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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
JARVIS MASTERS LIVES on a prime piece of real estate be- side San Francisco Bay, in pricey Marin County, California. But he can’t see the stunning view of the city or the waves lapping at the shore because the window of his San Quentin cell faces the other way, into the prison yard. Jarvis is now forty-five, and San Quentin has been his home since he was nineteen. I have been corresponding with Jarvis for many years and visiting him for about five. When I drive across the Richmond Bridge to talk to Jarvis about his life as a Buddhist prisoner and his writing, I see his home ahead of me, lit by the early morn- ing sun, floating in the bay like a fairy-tale palace with a golden, crenellated tower. But when I get to the visitors’ parking lot, the magical turret is unmistakably a gun tower. Jarvis entered prison with a seven-year sentence for armed robbery. He has long since served out his sentence for crimes he did commit, but he is still in prison, on death row, for a crime that many believe he did not commit. During his life in prison, he has become a Buddhist, studying first with the Tibetan master Chagdud Tulku and then with Pema Chödrön. His well-received first book, Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row, appeared in 1997. He is finishing his second now, tentatively titled That Bird Has Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man. I have to go through many barriers to get to Jarvis. First, I wait outside the gatehouse for a guard to buzz me in. Inside, my East Block housing for condemned inmates at San Quentin. NOV 58-63.indd 59 NOV 58-63.indd 59 8/29/07 2:17:15 PM 8/29/07 2:17:15 PM