November 4th, 2010
02:45 PM ET

Reporter's Notebook: My death row interview

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/CRIME/09/28/west.memphis.3.damien.echols/t1larg.jpg caption="Echols is medium height, about 5’9”- 5’10” and much thinner than the way he appeared at his trial in 1993. His face is extremely pale, almost ghostly, from lack of sunshine these last 16 years." width=300 height=169]

Deb Feyerick

(CNN) - The trip to the Varner Correctional Facility in Grady, Arkansas is about an hour’s drive south of Little Rock, past cotton fields and wide-open sky. We arrive two hours early for our 9 a.m. interview. Armed guards on horseback keep watch over the “hoe teams,” newly arrived prisoners lined up shoulder-to-shoulder tending the grounds outside the electrified prison fence.

Damien Echols is housed in the high security “super max” wing on death row along with about 40 other men. He tells me he is in solitary confinement, alone in his cell virtually 24/7. The lights are turned off at 10:30 p.m. and he wakes four hours later at 2:30 a.m. when the lights come back on. He gets one hour of “outdoor” time every day in an enclosed pen that one prison official describes as a “dog run” – concrete on three sides, a tin-roof above and a chain link door in the front. Echols says he can’t really see the sky from there and, besides, the air smells bad, he says, because of the cell’s location. He says he has very little contact with the other death row inmates – the only regular noise he hears is the screams of one of the men that he says has psychiatric problems.

When we arrive for what is supposed to be an hour long visit, Echols is waiting for us in a thin corridor with small cells on each side. Prisoners sit on one side and visitors on the other, separated by what looks like a thick plastic window. He is surrounded by prison guards who hold his arms, though there seems to be no place for him to run even if he wanted. His hands and feet are shackled, connected by a leather leash. As a prison official opens the corridor, Echols begins a slow steady walk for our camera. Having done this many times before, he’s well aware we’re rolling and walks slowly and steadily, gazing straight ahead. He enters the cell, framed by blue bars, and sits on a small counter touching the plastic window. He smiles at me and says “Hi.”


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