July 16, 2019

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Jarvis as a Writer

Recently published stories by Jarvis Jay Masters: Grieving for My Teacher.

Bibliographical List of the publications of Jarvis Jay Masters.

Jarvis became a writer simultaneously with becoming a Buddhist in prison:
Excerpts from Melody's Forward to Finding Freedom, pages xvii-xviii

I usually write with Jarvis, not about him. When we write together at the prison, we take a break from discussing the appeal of his case. I take off my watch and put it where he can see it on the ledge between us and one of us says, "All right, ten minutes, OK? Go!" The idea of this exercise is to loosen up our writer's muscles without worrying about results. We just write, sometimes about a particular topic, such as "A Conversation Overheard" or "Rain." Sometimes we write whatever comes, just keeping our pens moving. He on his side of the thick wire mesh, and I on my side, the side with the door to the outside world-we both of us put our heads down and scribble away. We are breathing the same stale prison air. We can both hear the murmur of other visits through the walls, and occasionally a guard's voice calling out. Jarvis has more light-the visitor's side of the visiting booth is dim and the prisoner's side is brightly lit with a fluorescent tube.

I have an ordinary ballpoint pen, but he has only the innards of one; he's not allowed to have the hard plastic case, so he writes with the flimsy plastic tube of ink. We are both equally intent on getting words onto paper.

When our writing time is over, Jarvis and I read the results to each other. These brief shared writing exercises encourage both of us to keep on writing, and sometimes together we produce seeds that later grow into Jarvis's stories and my essays.

His writing and his meditation practice are what make life worth living for Jarvis. Studying Buddhism these past few years has helped him to gain remarkable insight. Neither he nor I have any illusions about the fact that he has harmed others. But he has taken the precepts of dedicating his remaining life to compassion and nonviolence-not an easy path in a violent prison.

There are many constraints on what Jarvis can write about, many of which can easily be imagined by any reader, as well as others that might be apparent only to those working or living within the penal system. And because his appeals are pending, Jarvis cannot write about his case. His appeals will go to both the state and federal courts, and he will not be close to execution or freedom for at least two more years.

Jarvis hopes, as he has written, that "those who want to try to make sense of it will see, through my writing, a human being who made mistakes. Maybe my writing will at least help them see me as someone who felt, loved, and cared, someone who wanted to know for himself who he was."

Some readers may find themselves eager for more details about Jarvis's life and transformation. It is my hope and fervent prayer that the conditions of Jarvis's life will change so that those stories may be written.

—Melody Ermachild Chavis
May 1997