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That Bird Has My Wings

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  197 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Jarvis Jay Masters has taken an extraordinary journey of faith. Strangely enough, his moment of enlightenment came behind the bars of San Quentin's death row. In this compelling memoir, inmate and author Jarvis Jay Masters takes us from the arms of his heroin-addicted mother to an abusive foster home, on his escape to the illusory freedom of the streets and through lonely ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2009)
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I could not put this book down. It is the memoir of a death row inmate who becomes a Buddhist meditating in his cell every day. But we don't hear those stories until about 80% of the book has passed. Most of it is about his childhood as a foster kid struggling to survive. We see how he slowly hardens his heart as more difficult circumstances come his way. No doubt he - and all children who face such things - deserved much better than he got... And yet he did have love, compassion and wise folks ...more
Absolutely amazing!!! A must read for all. One of the best books I've read this year and one of the best autobiographies I've ever read.
Cathryn Wellner
So many times while reading this book, I had to stop and let my heart heal.

"Innocent" is not the right word to describe Jarvis Jay Masters. He is a casualty of a family and a care system so broken it would be no wonder if he murdered someone. Assault, theft, yes. He is guilty.

But he played no part in the crime that put him on death row, and that's where the pain of his imprisonment becomes almost too much to bear. That he was getting his life in order, finding his core through Buddhism, makes
I started reading this book thinking I would never finish it because it sounded so trite--subtitle: the autobiography of an innocent man on death row. Well, I plowed through this book because it was so compelling. It's mostly about his youth from about age 4 to age 19 or so when he was sent to San Quentin. Only the last part of the book describes his experience in San Quentin, death row and his experiences with Buddhism. He describes really horrible experiences of abuse and neglect at home and i ...more
I forget books almost as fast as I read them, but I THINK I'll remember this one forever, or at least details from it: Masters and his sibs, abandoned by their drug-addicted mother, eating food left out for them by a kindly neighbor; Masters cleaning a series of stinking jail cells until they shine; Masters strapped and scared, standing guard behind the door while his older brother sells drugs. This guy has been through it, and he's able to tell his horrifying story in a restrained, calm voice t ...more
I was handed this book by a customer at work and because she's such a nice lady, I felt in a way coerced into reading it. All criticism or nitpicking aside, I don't read much prison literature, the fact that I believe this is an actual genre, is troubling. But to re-emphasize, I felt changed by Soul On Ice by Eldridge Cleaver, but that's about it. First, I don't know all of the details of this remarkable story and how much is memoir based on fact and fiction is beyond me. Mr. Masters pretty much ...more
Powerful and thoughtful narrative. He does not offer excuses for the wrongs he admits (the subtitle regarding him being an "innocent man" refers to the crime he was placed on death row for, specifically). What he does do is examine how his early life experiences, including the way he was cared for and the choices he made, brought him to where he is now (San Quentin).

