Summary and book reviews of The Buddhist on Death Row by David Sheff

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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Aug 2020, 272 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Boy explores the transformation of Jarvis Jay Masters who has become one of America's most inspiring Buddhist practitioners while locked in a cell on death row.

Jarvis Jay Masters's early life was a horror story whose outline we know too well. Born in Long Beach, California, his house was filled with crack, alcohol, physical abuse, and men who paid his mother for sex. He and his siblings were split up and sent to foster care when he was five, and he progressed quickly to juvenile detention, car theft, armed robbery, and ultimately San Quentin. While in prison, he was set up for the murder of a guard—a conviction which landed him on death row, where he's been since 1990.

At the time of his murder trial, he was held in solitary confinement, torn by rage and anxiety, felled by headaches, seizures, and panic attacks. A criminal investigator repeatedly offered to teach him breathing exercises which he repeatedly refused. Until desperation moved him to ask her how to do "that meditation shit." With uncanny clarity, David Sheff describes Masters's gradual but profound transformation from a man dedicated to hurting others to one who has prevented violence on the prison yard, counseled high school kids by mail, and helped prisoners—and even guards—find meaning in their lives.

Along the way, Masters becomes drawn to the principles that Buddhism espouses—compassion, sacrifice, and living in the moment—and he gains the admiration of Buddhists worldwide, including many of the faith's most renowned practitioners. And while he is still in San Quentin and still on death row, he is a renowned Buddhist thinker who shows us how to ease our everyday suffering, relish the light that surrounds us, and endure the tragedies that befall us all.

BORN USELESS

In the spring of 1986, Melody Ermachild ventured inside the imposing brick-and-stone edifice of San Quentin State Prison to meet her new client, Jarvis Jay Masters, a twenty-four-year-old African American kid from Harbor City, California. Masters had arrived at San Quentin five years earlier after being convicted of thirteen counts of armed robbery and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He'd subsequently been charged with conspiring to kill a prison guard and making the knife used in the murder. He had been moved to the Adjustment Center—solitary confinement—and was now on trial. If he was found guilty, he could be put to death.

Masters wore a navy blue knit cap pulled down to his eyes. He leaned back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, and barely acknowledged her. She explained that she was a criminal investigator hired by his legal team to write a social history of his life. If he was convicted, they hoped her report would help his lawyers ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Carefully mining Masters' pilgrimage through Buddhism, Sheff effectively reveals the religion as a tranquil partner to the incarcerated man in his struggles through legal and personal challenges: trying to prove his innocence, reconciling his violent past. Page after page, chapter after chapter, the reader is asked to reconsider, not prison, but the prisoner. To reconsider his soul. His divinity. His selflessness. A Buddhist on Death Row is a prison story notably absent of blame, victimization and absolution. Perhaps that is why Masters' humanity feels heroic, particularly when he extends himself to those who are non-believers...continued

Full Review Members Only (615 words).

(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An indelible portrait of an incarcerated man finding new life and purpose behind bars.

Library Journal
This readable account of an unlikely journey to Buddhism and finding freedom on death row should inspire readers on their own transformational journeys.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Sheff draws from research and personal correspondence to tell the stirring story of Jarvis Jay Masters...This Buddhist Dead Man Walking will pull at the heartstrings of any reader.

Author Blurb His Holiness the Dalai Lama
This book shows vividly how, even in the face of the greatest adversity, compassion and a warm-hearted concern for others bring peace and inner strength.

Author Blurb Andrew Solomon, author of New York Times bestseller Far From the Tree
An inspiring book about how meaning can be found even in—perhaps especially in—adversity. It's a study of Buddhism, of criminal justice, of the ways people connect with each other, and it's written with deep feeling and verve.

Author Blurb Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
This profound, gorgeous book displays the miraculous human capacity to find redemption, and even joy, no matter who or where we are. Jarvis Masters' story proves that we are all united by our suffering and by our potential to help others who suffer.

Author Blurb Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me
I'm a friend of Jarvis Masters, so I know the truth of this book, but I want to hail its power. I believe it will encourage many people to examine their own lives and their unrealized potential for awareness, generosity, commitment, and courage.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Trauma and Abuse in Foster Care

Jarvis Jay Masters was five years old when he was taken from his overwhelmed mother and placed with foster parents Mamie and Dennis Procks. They bestowed upon him the kind of luxuries middle class children take for granted. He had his own room, his own toys and clean clothes. His sheets were even ironed. More importantly, he wasn't neglected, abused or refused love. But when Mamie Procks became ill and could no longer care for him, he was moved. Again and again and again. While the Procks had extended love and mercy, kindness and laughter, goodness and warmth, his other foster families denied him food and beat him for small infractions. He ended up in juvenile lockup, where he was forced to fight, burned with cigarettes and sadistically ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by David Sheff

If you liked The Buddhist on Death Row, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    Heaven, My Home
    by Attica Locke
    Attica Locke's 2017 novel Bluebird, Bluebird introduced us to Texas Ranger Darren Mathews, who ...
  • Book Jacket: Transcendent Kingdom
    Transcendent Kingdom
    by Yaa Gyasi
    Yaa Gyasi's (pronounced "yah jessie") Transcendent Kingdom is, among other things, a meditation on ...
  • Book Jacket: We Are Not Free
    We Are Not Free
    by Traci Chee
    Author Traci Chee is best known for her young adult fantasy trilogy, The Reader series. We Are Not ...
  • Book Jacket: The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures
    The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures
    by Jennifer Hofmann
    The title of Jennifer Hofmann's perceptive debut novel with its bureaucratese strongly suggests a ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Piranesi
    by Susanna Clarke

    A new novel from the NY Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Find Me
by André Aciman

The author of the worldwide bestseller Call Me by Your Name revisits its complex and beguiling characters.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Memorial Drive

Memorial Drive
by Natasha Trethewey

The moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of tragedy.

Enter


Wordplay

Solve this clue:

L N Take I C

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.