Imprisoned creator Jarvis Jay Masters is in headlines once more in 2022, as his guide That Fowl Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Harmless Man on Demise Row has been introduced as the most recent addition to Oprah Winfrey’s guide membership, 13 years after its unique launch. Masters is a widely known Buddhist author and practitioner who has spent over thirty years on loss of life row for against the law that many imagine he didn’t commit. Masters’ writings give attention to therapeutic, meditation, and discovering freedom throughout his sentence. He and his work have been championed by Pema Chödrön, Rebecca Solnit , Susan Moon, and lots of others.
In his unforgettable memoir, Masters covers his childhood, his imprisonment, and his expertise discovering Buddhism and meditation. Right here’s our evaluation of That Fowl Has My Wings, written by Jenny Phillips and printed upon its unique launch.
That Fowl Has My Wings is a strong narrative of a life misplaced on the streets, after which discovered once more in a jail cell on San Quentin’s loss of life row. This isn’t a guide about guilt or innocence, however about the opportunity of redemption.
Jarvis Jay Masters’ wrestle to write down his life story had many challenges, beginning together with his pen. Like many prisoners, he was given a floppy ink tube, a “pen filler,” relatively than an strange hard-bodied pen. He says:
I actually cursed the makeshift pen caught painfully between my fingers. There was no title I didn’t name it. It was not simply that it damage to carry it, however that it moved so slowly, forcing me to attend to each element. I couldn’t write any sooner than it let me; it refused to skim evenly over the floor as I attempted to breeze previous the unpronounced feelings that will crawl up my throat and fill my eyes with tears… Then I started to silently problem myself: With out anybody else having to know, I requested, how sincere can I be with myself as I write all of the scattered recollections of my life?
Masters’ incisive unearthing of his previous is a sleek and in the end liberating story. However in what methods did jail, notably loss of life row, foster this reconstruction? To reply that query it’s needed to contemplate the influence of incarceration and all it entails.
Prisons are characterised by hazard and deprivation, and so they promote emotions of failure, guilt, and disgrace. The tough, uncooked underbelly of the battle for survival is acted out within the cellblock, jail yard, and gymnasium, because the subordinated inhabitants fights over restricted spoils and victories. That stated, prisons are additionally in comparison with monasteries as a result of each establishments are remoted and supply lengthy intervals of time for reflection and introspection. Inmates, subsequently, can assume the position of monk or gladiator, and the duality between jail warrior and jail monk is especially true on loss of life row. In that place, time endlessly stretches forward with a crushing sameness, and but additionally it is operating out. There’s a heightened consciousness of the impermanence hooked up to all issues and experiences, and within the midst of this there can come up a vibrant seek for that means, a necessity to start a technique of therapeutic.
A technique Masters’ therapeutic is revealed is in the way in which he writes about himself as a boy. He isn’t telling the reader about his boyhood self from an exterior place however relatively from the within. This isn’t completed solely with skillful writing, but additionally within the depth of Masters’ journey to attach together with his childhood.
Masters’ life story started in a drug home together with his siblings, an addicted mom, and a violent and shortly to be absent father. In rags, the youngsters roamed by the home, sleeping on urine-soaked mattresses, not often fed or in any approach nurtured or cared for. When darkness got here, they gravitated to the stuffy attic dimly illuminated by a streetlamp—there was no different supply of sunshine. In Masters’ phrases, “Solely now can I think about the terrible stench of our pee-stained mattresses. After urinating on them for months, we’d change into proof against the odor, like a rancher to his cows.”
Ultimately Masters was faraway from the home by youth companies, which started a life-long craving to be reunited together with his mom and to maintain her secure from the hazards he’d witnessed whereas dwelling together with her. Separated from his siblings, he was positioned with loving foster dad and mom. He absorbed their nurturing and thrived within the security and construction of their dwelling life, however this was the one time he would have “a style of regular.” On account of his foster mom’s extreme well being issues, he was quickly taken away and positioned with an abusive foster household.
After he ran away, the subsequent cease on Masters’ journey was a juvenile detention corridor. Right here, briefly, his want for loving figures and a spot to belong was happy. He excelled at sports activities and made a greatest good friend, Fred, who had been badly burned by his father. Fred’s braveness within the face of disfiguring scars and extreme bodily ache impressed in Masters a way of admiration and private functionality.
Ultimately, Masters was united together with his mom’s prolonged household, however inside this massive and at instances loving household, he discovered neither security nor stability and he took a downward course, culminating in incarceration on the age of 19. He struggled to determine himself throughout the jail gladiator tradition and, 4 years later, this led to his being convicted of collaborating in a conspiracy to homicide a jail guard and being despatched to loss of life row.
At that second, an essential trainer stepped into Masters’ life. Melody was a non-public investigator engaged on his authorized attraction. Fairly than a distant, well-heeled knowledgeable, she possessed the right alchemy to assist Masters choose up the pen filler. She despatched him books on the way to meditate and the way to cope with ache and struggling. “Like me,” writes Masters, “she was confronting lots of issues in her previous.” She was a fellow human being with whom he might set up a way of empathic connectedness.
On account of the preliminary contact by Melody, Masters regularly turned established inside a neighborhood of Tibetan Buddhists. Via Tibetan trainer Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche and lots of others, he discovered finally a spot through which he belonged. “Rinpoche and I had one thing in widespread,” explains Masters. “He had been a rebellious child who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. I assumed, right here’s a tricky man who can take me out of jail, at the same time as I stay right here.”
The reinforcement and loving steerage supplied by Rinpoche and the Buddhist neighborhood have been all that Masters wanted. Meditation allowed him to seamlessly weave collectively writing and non secular observe. He says:
Alone with myself, I started to write down and the floodgates of recollections started to open. I began getting up early to attempt to calm my thoughts so I wouldn’t panic. Via meditation I discovered to decelerate and take a couple of deep breaths, to take every part in, and to not run from the ache however to sit down with it, confront it, settle for it in a approach I by no means had earlier than.
Via meditation, Masters was in a position to quiet his thoughts, change into softly conscious of his breath, and permit his ideas, recollections, and feelings to rise to the floor. By remaining an energetic witness, he felt a shift in understanding—a recent sense of reality and private duty, and a brand new compassion for others. Along with his breath, he rode out the storms of emotion, painful recollections, and undesirable however important realizations. The journey was turbulent, but in the end therapeutic.
The interwoven non secular and writing processes quickly manifested in Masters’ relationships with others. As an example, fellow-prisoner Bork, a neighbor in his cellblock and a serial little one rapist and assassin, turned grist for the mill of Masters’ psychological restoration. Earlier than studying of Bork’s crimes, Masters had loved lengthy chess video games with him. After, he was swept away by outrage, contempt, and hatred. Masters realized, nonetheless, he was being poisoned by this hatred and he started to work inside on his negativity. Via this course of, he was in a position to lengthen his newfound empathic connectedness to Bork. Masters describes it this manner:
Then a much bigger feeling broke by as I plugged into all of the human struggling all through the world. Why hadn’t I seen Bork as a part of it? … I felt a psychological readability that lifted me above all of the clouds of my very own making.
Jarvis Jay Masters remains to be dwelling on loss of life row however—from attic to jail cell—he has by no means ceased his seek for that means and belonging and, finally, he has discovered it inside.
For extra about Jarvis Jay Masters, learn Susan Moon’s article, Discovering Freedom: The Demise Row Journey of Jarvis Jay Masters.