison guards. These pieces are all that remain of my 18 years in Hell.

Adjacent to the gallery is Sacred Tattoo where Echols has been tattooing people with the symbol “X.”

“Moving Forward; Looking Back,” Damien Echols, Jan 5 – Jan 31, Sacred Art Gallery, SoHo

Here are some clips from HBO’s documentaries about the West Memphis Three: