In 1993, I was a little self-absorbed.
My parents were still involved in a bitter, heated divorce; I was working two or three jobs at a time; and I was struggling to complete college, having just been kicked out of the house because my Mom and I were really, really, really not getting along.
So, when three teenagers were convicted of killing three children in West Memphis, Arkansas, I can remember it happening, but I didn't follow it. I was too far into crisis mode to think of anyone but me.
But three years later when Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills was released, I was in more of a position to pay attention. And I did pay attention. I didn't have a choice.
The day after I saw it, I felt that strange feeling you get after having a really bad dream…that strange, uneven feeling that follows you around all day. You can’t put your finger on it, but something isn’t right. You can’t stop thinking about it. You find yourself reflecting on little bits of it, even when you don’t want to.
I thought, “Am I being gullible? Is there any way on Earth that these teenagers could have done this?” And I realized that no…while I didn’t know all the details, I was certain in my gut that Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelly and Jason Baldwin were innocent. Certain of it. And I chose to go with it. They're innocent. The second documentary only laced things up more tightly for me.
Over the years, I’d read online and follow the case and in time, I began praying for the West Memphis Three’s release, and praying for justice in the form of the real guilty persons' capture and prosecution.
Today, Jason, Jessie and Damien are free. Thank You, G*d, thank You for listening. I cried, just a little bit. Not a big, sobbing, co-workers-can-hear-you cry, but a few good old-fashioned, quiet, big tears as I read and watched the ruling unfold today. I can’t imagine…
It occurs to me, reading and watching today, that they’ve not only been in prison half their lives, but I’ve been following their case for nearly half of mine. Where early footage shows their faces still holding baby fat and obvious youth, today’s footage shows three, extremely tired, thirty-something men who look like they’ve been to war.
In a way, they have.
But tonight, as they’re able to enjoy the hugs of family and friends, the love they’ve been starving to feel for years, the comforts of home like shower and soft bed and familiar clothes, food that isn’t served on a metal tray…silence. Tonight they can begin to explore the next portion of their lives, one that I’m certain will be full of purpose and meaning.
There is no silver lining, but when you look at those boys and the oppressive nature of the town and limited resources of where they grew up, chances are, they’d have gotten jobs locally and lived pretty normal lives working normal jobs, perhaps getting married or having kids. Instead they are each in positions where they can make a difference. I see Damien and Jason advocating forever, working to help others who have been falsely accused. Damien will pursue his art. Maybe he and Lorri can start a family of their own now. And Jason…he’ll be a good lawyer. He’ll really help the underdogs and he’ll be fantastic and passionate in his work. And Jessie? I just hope he can enjoy the little things. No matter what he does, he will work hard and be grateful every day. He will still need a little help and guidance, but he’ll be alright.
Everything will be alright, because I really do think that these boys will also do what they can to see that the real criminals are found and captured. I'm counting on the rest of my prayer coming true, too.