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That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row
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That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  289 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
That Bird Has My Wings is the astounding memoir of death row inmate Jarvis Masters and a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit and the talent of a fine writer. Offering scenes from his life that are at times poignant, revelatory, frightening, soul-stirring, painful, funny, and uplifting, That Bird Has My Wings tells the story of the author’s childhood with parents ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by HarperCollins e-books
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Cathryn Wellner
Aug 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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
...more
Kris
Dec 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Shanae
May 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Tommy
Nov 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating story of a man who never really had a chance at growing up to live in freedom. Not to excuse his crimes, but it helps one understand how generations of children are raised in an atmosphere of hopelessness, an environment that dares them to survive. How they have to do so naturally leads to a life that risks life and freedom.

For Jarvis Jay Masters, it was a series of experiences - an abusive father who disappeared early in life, an abused mother who was addicted to heroin,
...more
Monty
Jan 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
beth
Jan 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
eb
Jul 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
MJ
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
insightful - well written especially considering Jarvis Jay Masters spotty formal education. To personalize what is unfortunately the upbringing of many makes this story stick with you....was the bookclub pick for January. Interested in the discussion to follow.
Elyssa
Nov 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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.
Jean
Nov 22, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good story of strife and redemption without over dramatizing. I had hoped for more lucid application of Buddhist principles.
Maureen
Nov 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. I picked this up at the Library randomly and thought it might be average and/or 'readable but predictable'. I can't even describe how good this book is. Most of the book is the first 19 years of Jarvis's life. He was a smart and talented kid who lived with unbelievable neglect, briefly thrived under the care of loving foster parents, and then was pushed back once more into a corrupt foster care system that pushes many inner city youth eve ...more
Brian
Aug 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“That Bird Has My Wings” is inspiring for the same reason that “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl is inspiring. It is the story of finding meaning, purpose, and freedom under dire circumstances. Jarvis Jay Masters became a Buddhist while imprisoned on Death Row. If you think your life is challenging or stressful, think about sharing living quarters with murderers in San Quentin State Prison.

The bulk of the book describes Masters’ growing up. It is sad in places, poignant and heart-warm
...more
Celine
"I had accepted beatings, loneliness, and near-starvation as normal because those things had helped me to survive. Now when these women undressed me, it felt like they were removing a shield that had become a part of me. As they peeled off layer after layer, I began to feel my age and started crying. With my tears I shed each fiber of responsibility I had in caring for my sisters and brother. I was finally being cared for as a child, and so the child inside me opened wide."

That Bird Has My Wings
...more
Zakee
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Marc
Mar 25, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Janet Elsbach
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some things which we reflexively call 'unimaginable' because, in fact, we CAN imagine them and that terrifies us. We say we can't imagine something like someone else's grief because we don't want to; really the problem is that we can totally imagine it but find the vision intolerable. Loss and death and many kinds of misfortune are like that. Spending decades in solitary confinement is not like that. Growing up without a loving presence to protect you or provide for you when you were t ...more
Zandra
Jan 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
S
Mar 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Sarah
Mar 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Karen
Jan 21, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Angela
Very, very good book! I was completely amazed how this book left me yearning for more. There are a couple of suggestions that I would make - I would definitely make the book longer by explaining more about the transformation to Buddism. I was quite intrigued by this, but the author only focused the later chapters on this. Also, I wanted more information about the crime that he stated he did not commit. I understand that there may be legal reasons as to why he did not delve into details, but I wa ...more
Tom Malarkey
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
ChaelynA
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
That Bird Has My Wings, an autobiography, written by Jarvis Jay Masters is filled with sorrow, happiness, and wisdom. The book is about the journey of Jarvis Masters, a boy who has dealt with heroin addicts, robbers, and the cold reality of the system. When he ends up behind the bars of San Quentin for armed robbery, and later in death row for a crime he didn’t commit, he surprisingly finds peace, or enlightenment. This book is a great story of faith and hope. I recommend this book for anyone wh ...more
Dorothy Soest
Mar 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
That Bird Has my Wings is a road map of the lengthy, tortuous process too many of our benign, goodhearted children face as they progress - through no fault of their own - from innocence to survival and criminal behavior. As a child Jarvis Jay Masters was subjected to a brutality that no person should endure, the worst of it from the very system that was charged with helping him. Yet he has not only endured to tell his story, he found the way to redemption and a return to his own good nature. Thi ...more
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.
Jo Townson
Aug 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Leo
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Marsmannix
Mar 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
A truly excruciating look at an inner city childhood and the brutalization of a young black child.

I take Mr. Masters with a grain of salt, when he explains his crimes...he does use distancing language.
But he is very good at explaining his inner state. Jury is out as far i'm concerned if he is innocent...you don't get death row and 12 years solitary confinement for being a Boy Scout.



Christy
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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...

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“I had accepted beatings, loneliness, and near-starvation as normal because those things had helped me to survive. Now when these women undressed me, it felt like they were removing a shield that had become a part of me. As they peeled off layer after layer, I began to feel my age and started crying. With my tears I shed each fiber of responsibility I had in caring for my sisters and brother. I was finally being cared for as a child, and so the child inside me opened wide.” 1 likes
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