Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

by Damien Echols

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Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby fireflydances » Fri Dec 07, 2012 8:43 am

His first year at Marion High School, Damien met a new friend, Brian. One night Damien went with Brian to a teen activity night at a local Baptist Church:

Despite what I had been expecting, I soon found that I was enjoying myself. I struck up a friendship with one of the girls that would last for a couple of years – we talked two or three times a week on the phone for hours at a time. Contrary to what my past experiences had led me to expect, no one preached, tried to convert me, or seemed to be even thinking about religion. We sat and talked while everyone went on about their business all around us.

It also seemed to be quite the hot spot for teenage romance. Just like any other place where young people tend to congregate, you would often see boys and girls looking at one another as if they were about ready to eat each other up. We went back to this place several times during the year and there was only one awkward moment.

The awkward moment came when I showed up one night dressed in a long black coat, black pants, black shirt, and shiny, knee-high black boots that looked like they’d been stolen from a dead Nazi. This was my everyday garb now. I no longer dressed like a skater. In fact, I now never wore anything but black. Anytime I replaced an article of clothing it was with something black. I never again wore any color until after I was arrested. My appearance had been changing gradually, too. I had allowed my hair to grow long and tangled until it looked like Johnny Depp’s hair in the movie Edward Scissorhands.

I noticed Brian talking to an older man, who I later discovered was the “youth pastor.” When Brian came back and sat next to me, he said the youth pastor didn’t like the way I dressed, that it appeared “satanic.” Brian suggested I at least take off the black duster, so I did as he requested. His eyes grew large as he urgently said, “Put it back on!” Evidently my shirt, which was emblazoned with the Iron Maiden slogan. “No prayer for the dying,” was a church “don’t.” I hadn’t even thought about it before that moment, but it drew a great deal of attention from everyone else. That moment became one of the nails hammered into the coffin that sealed my fate and sent me here.


Some say that diversity in a society has the same strengthening function as genetic variation has for an animal or plant species. It helps society adapt to a changing environment by expanding the possible human responses.

But difference – whether it’s clothes or something larger – is often misunderstood by the larger community. Comment on Damien’s remembrance of that particular awkward moment in the church gym – and the significance Damien sees in the event.

Now, consider this now familar observation by Johnny: “If there's any message to my work, it is ultimately that it's OK to be different, that it's good to be different, that we should question ourselves before we pass judgment on someone who looks different, behaves different, talks different, is a different color. “

Is diversity to be celebrated or should it raise concerns?
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby Snowcat » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:45 am

Yes, most definitely diversity should be embraced.
From my knowledge and experience, that is, all I have read, seen and experienced, someone who looks different has all too often been "reason" for others to shun or otherwise bully. And bullying is always wrong!

Also, the way someone dresses or how they look, does not always give away their character. I have met criminals and others who harm, whose outward "appearance" is very proper and dignified. That's part of their disguise.

Let me share with you a personal story of how quickly people judge based on what you're wearing, how you look. This experience literally changed the way I think! I am far less quick to judge a person or situation and that includes the way I think about diversity:
Back in 1998, I was competing in a karate tournament for the first time in the black belt division. When my name was called, I got up to spar (fight).
I threw a kick and the other woman threw a punch at the very same time. Her fist cut open my lip. The blood poured and I didn't even bother to get into my street clothes before a friend drove me to the nearest ER. So, there we were, sitting in a packed waiting room for hours, me, calmly holding an ice-pack to my mouth, in my uniform and belt. The people around us saw that I was not upset, which was true, they joked with us, asked questions about the training, even a paramedic smiled and jovially said, "I am not even going to ask what happened to you!" All in all, they treated me like a strong woman who can take a shot or two and be no worse for the wear, which is accurate!
I just wanted to get my lip stitched and then head to the post-tournament party and have a good time.
Two days later, I traveled on public transit to my regular doctor because the wound was obviously infected. So, this time, this is what others saw when they looked at me: a smallish woman in street clothes, wearing a wedding ring, with an obvious wound to her very swollen lips. I purposely held my head high and held a very confident stance, knowing what people might think.
And sure enough, some voiced their thoughts or gave me an eye-brow raised derisive smirk. One guy even called out, "Looks like a bad maaaaaarriaaage!!" Of course no one bothered to ask me what happened, they acted like it was so "obvious".
I was shocked at the polar-opposite reactions, the glaring difference in the way I was treated, just 2 days apart. I was even more shocked by the unkindness.
Anyway, you might think it's unrelated, but it did have a huge impact on the way I think when I see someone who looks different.
It proved to me, looks don't tell the whole truth about who someone really is.
He said, "Wow, Very Nice!", and signed my painting. TIFF 2015.

