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

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

David Sheff. Simon & Schuster, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-1-9821-2845-6

Sheff (Beautiful Boy) draws from research and personal correspondence to tell the stirring story of Jarvis Jay Masters, a convicted murderer awaiting execution on California’s death row who converted to Buddhism and has found a kind of freedom despite the death sentence looming over him. Masters was 19 years old when he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to California’s San Quentin State Prison in 1981. Nine years later, he was convicted of the murder of a prison guard and sentenced to death. After being advised by a criminal investigator working on his case to perform breathing exercises to help with anxiety, Masters became interested in Buddhism. He discovered that practicing the faith allowed him to change the ways he related to himself and to others, and Sheff captures the difficult, powerful realizations Masters gained as a result of his practice (“Buddhism is about how we’re all the same, in this world together, struggling. Life is hard for everyone—we’re all suffering together”), leading him to become a comforting, beneficial presence to his fellow inmates. In an epilogue, Sheff asks readers to consider how one’s perspective can turn a situation of “sadness, pain, and regret” into “light and joy and love.” This Buddhist Dead Man Walking will pull at the heartstrings of any reader. (Aug.)