cover image Finding Freedom: How Death Row Broke and Opened My Heart

Finding Freedom: How Death Row Broke and Opened My Heart

Jarvis Masters. Shambhala, $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-61180-911-4

In this inviting collection of frank stories, essays, poems, and letters, death row inmate Masters (That Bird Has My Wings) shares his spiritual liberation while incarcerated at California’s San Quentin State Prison on murder charges that he claims are false. Masters aims to introduce readers to Buddhism and to what it means to be a black man and inmate in America today. Like the koans of a Zen master meant to “wake up” Buddhist novices, Masters’s meditations on life, death, and impermanence are simple, straightforward, and stark. For example, he speaks movingly about intervening to save a man’s life after he is attacked with a shank as a means of showing compassion toward all beings. He also explains how he was able to spare guards who refused to provide inmates utensils for eating from retaliation through organizing a peaceful protest, and writes of crafting prayer beads out of Tylenol pills to share with other inmates. With each affecting anecdote, Masters asks readers to walk the “doorsteps of dharma, the Buddhist path” alongside him. Above all, the revelation Masters asks readers to contemplate is the acceptance that “all of us live in a prison” of cyclic existence and suffering. This is a remarkable testament of personal transformation and spiritual awakening. (July)