Sundance Channel’s new drama “Rectify,” which premieres Monday April 22nd at 9pm, is about a man named Daniel Holden (Aden Young) who is released from death row after almost 20 years when his conviction is vacated due to DNA evidence. It’s a situation that Damien Echols knows all too well. As one of the West Memphis Three, Echols was sentenced to death for the 1993 murders of three boys in Arkansas. He, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin served 18 years and 78 days in prison before being released under Alford pleas following a deal with the prosecutors in 2011.
The case and the way it was handled attracted considerable attention and criticism due in large part to the efforts of filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who documented the trials of the West Memphis Three in 1996’s “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” following up in 2000 sequel “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” and capturing their plea deal and release in 2011’s “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.” Echols’ case surely provided some inspiration for “Rectify” — it was created by Ray McKinnon, whose late wife Lisa Blount exchanged letters with Echols while he was on death row — which is why his review of the series over at the Huffington Post is so interesting a read.
The main character is a man named Daniel. When you look at his eyes, you’re looking into the eyes of a man who has seen Hell. There are moments when he looks like he’s about to begin screaming at any second, and never stop. The first time you see this is in episode one, when he’s about to leave the prison. The guard is treating him like a human being, and it’s evident this hasn’t happened in an extremely long time. You see the confusion on his face as he wrestles with suddenly being treated decently by the same people who have treated him like an animal for years. He can’t quite process it. I know that look well. As he’s about to leave the prison, the guard helps him tie his necktie, as he can no longer remember how to do it himself.
It reminded me of my very last day in prison, as I was dressing to leave. I was putting on real clothes for the first time in nearly 20 years, as were the two other men being released — Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley. I looked over to see one of the guards tying Jessie’s tie. He was doing it gently, as if he wanted Jessie to look good on his first day of freedom. It was odd, thinking back on how I’d been beaten, starved, and treated as something sub-human by prison guards for years. Most people have nothing in their frame of reference that would allow them to understand what an impact that has on a person’s psyche — but somehow McKinnon manages to capture it.