JUST ANNOUNCED: Jarvis Jay Masters will join David Sheff in conversation about his new book, The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place, which Anne Lamott describes as “a beautiful, profoundly spiritual book, and a page-turner. Jarvis Jay Masters’ transformation, from an unloved child of violence and poverty to Buddhist teacher on Death Row, is thrilling. Reading it changed me, threw the lights on, opened and gentled my heart. I’m going to give it to everyone I know.”
After an incomprehensibly harsh childhood, imprisonment for armed robbery, and then being sentenced to death row for the murder of a prison guard in 1986—a crime he claims he did not commit—Jarvis Jay Masters spiraled into a depression. Figuring he had nothing to lose, he tried meditation and likened it to the George Clinton lyric, “Free your mind and your ass will follow.” He was taken in as a student by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche and came to view his circumstances as the greatest gift. It led to his spiritual awakening, changed his life path from violence to peace, and instilled a sense of purpose to heal the suffering. What place could house more suffering than behind bars? Over the course of three years, David Sheff made more than 200 trips to death row, recorded more than 150 hours of conversations, and spoke with Masters for countless hours by phone. Though not a Buddhist himself, Sheff learned a multitude of lessons from all the time he’s spent with Masters, which he shares with readers. This is a profound book about one man’s capacities for learning, enduring, and ultimately, inspiring others—capacities we all share.
“This book celebrates a liberation not gained by guns and gangs, prison breaks and murder, but by sitting with one’s breath and believing in the perfection of the Universe and all who strive and suffer within it. The Buddhist on Death Row is a deeply useful reminder that we can all be free regardless of where we are placed.” —Alice Walker, author of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning The Color Purple
David Sheff is the author of multiple books including the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Beautiful Boy, which was recently turned into a movie starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Outside, Rolling Stone, Wired, Fortune, and elsewhere. His piece for The New York Times, "My Addicted Son," received an award from the American Psychological Association for Outstanding Contribution to Advancing the Understanding of Addictions.
This is a free event. The book may be purchased below.
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Resources and ways to help:
The Unrepresented Project is raising money to send to the men and women on the row who do not have counsel to help them out. The money will help these men and women buy extra food and clothes not provided by the CDCR.
The Instagram account Voices of San Quentin has regular calls to action to address the COVID-19 crisis at San Quentin.
Restore:Justice takes donations and puts them directly into the canteen funds of incarcerated people. Since the pandemic began, most are not working and state issues supplies have been scarce, so these funds are especially helpful for meeting essential needs.
Prison University Project is creating care packages for everyone incarcerated at San Quentin, Avenal State Prison, and the California Institute for Men. The packages include soap, hand sanitizer, paper and pens, stamps and envelopes, health boosting supplements, and information about the virus.
Finally, health experts have called for a 50% reduction in the prison population in response to the COVID crisis. And as we're learning now, prisons are a humanitarian crisis even outside a pandemic. This document is a starting point for contacting legislators to express your support for this call: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ghfc7jPgwimJCvV-zdPuXdJhoABTLHnDmqVlVagnVwA/edit
Praise for The Buddhist on Death Row
“I’m grateful to be Jarvis Masters’ teacher in part because he has taught me so much. I have rarely encountered anyone who expresses the essence of Buddhism in a clearer, more moving way than he does, and I deeply admire how David Sheff has captured that hard-won wisdom in this book.”
—Pema Chödrön, Buddhist teacher and author of When Things Fall Apart
“I’m a friend of Jarvis Masters, so I know the truth of this book, but I want to hail its power. I believe it will encourage many people to examine their own lives and their unrealized potential for awareness, generosity, commitment, and courage.”
—Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me
“This profound, gorgeous book displays the miraculous human capacity to find redemption, and even joy, no matter who or where we are. Jarvis Masters’ story proves that we are all united by our suffering and by our potential to help others who suffer.”
—Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking