July 16, 2019

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That Bird Has My Wings

In 1990, while serving a sentence in San Quentin for armed robbery, Jarvis Masters was convicted as an accessory in the murder of a prison guard. A 23-year-old African-American, Jarvis was sentenced to death in the gas chamber. While in the “maximum security” section of Death Row, using the only instrument available to him--a ball-point pen filler--Jarvis has written an astounding memoir that is a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit and the talent of a fine writer. Offering us scenes from his life that are at times poignant, revelatory, frightening, soul-stirring, painful, funny and uplifting, it doesn’t get any more real than this--nor more powerful, thought-provoking, and ultimately, life-affirming. That Bird Has My Wings tells the story of the author’s childhood with parents addicted to heroine, an abusive foster family, a life of crime and imprisonment, and the eventual embracing of Buddhism while on Death Row at San Quentin Prison. Master’s story drew the attention of luminaries in the world of American Buddhism, not the least of whom was Pema Chödrön, who offers a Foreword to the book.

Masters is still on Death Row -- but things have changed. The California Supreme Court has ordered an investigation into whether newly discovered evidence points to his innocence--which could result in the overturn of Jarvis’s conviction and death sentence. An international community of people believes Masters is innocent, and is actively working within the legal system to free him.

The author hopes his memoir will inspire real change, moving government officials and professionals in the social services to nurture the lives of abandoned, abused, and wounded children--those most likely to end up in foster homes, juvenile centers, and overflow into hardened prisons.