For the past ten years or so, I have followed the cases of the West Memphis Three, doing what I could with some financial donations here and there. I read books, watched documentaries, and regularly checked in on their website for updates regarding each of these wrongly accused boys. Occasionally their story would make a national headline, only to get swallowed up by the shadow of some political drama or natural disaster.
In all this time, my frustrations grew with our legal system and the ignorance that so many people have toward those that are slightly different. None of the evidence ever matched up for me, even when I tried to play the devil's advocate and look at these guys as guilty murderers. I watched portions of their original trials, where these so-called freaks were put up in front of the community to set an example: if you are different than the rest of us, you are a bad person. The clothes you wear, the strange haircut, the loud music coming from your room...it makes you a bad person.
A poet and his best friends who liked to wear dark clothing and hang out in cemeteries were morphed from quiet and creative types to vicious murderers in a court room. There was no motive present in any of their cases. There was never proper physical evidence. There was a make believe cult and harsh discrimination.
In a way, I empathized with these boys who turned into men behind bars. As we grow into ourselves, we change and develop our own sense of self. During that metamorphosis sometimes comes criticism and judgement. Almost everyone has been there at some point in their lives. I sometimes feel it when I walk into my relatively conservative office every morning. Unlike me simply cringing at the sight of certain people that are probably thinking awful things at the sight of me in the hall, these guys had to sit there and take a verbal beating for the murder of three children that they did not commit. So much so that they were convinced that admitting defeat at the very beginning would save them some time behind bars and maybe get them out sooner.
Instead they were played for fools and received the harshest sentencing possible. Their supposed ring leader was sentenced to death, the other two received life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Flash forward to present day. The persistence of those who truly believed that these boys were purely used as a scapegoat to protect the real devil in this case has finally triumphed. Unfortunately, three kids had to spend nearly twenty years behind bars for something they could have never imagined doing. But today, they got what they deserved. Freedom. Freedom to be themselves in the outside world.
Tonight, I will rejoice in their victory, as I kind of feel like it is a win for all of us who choose to set ourselves apart from the norm in our own way.
Cheers to the wonderful organization Free The West Memphis 3, all of the hard working staff and attorneys who poured everything they had into this case and never giving up, and the celebrities who used their names to gain recognition and raise funds for these boys. More than anything though, cheers to every single person who took the time to educate themselves on the case and maybe even share it with someone else. Had the world never heard of the West Memphis 3, there would be three other lives lost in this tragedy.
Congratulations, Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley and Jason Baldwin. I hope tonight is the best night of your life.