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby nebraska » Fri Dec 07, 2012 12:26 pm

When I was a young married woman we moved into a house and the neighbor across the street seemed like a strange woman -- there was just something about her that I found unattractive -- but it turned out that she became a very good friend and once I got to know her I liked her a lot. That has happened to me several times, that my first impression was "off". However, I also think as an evolved civilization we have turned our backs on our instincts which are really valuable tools -- I do think first impressions are important.

Being part of a group -- no matter what the group is -- implies a certain uniformity. We tend to gravitate to people who have similar interests and ideas and we engage in similar activities -- all of that is part of being in a group whether organized or informal. The uniformity of the group can create a comfortable safe place when it is a matter of choice to become part of a group.

I think it is important to understand that creating a radically different look or behavior from the people around us may be fine but there will be consequences to deal with because of it -- whether it is a raised eye brow or laughter or exclusion. It is only human nature. That doesn't make it right, but it is realistic.

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby winona » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:11 pm

I got one of my "Boxer Babes" from a from wonderful guy at work, he always has said, He's a Mexican from LA, My husband noticed one of the Gang tats on his hand, asked me if I knew what it stood for, of course I did, That's who he WAS, Not who he is. The man he has become, has nothing to do with the the child he was, Pure devotion to his kids, and grandchildren, amazing dedication to all he is a part of
Because love has your face and body .....and your hands are tender and your mouth is sweet-and God has made no other eyes like yours. Walter Benton

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby fireflydances » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:23 pm

nebraska wrote:I think it is important to understand that creating a radically different look or behavior from the people around us may be fine but there will be consequences to deal with because of it -- whether it is a raised eye brow or laughter or exclusion. It is only human nature. That doesn't make it right, but it is realistic.


I would consider the issue here larger than social exclusion. When an assumption is made that a person has wrong intent on the basis of dress -- or any other distinguishing factor--we have entered a more dangerous territory. The excerpt I quoted above continues:

As I sat in the Monroe County jail some years later, waiting to go to trial for murder, I saw that youth minister on the television screen. He was practically rabid as he ranted about "pacts with the devil." He seemed psychotic. Simply the fact that I wore such a shirt to a church function was enough to convince a great many people that I had to be guilty.

Even the act of social exclusion makes a judgement that I believe sets us on a wrong path. Why should the manner of someone's appearance be raised up as a dividing line? In other words, if all of us walked around with bags over our heads, so we couldn't see what we look like, would we be more likely to receive each other?

I think the "one who is different" requires us to make a different decision. We have to extend ourselves, find connections. If our initial reaction is exclusion, we need to examine that reaction and figure out what we are walling out and why.

Our fate as humans demands this. Every year we are brought in closer proximity. How many times have we all realized that this race that we didn't know is actually made up of people like ourselves, or that religious group that we didn't know is actually responding to the sacred in a way that is more alike than different from us?

You really can't affect positive change in another human being if you can't sit down and talk to them over a coffee or piece of bread.

So many of us are brimming with diversity that we hide from each other out of fear -- they wouldn't accept me if they knew! I don't believe for a moment their analysis of the situation is correct. I don't believe that most of us would exclude any one of us if we really knew each other.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby winona » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:42 pm

OK I will be Idiot that jumps on this, a friends husband. once asked were I had lived here as a child, I told him, he asked if it was next to the old guy with the nice yard, who needed to cut his hair, that would where I lived, cut his hair?
Because love has your face and body .....and your hands are tender and your mouth is sweet-and God has made no other eyes like yours. Walter Benton

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby nebraska » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:55 pm

fireflydances wrote:
nebraska wrote:I think it is important to understand that creating a radically different look or behavior from the people around us may be fine but there will be consequences to deal with because of it -- whether it is a raised eye brow or laughter or exclusion. It is only human nature. That doesn't make it right, but it is realistic.


