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October 4, 2012

From Death Row to Witch City

Arkansas man resettles in Salem, Mass., after spending half his life in prison


Then they went to live in Jackson’s apartment in the Tribeca section of New York City.

A few weeks ago, they moved to Salem and live in a house on the edge of the downtown.

Coming to Salem

“I read about (Salem) in prison...” he said. He added it to a list of things he wanted to do when he got out.

No. 1 on the list was go to a Red Sox game. He accomplished that last fall, sitting in the owners’ box and meeting Jonathan Papelbon.

Not far behind was “visit Salem.”

He and Davis made three trips here before deciding to settle. There was just something about the place that made them feel at home.

Not long after arriving, Echols was recognized by a member of the Wiccan community, who welcomed him and offered to help in any way she could. He was touched by the kind gesture.

A Catholic at one point, Echols has studied and practiced Buddhism and Eastern and Western mystical traditions. He survived in prison on meditation.

“I was doing meditation five to seven hours a day,” he said. “Without that, I would have died.”

He called Salem “a great place” where different beliefs are “not only tolerated but embraced.” Someday, he muses, he may open a meditation shop.

A friend joked that someone looking like Echols would draw stares in Arkansas. “Here,” the friend said, “they just assume you’re another businessman on his way home.”

He has hung out in witch shops, eaten breakfast at Gulu-Gulu Cafe, and walked around Pickering Wharf on a night when the full moon shimmered on the water.

“When you see something like that, you say, ‘This is the greatest place on earth.’ Lori and I keep saying that.”

They do mundane things, like going to Sears to buy appliances. They arrange for the walls to be stripped and the house painted.

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