July 16, 2019

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Finding Freedom — A Study Guide for Classroom Use
click to view cover Jarvis Jay Masters' book Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row has been used in many educational settings with students from Middle School age to college level. Click here to read what educators and students have to say about the book. We have developed a study guide to help readers reflect on their responses to the book and articulate their thoughts in writing from wherever they are. Feel free to adapt this guide to your own needs. We would be delighted to receive students' responses, as well as any feedback about the book or the guide.
Writings from Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters


Sanctuary, p. 3
  1. What did Jarvis do to make his cell feel like "home"? Why did he do this?
  2. Describe a space you have made "your own". Tell how you transformed it and how it transformed you.
  3. Why do you think people need to personalize their environments as you and Jarvis have done?

Little Black Sparrow, p. 9

  • How do you think the moral of Satchmo's story could apply to the inmates' lives?

Pablo's Wish, p. 13

  • Write your own letter to Alice.
The Man Who Talks to Himself, p. 19
  1. Why would behavior that's "crazy" on the outside not necessarily be considered "crazy" inside prison?
  2. What's your analysis of Mookie? How do you think the world he has created helps or hinders his experience in San Quentin?
  3. Can you imagine creating an imaginary world in a setting such as San Quentin? If so, what might it be like?
A Reason to Live, p. 25
  1. What was the psychology Jarvis used in changing the young man's mind about suicide?
  2. Have you ever felt suicidal or known someone who felt suicidal? What helped you/them feel more optimistic about life?
  3. Why do you think Jarvis's technique was successful?
Fruitcakes, p. 35
  • What qualities do we see in Jarvis as he describes the craziness around him? Give examples.
Thirteen Sixty-Eight, p. 47
  1. How do you feel about Milton getting out of prison?
  2. What can be done to help people like Milton have a positive successful life on the outside? (If you know of programs in existence that have this goal, describe them.)
The Boneyard Visit, p. 51
  1. This account of Herbert's conjugal visit shows the humanity of the inmates. What else can you say about it?
  2. How does Jarvis's account (Herbert's account) differ from the way sex is portrayed in the media?
Funny How Time Flies, p. 57
  • This story has its funny side, but might evoke other emotions in you, as well. Express these.

Recipe for Prison Pruno, p. 63
  1. Describe your response to this poem.
  2. Try your hand at a similar piece of writing using a real event in your life juxtaposed with a recipe, advertisement, or a popular song.
When I First Got Charged, p. 65
  • Talk about the transformation in Jarvis as he allows "wonder" into his life.
Scars, p. 67
  1. What is Jarvis wondering about the scars he sees on his fellow inmates?
  2. What do we learn about their scars? How have they dealt with them?
  3. How have Jarvis's scars affected his life choices? What has he learned?
  4. Do you have any scars-physical or emotional-worth exploring? Share your thoughts and feelings.
Me and My Sisters, p. 73
  1. Say something about Jarvis's childhood and how it influenced who he is today.
  2. How was your childhood similar to or different from Jarvis's? And how did that shape you?
Mourning Exercise, p. 79
  • Expand on Jarvis's last sentence, page 82.
Dream, p. 83
  1. What hopes and fears are expressed in Jarvis's dream?
  2. Describe a significant dream of your own and its message to you.
Justice Marshall Resigns, p. 89
  1. Research how Justice Marshall's resignation affected the Supreme Court.
  2. Why are Americans concerned about the President's choices of Supreme Court Justices? What implications do these choices have?
Bryan, p. 91
  • What qualities do we see in Jarvis as he recounts the loss of his friend Bryan? Note examples.
It's Become So Hard, p. 97
  • If you could talk to Jarvis directly, how would you respond to the feelings he's expressed in these two pages?
O.J., p. 99
  • What's going on here? Express your own thoughts about these issues.

For a Long Time, p. 111
  • What questions do you want to ask Jarvis about his Buddhist quest?
Seeking Silence, p. 115
  1. Try meditating "before the world is awake". Watch your breath go in and out. Watch what happens as the silence is broken. How does this affect your meditation?
  2. While meditating, send positive energy to Jarvis.
  3. Write about your experiences during the above meditation.
The Dalai Lama Hat
  1. How did this interchange increase Eddie's self-esteem?
  2. What kinds of activities/programs might prisons offer to increase the humanity of inmates? (If you know about any such programs, please describe them.)
The Empowerment Ceremony, 123 through 132
  • What teachings from this chapter do you want to integrate into your own life? Why and how?
Angry Faces, p. 133 through Stop! A Buddhist is here!
  1. How is Jarvis's Buddhist practice manifested in these chapters?
  2. Is it possible to practice nonviolence in any and all situations? Give examples to prove your point.
  3. What are your thoughts and feelings about prison as a punishment? Are there any alternatives? If so, what? If not, why not?
  4. How did you feel about the death penalty before reading Finding Freedom? How do you feel now? Compare and contrast.
  5. Does Jarvis really "find freedom"? How? What does freedom mean to Jarvis? What does freedom mean to you?
  6. Write a letter to Jarvis in response to his book. Tell him what you found most meaningful about it.
  7. Would you recommend Finding Freedom to others? Why?
  8. What do you believe is Jarvis's message?
  9. Have you been inspired by Jarvis? What might you do differently now that you have read his book?