I would consider the issue here larger than social exclusion. When an assumption is made that a person has wrong intent on the basis of dress -- or any other distinguishing factor--we have entered a more dangerous territory.

Well, yes and no........if the "different" look is group-associated, intentional or not, it is natural to associate the different looking person with that group and its behaviors, goals, beliefs. Gang colors comes to mind.

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby winona » Fri Dec 07, 2012 11:31 pm

I have come to to find, at least, in my life, "The different" Are a lot more interesting to relate to, it seems to expand your understanding of who we are as humans, what do we find important, what do we dream, what do we feel is ideal? We are all a mess. I can not say I would ever be able to go through what this man did, he is a true hero
Because love has your face and body .....and your hands are tender and your mouth is sweet-and God has made no other eyes like yours. Walter Benton

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby Theresa » Fri Dec 07, 2012 11:50 pm

winona wrote:OK I will be Idiot that jumps on this, a friends husband. once asked were I had lived here as a child, I told him, he asked if it was next to the old guy with the nice yard, who needed to cut his hair, that would where I lived, cut his hair?

I'm not quite following what you're saying here, winona. Was this your father or some male relative that you're talking about?

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby winona » Fri Dec 07, 2012 11:54 pm

Theresa wrote:
winona wrote:OK I will be Idiot that jumps on this, a friends husband. once asked were I had lived here as a child, I told him, he asked if it was next to the old guy with the nice yard, who needed to cut his hair, that would where I lived, cut his hair?

I'm not quite following what you're saying here, winona. Was this your father or some male relative that you're talking about?

Sorry,firefly, would know, it was my dad
Because love has your face and body .....and your hands are tender and your mouth is sweet-and God has made no other eyes like yours. Walter Benton

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby fireflydances » Sat Dec 08, 2012 12:21 am

Yes, I believe it had to be very hard to have someone talk about your father like that. I had a close friend whose mother was mentally ill. My friend was always in the position of either ignoring the ignorant comments of people, defending her mother, or feeling let down by her mother.

We have to figure out ways to accept the differences of others. :worldhug:
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby Cyn » Sat Dec 08, 2012 6:49 am

Generally--yes, of course, diversity is to be celebrated..in the broader sense. If it was discouraged and condemned, we would all be mindless, obedient lemmings, and we would probably eventually die out as a species since we would all be too afraid to do anything out of the ordinary; innovative and different from what everyone else is doing. But the more detailed, specific answer to the question - "Is diversity to be celebrated or should it raise concerns?", would always depend on the type of diversity. Some can have negative connotations attached, like the gang colors that nebraska mentioned; but there used to be a well-known 'gang'/group that had only good intentions--the Guardian Angels. They wore the same colors, uniforms and hats so as to be easily recognized, and existed solely to help crime victims and prevent crime before or as it happened. Of course they were publicly opposed and denounced by some for being vigilantes. There were many offshoots of them in other states across the country too.

The transcribed bit from the book demonstrates just how small-minded, narrow-minded, bigoted and judgmental Christians/theists can be, which is decidedly UN-christian in the true sense of the word from the original teachings of Jesus, of course. They shouldn't have taken Damien's shirt so seriously--it's just words on a T-shirt...no big deal. Christians have caused so much disruptive, hate-based bias for so long when it comes to gays, blacks, abortion, atheists, rock music--just to name a few.

It's human nature to be automatically wary of anyone that doesn't look 'normal' based on our preconceived notions, but it must always be kept in mind that there have been many 'normal-looking' heinous criminals who no one would ever suspect of being anything other than upstanding citizens from their outward appearance, as Snowcat pointed out. Ted Bundy is an excellent example of that. He raped and murdered over 30 women, including a 12-year-old girl. He preyed on unsuspecting young women for years, whilst attending law school and being commended and befriended by community leaders and college professors, etc.
Two other infamous, cold-blooded serial killers--Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy--were also normal-looking, run of the mill types, and Gacy even entertained neighborhood kids with his popular clown act and had an upstanding reputation in the community. And they weren't the only ones.

