[Review] ‘That Bird Has My Wings,’ by Jarvis Jay Masters

San Francisco Chronicle: If it’s too easy to make fearful snap judgments about criminals, it takes steely courage to look unflinchingly at the whole person behind the crime, the good and the bad – the kind of bravery that Jarvis Jay Masters exhibits in “That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row.” A like courage will be required of readers, who face an arduous, abuse-filled journey, but also a story buoyed by tremendous heart.

In his second book, Masters delivers a simple but painstakingly detailed account of the complicated tangle of experiences, influences and choices that brought him to serve an armed-robbery sentence at San Quentin. Four years later in 1985, Masters was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the death of a San Quentin prison guard, based on testimony now proved false; he spent 17 years in solitary confinement, which ended in 2007.

Yet, rather than structuring his book as a case for his innocence, little about his Death Row charge is included; Masters focuses on a candid examination of his early past and offers a few insightful reflections on his present life – an attempt, he says, to offer others inspiration to make different, better choices, and a restraint perhaps born from the dedicated Buddhist meditation practice Masters began in prison.

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