That bird has my wings The autobiography of an innocent man on death row

Jarvis Jay Masters, 1962-

Book - 2009

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BIOGRAPHY/Masters, Jarvis Jay
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New York, NY : HarperOne 2009.
Main Author
Jarvis Jay Masters, 1962- (-)
1st ed
Physical Description
xvii, 281 p. ; 24 cm
  • Author's Note
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • 1. First Memories
  • 2. Rescue
  • 3. A Taste of Normal
  • 4. Friends and Fights
  • 5. Family
  • 6. A Rude Awakening
  • 7. My Heart Is Broken
  • 8. Escape from Abuse
  • 9. McLaren Hall
  • 10. Boys Town
  • 11. Off the Road and On
  • 12. Becoming a Man
  • 13. Coming Unleashed
  • 14. Home to Memories
  • 15. Taking On the World Together
  • 16. The California Youth Authority
  • 17. My Mother's Dream
  • 18. Wake-up Call
  • 19. My Own Worst Enemy
  • 20. Down, Up, and Over
  • 21. Out of Control
  • 22. Robbin' Hood
  • 23. San Quentin
  • 24. Pitbull
  • 25. A Mirror into Anger
  • 26. Another June
  • 27. Freedom Ride
  • 28. Wings
  • Afterword: Every Child Matters
  • Acknowledgments
Review by Booklist Review

We have had writings from death row inmates before, usually pleading bad childhood experiences and their innocence. No exception here, but Masters' intelligent, incisive prose paints a compelling depiction of the horrors leading to his situation. Born to a pair of junkie drug dealers, Masters and his siblings fend for themselves, dependent on a kind neighbor who leaves food on the porch. They go from playing with heroin-filled balloons and the pain of empty stomachs and the drafty stench of loneliness to foster care. After four years with a kind couple, he winds up with a foster family where beatings and other abuses are the norm. Repeated escapes from there and various boys' homes deliver him to the Valley Boys Academy, where his need for structure is fulfilled and an outlet for his rage is found in martial arts. Eventually a street life of drugs and guns lands him in San Quentin at 19, where he is found guilty of killing a guard. Twenty-two years later, while awaiting execution, Masters gives us much to think about.--Scott, Whitney Copyright 2009 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this polished tale that belies the author's raw origins, Masters (Finding Freedom), who has been imprisoned on San Quentin's death row since 1990 and become a devout Buddhist, recalls the neglect, abuse and cycle of crime and hopelessness that relegated him to prison by age 19. As a child in the late '60s, Masters and his siblings were shut up in their house in Long Beach, Calif., because their mother and stepfather had turned the place into a heroin den. Filthy, starved and whipped, the children eventually attracted the attention of neighbors, then were scattered among foster homes. Despite a happy period spent with a caring, elderly Christian couple, Jarvis was once again uprooted, this time to a hardened, joyless home where the other foster boys quickly taught him the ropes to survive. Dispirited, he ran away repeatedly from age 10 on, and the book largely follows his trajectory from one institution to the next, from McLaren Hall, where he enjoyed a sense of belonging, to the abusive Valley Boys Academy, where he was trained like a pitbull to fight the other boys. Being united with his extended family in Harbor City was both a blessing and a curse, because they gradually dragged him into a downward spiral of robbery, violence and jail. Masters's claim of innocence in the murder that landed him on death row is beside the point in this work that's a frank, heartfelt rendering of a young life that should have mattered. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

This brave account of a childhood ravaged by neglect, violence, and institutional indifference is remarkable for its utter lack of anger and bitterness. Masters (Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row) entered San Quentin in 1980 at age 19 for armed robbery and was moved to death row in 1990 after being convicted as an accessory in the murder of a guard-though he professed his innocence, which newly uncovered evidence supports. Here, he recounts in utilitarian but not unlovely prose a boyhood marked by unthinkable brutality, starting with parents who were both heroin addicts. He never uses his story to excuse himself; indeed, his regret over his past crimes is palpable. Instead, Masters serves up his own life as a cautionary tale to those with the power to protect children from the kind of domestic and institutional abuse he suffered. Despite the title, the events that sent him to death row get only the briefest mention; Masters's conversion to Buddhism in San Quentin has brought him solace and clarity. Verdict A heartbreaking memoir; the brutal conditions of Masters's boyhood will be difficult for some readers to take, but his ultimate message of hope and reconciliation is moving and inspiring. Highly recommended.-Rachel Bridgewater, Reed Coll. Lib., Portland, OR (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A San Quentin inmate's account of the path that led him to death row. Masters (Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row, 1997) wants readers to know that he did not kill the prison guard for whose murder he was sentenced to die. The sentiment is almost a passing thought in this autobiography, which dwells on the horrendous childhood and youth that set him on the road to prison. Raised in hunger and filth by his heroin-addicted mother, Masters became a state ward and cycled in and out of foster homes and juvenile institutions. Save for a saintly elderly couple who loved him as their own son, his overseers ranged from irresponsible to sadistic. The mother in one foster couple tried to jam his fingers into an electric garbage disposal; in a military-style boys home, the guards staged bloody fights between their charges. In 1981, the 19-year-old Masters began a two-decade sentence for armed-robbery convictions. There he became a Buddhist and published author whose poetry garnered a PEN award. Convicted of participating in the murder of a guard, Masters declares his innocence, an appeal that remains to be adjudicated as of this writing. He admirably accepts blame for his lesser crimes and for blowing chances to escape his fate. Yet questions fester, not just about his alleged role in the murder but in the wealth of detail he provides about long-ago events. A gripping indictment of poverty and the foster-care system, less successful in addressing the subtitle's claim of innocence. Stay tuned. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.