At the age of eighteen, Damien Echols was wrongfully convicted of murder and received the death sentence. He spent eighteen years on death row, where he devoutly studied meditation and energy work and was ordained into the Rinzai Buddhist tradition. He was released from prison in 2011, and has a practice teaching meditation, Reiki, and tarot. He has been the subject of Paradise Lost, a three-part documentary series produced by HBO, and West of Memphis, a documentary produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Echols is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir Life After Death (2012), and the author of Yours For Eternity, to be published in June 2014. In an auspicious turn of events, Seane and Damien were brought together and have teamed up, merging their respective areas of expertise to bring the yoga community a truly incredible, one of a kind offering. We were lucky enough to catch up with Seane Corn to chat with her about their coming together, how it all happened, and what they are bringing to the community. Check out our conversation below:
YOGANONYMOUS: So, how did this all come to be? Who found who?
Seane: I know, right? Well, I’ve been following the case of the West Memphis Three since it first happened. I was really introduced to it—and to the injustice of it—in 1996 when Paradise Lost came out on HBO. Admittedly, I have been following this case for 20 years. I’ve watched every documentary, I’d follow the website, I kept abreast on what was happening.
I was convinced from the very beginning of their innocence, but I was also intrigued by how, Damien especially, was convicted of murder based on his spiritual practice. How that fear of something unknown can spin something in a way to make it seem so bad. In reality he was a Pagan, wore all black and came from a very poor community of a lot of fundamentalist Christians, where there is already a lot of fear. He was different and as a result it was one of the reasons he was convicted, because of his spiritual and mystical practices. That intrigued me and scared me a little bit too—that someone in this day and age could be that misunderstood and all this hysteria be spun around it. So for years I followed the case.
I was in Whistler last year for Wanderlust and one night I was watching a documentary I had downloaded called West of Memphis. In the documentary there is a moment—Damien is still in jail and has not yet been released, has no idea he is going to be released—he was being interviewed and explains that he always had a strong connection to spirit, he always had a strong magickal practice and knew he was going to be a healer. Ever since he was a young person he knew he was a magician and meant to serve. What he didn't know, he said, was that it would take 20 years on death row for him to earn that privilege. What I got from that was that he understood that in order to step into his power as a healer, as a spiritualist, he was going to have to go down the most awful, most violent path for him to learn what he needed to learn, so that he could take that position of spiritual authority.
I was blown away. This is a man who didn’t know if he was going to survive. That even with all of the work—everyday meditating and praying and practicing ceremonial art—if it would even come to any good. He was going to die. Yet it didn’t stop him from every single day honing, honing, honing, following his destiny, it was his dharma. I stopped the film and I just took a breath. I replayed that one part again and again and again. I just kept listening to what I was hearing.
I then did something I am not sure how to explain—I know it very clearly now, and I understood then why I had been following this case for as long as I have—I just had this overwhelming feeling and I did something very uncustomary. I looked him up online, found out where he was living, found his email address and I wrote him a letter. Again, anyone who knows me knows that’s just not my style, but there was just something in me.
YOGANONYMOUS: Totally. Wow, speechless...what happened next?
Seane: So I reached out and just told him how sorry I was that he had gone through the experience he had gone through, how happy I am that he had this chance at having a life, and also thanking him for revealing what he did of his spiritual practice. I let him know that if I could ever support him and his wife in their own healing journey through yoga, that my workshops, my classes—anything really—were available to both of them for free, forever. I wanted him to know that.
I didn’t have any kind of an agenda. It was just to let him know that if I could help, there was a community here, he wasn’t alone, for whatever it was worth.
He wrote me back ten minutes later. He said he knew who I was because they got Yoga Journal in prison—which I thought was really funny. He just wrote me this very beautiful, kind letter. He was clearly happy to hear from me. He mentioned that he was a Reiki practitioner in Salem and that if I was ever in Salem he would love to give me a session.
I wrote him right back and told him that actually, in just a couple of weeks I was going to be in Massachusetts at Kripalu—this is August of 2013—and I would love to drive up and meet him.
YOGANONYMOUS: Wow, how serendipitous. We didn't realize that this all went down so recently. Crazy.
Seane: Right, so a few weeks later I am driving in my car up to Salem, MA and I am thinking what the fuck, talk about a place for a witch hunt. He moved there very deliberately, he feels very at home there. I couldn’t help but feel, again, magnetized to this. Like there was a reason why I’m in my car driving to meet this man right now, because it was at a very inconvenient personally in my life. I didn’t have time to be driving around the country getting Reiki sessions, but something told me I was supposed to do this.
Damien and I had a very instant and immediate connection. We talked for I don’t even know how long—it felt like we talked for 24 hours straight. It was a fascinating experience. In listening to him talk, and learning about his journey and where he wants to go with his work, I knew in my heart that I had to support him and help him. It’s actually very easy for me to do that because of the position I’m in in the yoga community.
YOGANONYMOUS: Yea well, you are definitely the right person for him to hook up with that's for sure. Did you and Damien talk at all about the specifics of his spirituality and what it was like being on death row?