Excellent passage of self-awareness: "I actually felt safer on the run... I'd come to love fleeing- the sense of being a tightrope
The author of this memoir has wonderful insight into his tragic upbringing and how it lead him to death row. Due to his commitment to Buddhism and meditation while behind bars, he is also forgiving and accepting. He is also a skilled writer and I am grateful that he has shared his story.
Good story of strife and redemption without over dramatizing. I had hoped for more lucid application of Buddhist principles.
Nicole G.
This book broke my heart, only to mend it, then break it again. Mr. Masters is an unfortunate casualty of a broken system. And even more tragically, he is not alone. Although he was originally incarcerated for crimes he did commit, he was put on death row for something of which he claims to be innocent. I'm unsure if his defense team is still working on this, as the book was published several years ago. I shall have to investigate. At any rate, it is there, on death row, in solitary confinement ...more
When Jarvis is a young boy he and his four siblings are taken away from their drug addicted, neglectful mother and placed in separate foster homes. Jarvis was fortunate to be placed in a loving home with the Prockes, a caring elderly couple who loved and nurtured him. Things began to fall apart when he is removed from the home due to the Prockes age and declining health. He is then placed in an abusive home with foster parents who are in it only for the money. They torture and abuse him. Feeling ...more
The author of this book is also the author of my last book review Jarvis Jay Masters.In the book "that bird has my wings Jarvis Jay Masters talks long before he was put on death row.He goes into detail that how family over powers anything and that even if they are not family by blood they are still family.This take places during his early child hood and how his family was struggle on how life was for him growing was tuff .Hie tells the difference between his early life with his heron-addicted mo ...more
I loved this book. It tells the story of Jarvis Jay. His childhood was hard, with a drug addict mother and really mean father. Then a nice foster home, then a really evil foster home with beatings I just can't imagine the pain this man has gone through. I could not, even for a day stop reading this book. This man is still on death row for a murder he didn't commit. I recommend this book to anyone looking for some great non-fiction or just a new favorite book.
Ayano Strickland
I came to this book after seeing a young peoples' theatre performance group Truthworker Theatre do their rendition of his writings on stage in New York. Blown away. I bought the book with a forward by Pema Chodron and also had to stop through out because of how it reflected an on going challenge we see in our country and the secrecy of the lives of the children we work with daily. My best wishes to him.
This book was very well written for the first half and then started to weaken. Part of my problem was that I wasn't sure how much to believe about his time as a criminal and in jail since he is currently on death row and trying to appeal his case which means it is in his interest to present himself in the most positive way possible. Sometimes it felt a little fake to me. Also, he admits himself that he committed the armed robberies that got him into jail in the first place so he's really just cl ...more
Masters takes us on the compelling and heart-wrenching journey of his life, from being the child of a heroin-addicted mother to bouncing around foster homes and institutions, to finally awaiting death by lethal injection at San Quentin prison where he discovers spirituality. Written with a touching honesty, his book is not a defense of his crimes or a plea for forgiveness; although he claims innocence in the crime that landed him on death row he does so only briefly and instead allows his voice ...more
Jarvis' courage shines through every word in this often painful and ultimately beautiful story of surviving circumstances that are unimaginable to most. It is the tale of the reclaiming of a heart.. As I read the last page and closed the book, the word Namaste came into my mind over and over. To Mr. Masters, I offer a deep bow of gratitude for sharing his story. It touched me deeply.
Cynthia Sayer
It was horrifying to read the abuse Mr. Masters suffered as a child, and how his story is the voice of so many others. But his efforts to become a better human being and of benefit to others is really impressive. I understand the socio-economic gap differently now since reading this!
Tom Malarkey
As an educator for social justice, I thought I knew a lot about kids, schools, and the struggles of getting a quality education and life opportunities in an unjust system. But Jarvis Jay Masters' unflinching look at his own life and journey through the 'hell realms' of our society opened my eyes in a profound way to realities I had no idea about - and which countless others, particularly many black male youth, continue to experience. That he could have achieved the self-knowledge and inner peace ...more
Michelle Margaret
A Compelling, sad ,yet ultimately inspiring life story. If Jarvis Jay Masters can mediate and find compassion on death row at San Quentin, what excuse do the rest of us have? Free Jarvis!
Angela Wade
I understand why Pema Chodron said she had to put this book down at times. It was an incredibly tough read in some parts. I wish he would have included more from his later years.
I've always thought of becoming a CASA volunteer... this book kicked my butt into motion... It's the story of Jarvis Masters, who, like many kids in the foster system, has so many tragic and disturbing experiences and so few people who come into their lives for to help them shine.

It's well written, quick to read, and will move the reader to thinking, wishing, or feeling for the children who deserve so much better than what life hands them.

The link to CASA is below in case anyone else is intere
Jode Edwards
WOW. A must read... testament to the human spirit.
Jo Townson
This book reaps and sows great compassion. I wish all people would read it and better understand the factors that lead people into a life of crime, and more importantly, the possibility and hope of redemption. This book helps create and grow a forgiving heart. I am so grateful to have come across this book (having read a review from Pema Chodron). Thank you Jarvis Jay Masters for your life and story.
HarperOne (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Truly loved this book and could not put it down. Overwhelmingly sad and unbeleivable at times and inspired some important personal reflection. I hope to become a more understanding person having read it.

Author Jarvis Jay Masters has contributed a blog about the publishing process of this book on the blog of SF-based non-profit Death Penalty Focus:
Feb 02, 2010 Mary rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mary by: found at library
Shelves: memoir, political
Jarvis Masters - I read his other book called Finding Freedom. This is his memoir. As Pema Chodron says in the forward, "I had to put it down at times." He shows courage in going back to these memories and then putting them down on paper. It's haunting. And yet there was love shining in there, from family, and especially from his mom, whom he never stopped loving and who was his anchor.
Masters sez he's innocent of the murder charge but guilty of many other crimes. Raised in foster homes, institutions, & incarcerated, he tells his life story. Book isn't about the question of his guilt or innocence but rather about his (finally in San Quentin) coming to understand himself, his life choices, & learning to find acceptance if not peace with himself.
For those expecting the backstory to how Jarvis Masters became a Buddhist, you won't find it here. This memoir describes his difficult childhood, drifting from family to fostercare to a life of crime as a teenager. It's an eye-opening book in many ways, but sometimes it felt like the author was trying too hard to construct a personal of non-violence for himself.
From my understanding, this is not an uncommon story: a young man who has been failed by our foster care system ends up on death row. I appreciate this story because it brings to light the inner conflicts that take place when good kids make bad (known/thought-out) life-altering decisions. For Jarvis, his series of choices made him a number and statistic...
Fabulous book. Great insight into the foster care system and drug addiction. My only qualm is that a mere 1-2 pages is dedicated to why the author is actually on death row. I found it hard to be sympathetic toward him at the end because I didn't really know if he was falsely accused or not.
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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 was converted to Buddhism several years later and has inspired the interest of leaders in the American Buddhist community. While in prison he wrote and published one book, Finding Freedom, as well as many articles which have appeared most ...more
More about Jarvis Jay Masters...
Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row That Bird Has My Wings

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