The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Boyexplores the transformation of Jarvis Jay Masters who has become one of America’s most inspiring Buddhist practitioners while locked in a cell on death row.
Jarvis Jay Masters’s early life was a horror story whose outline we know too well. Born in Long Beach, California, his house was filled with crack, alcohol, physical abuse, and men who paid his mother for sex. He and his siblings were split up and sent to foster care when he was five, and he progressed quickly to juvenile detention, car theft, armed robbery, and ultimately San Quentin. While in prison, he was set up for the murder of a guard—a conviction which landed him on death row, where he’s been since 1990.
At the time of his murder trial, he was held in solitary confinement, torn by rage and anxiety, felled by headaches, seizures, and panic attacks. A criminal investigator repeatedly offered to teach him breathing exercises which he repeatedly refused. Until desperation moved him to ask her how to do “that meditation shit.” With uncanny clarity, David Sheff describes Masters’s gradual but profound transformation from a man dedicated to hurting others to one who has prevented violence on the prison yard, counseled high school kids by mail, and helped prisoners—and even guards—find meaning in their lives.
Along the way, Masters becomes drawn to the principles that Buddhism espouses—compassion, sacrifice, and living in the moment—and he gains the admiration of Buddhists worldwide, including many of the faith’s most renowned practitioners. And while he is still in San Quentin and still on death row, he is a renowned Buddhist thinker who shows us how to ease our everyday suffering, relish the light that surrounds us, and endure the tragedies that befall us all.
About the Author
David Sheff is the author of multiple books including the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Beautiful Boy, which was recently turned into a movie starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. His work has appeared in TheNew York Times, Outside, Rolling Stone, Wired, Fortune, and elsewhere. His piece for TheNew York Times, “My Addicted Son,” received an award from the American Psychological Association for Outstanding Contribution to Advancing the Understanding of Addictions.
“This book shows vividly how, even in the face of the greatest adversity, compassion and a warm-hearted concern for others bring peace and inner strength.”
— His Holiness the Dalai Lama
“An inspiring book about how meaning can be found even in—perhaps especially in—adversity. It’s a study of Buddhism, of criminal justice, of the ways people connect with each other, and it’s written with deep feeling and verve.”
—Andrew Solomon, Author of New York Times Bestseller Far From the Tree
“This profound, gorgeous book displays the miraculous human capacity to find redemption, and even joy, no matter who or where we are. Jarvis Masters’ story proves that we are all united by our suffering and by our potential to help others who suffer.”
—Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
“I’m a friend of Jarvis Masters, so I know the truth of this book, but I want to hail its power. I believe it will encourage many people to examine their own lives and their unrealized potential for awareness, generosity, commitment, and courage.”
—Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me
"This is a beautiful, profoundly spiritual book, and a page-turner. Jarvis Jay Masters’ transformation from an unloved child of violence and poverty to Buddhist teacher on Death Row, is thrilling. Reading it changed me, threw the lights on, opened and gentled my heart. I’m going to give it to everyone I know".
—Anne Lamott, New York Times bestselling author of Almost Everything
“This book celebrates a liberation not gained by guns and gangs, prison breaks and murder, but by sitting with one’s breath and believing in the perfection of the universe and all who strive and suffer within it. The Buddhist on Death Row is a deeply useful reminder that we can all be free regardless of where we are placed.”
—Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple
"An indelible portrait of an incarcerated man finding new life and purpose behind bars."
“Stirring…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.”