Seane: It was a very difficult conversation at times for him because I was the first person, besides his wife, that he was sharing his own intimate spiritual journey with in such a conversational way. There is so much trauma there with him because of what happened. There is an association with his spirituality and his demise. To talk about it publicly is not safe, and yet he knows that is what he has to do. He knows that’s why all this happened, that he has to serve.
At one point I looked at him and said, “Damien, I am not 100% sure why I am here.” He looked at me and said,"Seane, I prayed for you.” He didn’t mean me personally, he didn’t pray for Seane Corn. He put it out into the universe that he needed community, he needed support.
I mean, can you even imagine? He comes out of prison, off of of death row, and he doesn’t know how to work bank cards, he doesn’t understand technology at all. But what he also doesn’t know? He doesn’t understand how big and how mainstream the spirituality community is. He still thinks he’s a freak. He still thinks he’s alone.
He said to me, “You can say magick in a yoga class?”
I said, “Oh my god Damien, I say magick and I get the cover of a magazine. You say magick you get death row.”
I could see him get a little overwhelmed emotionally. He spent 20 years on death row practicing ceremonial art, meditation, chanting. Every single day that’s all he did. Monks come into death row to teach the prisoners how to die. He took advantage of that and he was ordained in a Buddhist tradition very high up because that’s all he could do every day. It was the only way he could truly survive spiritually. By indulging and deepening his experience. He’s been in this spiritual cave and he has skills he wants to share, especially to people in trauma. He has abilities that only experience has allowed him to hone.
YOGANONYMOUS: How did the dialogue evolve into you two co-teaching classes together?
Seane: While we were talking it became very clear to me why I was there, why I was supposed to meet him, and what my role in this is. Quite frankly it’s just to simply introduce him to the community, give him some support as he finds his voice, help him in whatever way I can as he moves through his own trauma around being public about his own spiritual practice, and that’s it.
His voice is powerful. His message is based on experience. In a very, very short amount of time Damien Echols will be out in the world, a strong clear voice of transformation and will have a huge impact. I’m just opening a few doors for him, aiding him in the process. As far as I am concerned, considering what happened to him, that’s the least that I can do, the least of my contribution, it’s easy.
He and I have become very close friends. I love him. I trust him. I think his work is magnificent. I am hoping that the yoga community, first and foremost welcomes him, and lets him know he has a home. I hope people will allow themselves to explore the work that he does, which is Hermetic ceremonial arts, and allow themselves to see that connection between magick and yoga—which there is a huge connection. Magick simply means shifting energy at will, and that’s what you do everyday when you get on a yoga mat.
YOGANONYMOUS: Well, count us in. Can you tell us a bit about what you will be offering at Yoga Journal LIVE ETC...
Seane: It’s a full intensive, so it’s all day. We’ll spend a little bit of time in the beginning—about an hour—to share with people about Damien’s journey. It will be me kind of interviewing Damien. We’ll talk half the time about what happened. About how his spiritual practice unfolded while on death row, with the intention of using it in a main stream way. We’ll tell the story and bring it up to speed. Then Damien will do some work around understanding energy. Energy being movement or vibration with information, and how to work with that energy. There will be partner work, meditation, reading exercises.
Damien and I haven’t exactly locked all of this down yet. I don’t want to be giving out a schedule that may very well change. At the end of the day I am going to lead everyone through a yoga practice that’s going to be very ritualized. Meaning we will focus on how you move in and out of a pose, how you place your hands, how you place your feet—everything is intentional.
As a collective we will come together to set certain prayers. There will be prayers for individual healing, collective healing, sending them out to people you love, people you need to forgive, global issues, and we will be harnessing the energy as a collective to send energy out.
Damien will take the class toward the end and lead them through a ritual. The ritual will be based on magickal practices. There will be vocalization that will come from the Qabalah. There will be visualization, going through the chakras but more the Quigong chakras, not the traditional Hindu. So there will be five major centers he will be working with, connecting the points. These meditations take anywhere from 30-45 min. They’re very powerful, very intense. Again, we’ll end it going deeper into the prayers.
Ceremonial Art, like yoga, is alchemy. It’s a way to turn lead into gold. It’s creating intention. It’s working on a vibrational level to shift stagnant energy and then open yourself up to the light, and then sending that light outward. I don’t know if I am explaining it as well as I can be, but we’re going to find a way to connect the embodied practices with the visualization/vocalization exercises that he does. Always with the intention to serve, to change, to create and manifest, with the intention to heal yourself or someone else through the psychic realm.
YOGANONYMOUS: Awesome, we can't wait to check it out. I think that we speak for the whole community when we say that this work that you are doing is amazing, and we cannot wait to support Damien on his journey. We actually have a video clip below of a class you two taught recently from our friends at Studio Live as well.
Seane: That event was at YogaWorks in SoHo. I did an interview with him first and then I taught the class. That sold out in less than four days. I put the message out through facebook and that was it, it sold out. Studio Live filmed it and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Innocence Project. Please check it out and come see us at Yoga Journal Live! in New York.
YOGANONYMOUS: Will do Seane, thanks so much!
To find out more about or sign up for Seane and Damien's all-day intensive at Yoga Journal LIVE! New York, please click here. If you haven't bought your weekend passes to the event, save $50 by entering promo code YN14 at check-out.