Excerpt from The Buddhist on Death Row by David Sheff, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Buddhist on Death Row

How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place

by David Sheff

The Buddhist on Death Row by David Sheff X
The Buddhist on Death Row by David Sheff
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2020, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2021, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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Print Excerpt


Six months later, Jarvis and other inmates were watching a football game when another prisoner yelled out for Jarvis to switch to a news channel. When he did, he saw his face alongside those of two other BGF members. A newscaster reported that the killers of the San Quentin correctional officer had been identified.

The next morning, Jarvis was moved to the AC, and a guard delivered a notice informing him that he was being charged with participating in the Burchfield murder. He suspected that he'd been framed by the same renegade gang member who planned the murder, because Jarvis was known to be a loyal soldier who wouldn't break the BGF code, which forbade speaking about any of the organization's members or activities. The price he paid for his loyalty was a charge for a crime with "special circumstances"—the killing of a police officer—that could result in his execution.

* * *

The murder trial began in 1989. On the mornings court was in session, Jarvis changed from prison denim into an orange jumpsuit. He was shackled with leg irons, handcuffs, and a chain around his waist and moved from his cell to a California Department of Corrections van, which took him to the blue-domed, Frank Lloyd Wright– designed Marin County Civic Center. He sat alongside his lawyers in a wood-paneled courtroom.

In preliminary hearings, Jarvis's attorneys filed a series of motions, but Marin County Superior Court justice Beverly Savitt ruled mostly against him. Then came jury selection, which was also inauspicious. Jarvis's attorneys quickly used up all their peremptory challenges. In the end, all but one juror was white, and all of them supported the death penalty.

Jarvis hunched in his chair while lawyers and witnesses talked about him as if he weren't there. Sometimes he looked up at the judge and saw kindness, almost motherly concern, but other times she looked right through him. He told Melody that the trial felt like "one nail in my coffin after another."

From The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place by David Sheff. Copyright © 2020 by David Sheff. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

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