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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Meditation Helped Me Survive Death Row and 19 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

Damien Echols
Damien Echols
My name is Damien Echols, and in 1993 I was arrested for three counts of capital murder in the town of West Memphis, Arkansas. Nine months later I was sentenced to death, and spent almost 19 years on death row before being released in 2011 when new evidence came to light.

Prison is a dark and stagnant place. It's filled with the most cold, horrendous energy you can imagine. It feels like a kind of psychic filth that penetrates into your very soul.

In 1993, when three eight year old boys were found murdered in my small town, attention immediately turned to me. Why? Because I was the town weirdo. I dressed in all black, had long hair, and listened to heavy metal music. As if this wasn't enough to make me suspect in a small, hardcore fundamentalist town in the midst of the era of Satanic panic, I also practiced magick. Some of the most damning evidence brought against me during the trial was my love of knowledge of Crowley, and the fact that I owned Stephen King novels.

For a huge chunk of my incarceration—nearly nine years—I was in a super maximum security unit prison, where I spent 24 hours a day in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is like living in a vacuum in which no comforts exist. You spend every single moment alone, with nothing to distract you from the horror of your situation and no contact with anything or anyone that can possibly provide you with a shred of hope. Time ceases to exist, as there is no way to mark its passage. Noon is the same as midnight. Christmas is the same as the Fourth of July. All you can do is sit with your fears, waiting for the next time the guards decide to hurt you.

It was here that I decided to dedicate every single waking moment of my life to delving deeper and deeper into the realm of magick.

I had several teachers I corresponded with, including the priest of a Japanese zen temple who would travel from Japan to the prison in Arkansas to give me ordination in the Rinzai Zen tradition of Japanese Buddhism, the same tradition that used to train the samurai in older times.

Zen teaches you patience, willpower, and self control. You sit in a position called "seiza,” which basically means on your knees, for long periods of time. This allows you to build up a sort of detachment that enables you to observe your thoughts and emotions as an observer, instead of being carried along by them. You learn to override physical discomfort, mental anxiety, and emotional tar pits. Sitting in seiza, I realized my mind had been running around and around in circles since the day I was born, like a dog chasing its tail.

What I learned from zen seems very simple, but it's far harder than it sounds: I learned to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how difficult or brutal life became.


Source: Mother Jones, Damien Echols, November 25, 2015

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