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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2007 62 either going to go crazy, or kill yourself—just go dead inside, in your soul if not your body—or find something to sustain you in a spiritual realm. You’ve got to have a way to take care of yourself when things go wrong, when you don’t get any mail or visits, or you start messing with your own head, worrying about why they didn’t come to get you for the shower at the regular time. “How do you get out of prison in prison? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself. We’re always looking at a wall here. One time when I was first meditating, it came to me: I can’t climb the walls, but I can make them disappear. I told this to Rinpoche when he visited me, and he smiled and just snapped his fingers in the air. He had tears in his eyes.” Until recently, Jarvis was housed in the Adjustment Center, the maximum security unit of the prison, otherwise known as “the hole.” Prisoners there are allowed to leave the solitary confinement of their cells only three times a week for exercise, and for “non- contact” visits. (Some prisoners rarely or never have visitors, but as a result of the associations he has made through Buddhism and his writing, Jarvis has many friends who come to see him, once they have been through a detailed approval process.) A few months ago, after twenty-two years in the Adjustment Center, Jarvis was finally moved to East Block, the regular death row (how “regular” can death row be?) in a lower security section of the prison. During twenty-six long, hard years in the penitentiary, almost all of them in the Adjustment Center, Jarvis has changed radically. A big part of that change has been Buddhism, but his writing has also been extremely important, as an outlet for him, as a way to communicate with the world outside, and as an inspiration to others—prisoners and non-prisoners alike. Jarvis had very little schooling, and his writing voice is self-taught. His first piece to be published, “Scars,” appeared in Wingspan in 1991 and has been anthologized many times since. He has written frequently for Turning Wheel: The Journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and for other publications. His first book, Finding Freedom, was pub- lished by Padma Publishing, the publishing branch of Chagdud Tulku’s community in Oregon. It’s now in its third printing. Jarvis feels that writing may have rescued him from the deep isolation and dearth of meaningful interaction within the prison walls. “Writing extends me outward. I have to do it,” he says. “I can leave San Quentin by being a writer. I also have the oppor- tunity to break through the stereotypes people have about pris- oners. Another good thing I’ve experienced through writing is that everyone has a tragic and beautiful story, and I’m just like everyone else. That’s the biggest surprise. I have the same human feelings. But without writing, I wouldn’t see that.” Given his childhood, moving from foster home to foster home and boys’ home to boys’ home, it’s not surprising that Jarvis found his way to San Quentin. He was trained for it. What is remarkable I dreamed I heard my mother’s voice A story of childhood pain and love from JARVIS MASTERS’ forthcoming autobiography WHEN I WAS FIRST placed into foster care, I dreamed I heard my mother’s voice. She would call out my name, and I’d see her face and run to jump inside her arms. She would whisk me away, and together we would go find my sisters and brothers. I dreamed of how we would all hide somewhere away from the rest of the world, a world that had taken us from each other. I remember the first time my mother came to see me in a foster home. After our visit, I ran over to the window and stared out at her. That window seemed as strong and hard as cell bars. I placed my hands on the glass panes and watched as she looked back over her shoulder at me, in tears. As the distance stretched out between us and she headed to the car, I felt like I was in prison, and yet I was more connected to her pain than to my own. Although I had no true sense of how a mother was supposed to provide for her children, I knew, as the social worker pulled me out of her arms, that her tears came from her deepest self. She was try- ing to reach back, to gather me up. In her pain was a single promise: to gather us all back together again. That was the promise she made to me in my foster home. The Procks had created a caring home for me, a home made out of any child’s dream, a place of un- conditional love. They were the ones who gave me what little childhood I had. I felt like the light in the Procks’ lives. But even so, I still dreamed of my mother carrying me away in her arms. Whenever my mother visited me at the Procks’, I would always be sitting outside on the porch. She would hurry out of the car, run into the front yard, pick me up, and spin me around and around. Then she would start crying in the Procks’ arms, and thank them for taking care of me. Like a mantra, she would sob, “He’s my baby... my baby... my baby.” The Procks consoled her, out of a deep-rooted heart connection to her suffering as a Black American, a connection that was not tainted by what they knew of my mother’s past. And they knew it all. They were told more by my social worker than I could ever have told them. ➢ page 109 NOV 58-63.indd 62 NOV 58-63.indd 62 8/29/07 2:17:19 PM 8/29/07 2:17:19 PM