The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place

S. & S. Aug. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781982128456. $27. REL
Best-selling memoirist Sheff (Beautiful Boy) documents how Jarvis Jay Masters became a Buddhist in one of the most unlikely of places: death row at San Quentin State Prison. After a childhood of turmoil and violence, Masters entered prison for multiple armed robberies and was quickly radicalized in the Black Guerilla Family. Although he maintains his innocence, Masters was found guilty of conspiring in the murder of a prison guard and sentenced to death. To deal with the stress of his trial, a member of his defense team introduces him to meditation. This ultimately sets Masters on a path toward becoming a student of Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, as well as a celebrated author. Sheff paints an ironic portrait of a troubled yet compassionate man striving to help his fellow death row inmates and others around the world, while the criminal justice systems continues to show its indifference to Masters. Despite this, Masters believes that being sentenced to death not only saved his life but gave him life.
VERDICT This readable account of an unlikely journey to Buddhism and finding freedom on death row should inspire readers on their own transformational journeys.
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