Below is the extraordinary story of Jarvis Jay Masters and his SECOND published book, coming straight out of San Quentin’s death row. He wins the prize for turning life’s crap into compost, because in addition to this gripping tale of loss and redemption, I know there is a love story in his life…and soon enough we will be reading about that. Please: Buy this book:
Editor’s Note: An inmate at San Quentin since he was 19, JARVIS JAY MASTERS was moved to death row in 1990 (for alleged participation in the killing of a prison guard). Masters converted to Buddhism several years later and has inspired leaders in the American Buddhist community to support his appeal for relase. While in prison he wrote and published one book, Finding Freedom, as well as many articles which have appeared mostly in newspapers and Buddhist magazines. In 1992, Masters won a PEN Award for his poem, “Recipe for Prison Pruno.” Based on the lack of substantial evidence for Masters participation in the murder, in April 2008 the California Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing, and Masters’ attorneys believe his conviction will be overturned within the year.
This note about his new book is written by author Jarvis-Jay-Masters
…To answer the question on how I came to write this book, the truth is, had I known it would be a book, I might not have ever written it. But as it turned out, I came to a point in my life where I thought I could secretly yet honestly look at myself, and all the past writing I had done about my life and hear my own voice. I just wanted to feel what the earliest memories of my life had felt like all over again, for example, the hurting, the isolation, my siblings and I being taken away from our parents and placed into foster care. It was these kinds of scattered memories that I sat with, unfolding, many times painfully, that eventually evolved into this book.
In a strange way though, the deeper I delved into unearthing these memories that poured out of the thin insert of my ball point pen filler, the fear I felt was not so much of what I might have to confront in these memories. The fear was more and more, and more of prison authorities coming into my cell and confiscating all of my writing which increasingly had become no less than the unfolding story of my whole life’s journey.
The title of the book, That Bird Has My Wings, actually comes from a true story. One day in the prison exercise yard I found myself saving a seagull’s life from the senseless violence of a fellow prisoner. The bird symbolized my deeply held desire to be free. But it also symbolized how far I’ve come to reclaiming that sense of belonging, and to realizing I have wings and a fate, and neither belongs to San Quentin! Whenever I see a bird flying over the prison, I just feel closer to what it really took for me to write this memoir. The act of writing helps me find no less a freedom than that which we all desire. Even for just a little while, it’s a freedom I dream about and one day hope to have. That bird remains my inspiration.
I have been so blessed to have this book published by HarperOne and I am grateful to the many wonderful and caring people that helped to make it happen. It continues to be a very humbling experience to see this memoir become a real book. In a very personal way, I feel a great sense of accomplishment that I have achieved something more than I ever thought possible. It is humbling and yet, it is an honor beyond imagination. More than anything though, it affirms for me that my life and the lives of so many all throughout this book do matter! That’s what comes up for me the most, this fact that everyone of us matter.
“In this polished tale that belies the author’s raw origins, Masters, who has been imprisoned on San Quentin’s death row since 1990 . . . recalls the neglect, abuse and cycle of crime and hopelessness that relegated him to prison by age 19.” (Publishers Weekly )
A heartbreaking memoir; the brutal conditions of Masters’s boyhood will be difficult for some readers to take, but his ultimate message of hope and reconciliation is moving and inspiring. Highly recommended. (Library Journal )
“A gripping indictment of poverty and the foster-care system.” (Kirkus Reviews )
Jarvis Jay Masters was set on a dangerous course which eventually brought him to death row. Somehow, within those walls, he now demonstrates divine grace in his daily life and by the cautionary tale he shares within these pages. This amazing, wise man deserves our ear, and our support. (–Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking )
Jarvis Jay Masters’ moving memoir provides an intimate portrait of the tragic racial inequality in our justice system, and testifies to the need for better education, greater training, and increased opportunity to keep these forgotten youth from ending up in our nation’s juvenile centers and prisons. Read this book! (Van Jones, founder, The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights & Green for All, and author of Green Collar Economy )
“Masters’ intelligent, incisive prose paints a compelling depiction of the horrors leading to his situation . . . Masters gives us much to think about.” (Booklist )
“This brave account of a childhood ravaged by neglect, violence, and institutional indifference is remarkable for its utter lack of anger and bitterness. . . [Masters's] ultimate message of hope and reconciliation is moving and inspiring. Highly recommended.” (Library Journal )
All across America, boys are lost to trauma and deprivation. Few of them have given voice to their experience and the redemptive power of spirituality as has Jarvis Jay Masters. (James Garbarino, Ph.D., author of Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and What We Can Do About It )
Masters’ . . .ability to recognize, subdue and transform the self-destructive drive such life-denying forces promote is a lesson for us all. His time is now. His book is a testament to the human spirit.” (Mike Farrell, chair of Death Penalty Focus and author of Just Call Me Mike:A Journey to Actor and Activist and From Mule to Man )
A real-life The Wire-heartbreaking and harrowing, impossible to put down. A miraculous accomplishment, That Bird Has My Wings captivates, instructs, and inspires as Masters shows how enlightenment can occur even in a place as grim as San Quentin Prison’s death row. (David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy )
Brave, heartbreaking, redemptive and wise. Jarvis Jay Masters has turned his life into remarkable good medicine. (Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart )
Forthright about his own failings, Masters’ truth has brought him reconciliation with his best self. His compelling memoir is a plea for reform, for a common humanity, and I share his hope that this moving story will redouble our efforts to make sure that every child matters. (Desmond Tutu )
Masters’ intelligent, incisive prose paints a compelling depiction of the horrors leading to his situation. . . . while awaiting execution, Masters gives us much to think about. (Booklist )