On the other hand, there's Charles Manson, who definitely looked the part.

But still, you can't judge a book by its cover. I think one should always give everyone they come in contact with the benefit of the doubt while at the same time keeping a healthy sense of wariness/awareness and a safe distance. But to railroad someone just because of the clothes they wear and the iffy persona they seem to have is very wrong and short-sighted.
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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby shadowydog » Sat Dec 08, 2012 8:43 am

The main problem I see is in the fact of stereotypes. It is easy to assume what "they" are like. I have run into this many times. As a child I was a Catholic raised in a mixed race neighborhood. I remember kids asking questions about my church; such as wanting to know if it was true that we had guns hidden in the church basement. As an adult I was often amused when I came into contact with black males and they expected me to be afraid of them. The strangest incident occured when I was rooming with a white gal and two black gals in grad school. They two black gals admitted that they were afraid to tell their families and friends back home that they were rooming with whites.
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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby Snowcat » Sat Dec 08, 2012 9:19 am

shadowydog wrote:The main problem I see is in the fact of stereotypes. It is easy to assume what "they" are like. I have run into this many times. As a child I was a Catholic raised in a mixed race neighborhood. I remember kids asking questions about my church; such as wanting to know if it was true that we had guns hidden in the church basement. As an adult I was often amused when I came into contact with black males and they expected me to be afraid of them. The strangest incident occured when I was rooming with a white gal and two black gals in grad school. They two black gals admitted that they were afraid to tell their families and friends back home that they were rooming with whites.

:highfive: , that is SO true, huh? I can site many examples, as I am sure we all can. I have met individuals, some of who still are a part of my life by some association, who keep me at a distance, because from the start, I don't dress like them, I don't look like them (and I have tested out this, so I know!), so therefore, they have concluded, I am not "one of them" and despite my efforts, have treated me like we are too different to ever be friends.
Shortly after we bought this house in 2009, no one on the street knew us.
But, some neighbor informed us that "rumor had it" that we were setting up
a "grow-op". Why?!! Because of the stereotype "biker image". Our driveway was full of motorcycles and friends came and went on theirs, too.
Now, I realize that it could have been just that one neighbor who thought that, but rather than confess it was him, he talked as though "the neighborhood is talking about you".
For those of you who may not know what a "grow-op" is, I'll explain. A grow-op is a place where illicit drugs or raw materials of, are grown and manufactured.
He said, "Wow, Very Nice!", and signed my painting. TIFF 2015.

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Re: Life After Death Question #11 An Awkward Moment

Unread postby stroch » Sat Dec 08, 2012 9:24 am

Comment on Damien’s remembrance of that particular awkward moment in the church gym – and the significance Damien sees in the event.


Damien had made a choice that he would dress in black, and consciously created an image of himself. He wore a t-shirt with a heavy metal slogan about death and prayer to a southern conservative church event, which is deliberately provocative. It was certainly one of the events that caused people to notice his persona, but I think he exaggerates with the "nail in the coffin" metaphor.

People will always react to how you present yourself, no matter what class, group, race, sect, creed is involved. It is actually what we want to happen, otherwise people would not take pains with their appearance.

Behavior is the key to acceptance, however, and I think that his aberrant behavior was far more important to the arrest than how he looked.

Is diversity to be celebrated or should it raise concerns?

Celebrated. It's the attempt to have everybody embrace the same vision that causes trouble.

Often discussions about diversity point out the rigidity of conservative, religious, or upper class groups, but I can assure you that the hip, pierced, young, artsy crowd is pretty quick to form negative judgement about "the other."

This is a simplification, but what we have to remember is that while it's a good thing to have all kinds of people in a community, not everyone is going to like you or invite you to their parties. And if they do, you may not want to go.
Last edited by stroch on Sat Dec 08, 2012 4:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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