Damien Echols doesn’t want to talk about the West Memphis 3 anymore. These days, Echols, one-third of the infamous trio of teenagers convicted of murder but freed amid a groundswell of support nearly 20 years later, would much rather talk about reading tarot – something he plans on teaching to New Yorkers in the very near future.
Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, are currently on tour for their book of love letters, Yours For Eternity. In a recent telephone interview, he told the Voice he’s tired of being known simply as one of the three Arkansas teens who were imprisoned for 18 years after being convicted of raping and killing three young boys in 1993. Echols and his alleged accomplices all maintained their innocence and were released in 2011. As far as Echols is concerned, his days of talking about the case, his imprisonment, and the very public movement that eventually set him free are coming to a close.
“I told Lorri that after [the book tour], that’s it,” Echols says. “It’s awful to have to dredge up this horrible time in my life. I want to move forward.”
Part of moving forward involves making plans to teach the art of tarot reading — something of a passion for Echols — in New York City.
“I got my first deck [of tarot cards] when I was seventeen years old,” he says. “It was a gift from my mother. I hated it at first. I thought the pictures were awful, the colors, gaudy. Obviously, I’ve changed my mind. I think it is a bridge to magick.” He made a point to specify that he was referring to the occult version of the word “magick,” as the letter ‘k’ was historically used to differentiate between it and traditional stage magic.
Echols taught two packed classes this past winter at Soho tattoo parlor, Sacred Tattoo. The focus of the classes were the 22 Major Arcana (cards that indicate big life events).
Echols is currently scheduling dates for an additional series of classes on the Minor Arcana (cards that focus on more basic, day-to-day events) to be taught again at Sacred Tattoo later this summer.
“When I was in prison, Lorri and I would each draw cards at the same time as a way of staying connected. It was our ritual. I was in solitary for ten years. I wasn’t allowed a ‘real’ tarot deck. I got my deck out of a book by Juliet Sharman Burke. The book had tiny replicas of each card, each smaller than a postage stamp. I cut them out, one by one, with a dull razor blade. When I was released, I left them behind in my cell.”
Echols, who recently relocated to Harlem from his home in Salem, Massachusetts, says one of his long-term goals now that he is in New York is to open an art gallery. He wants to showcase not only his own work, but the work of other artists. And, of course, he will have his own space for teaching tarot.
Echols admits he has gained a bit of a following thanks to his infamy. The very things, he says, that prosecutors used to convict him nearly 20 years ago — his interest in practicing magick, his mostly black wardrobe, his renegade persona — have earned him a number of supporters both during the years of his imprisonment and after his release.
“The things they tried to murder me for — my love of witchcraft, the tarot, my spirituality, these are the things I never changed about myself during all the years in prison,” he says. “The guards couldn’t beat it out of me. People thought I was crazy. But what can I say?”