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That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row Hardcover – September 22, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this polished tale that belies the author's raw origins, Masters (Finding Freedom), who has been imprisoned on San Quentin's death row since 1990 and become a devout Buddhist, recalls the neglect, abuse and cycle of crime and hopelessness that relegated him to prison by age 19. As a child in the late '60s, Masters and his siblings were shut up in their house in Long Beach, Calif., because their mother and stepfather had turned the place into a heroin den. Filthy, starved and whipped, the children eventually attracted the attention of neighbors, then were scattered among foster homes. Despite a happy period spent with a caring, elderly Christian couple, Jarvis was once again uprooted, this time to a hardened, joyless home where the other foster boys quickly taught him the ropes to survive. Dispirited, he ran away repeatedly from age 10 on, and the book largely follows his trajectory from one institution to the next, from McLaren Hall, where he enjoyed a sense of belonging, to the abusive Valley Boys Academy, where he was trained like a pitbull to fight the other boys. Being united with his extended family in Harbor City was both a blessing and a curse, because they gradually dragged him into a downward spiral of robbery, violence and jail. Masters's claim of innocence in the murder that landed him on death row is beside the point in this work that's a frank, heartfelt rendering of a young life that should have mattered. (Oct.)
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Review

Jarvis Jay Masters was set on a dangerous course which eventually brought him to death row. Somehow, within those walls, he now demonstrates divine grace in his daily life and by the cautionary tale he shares within these pages. This amazing, wise man deserves our ear, and our support. (--Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking)

Forthright about his own failings, Masters’ truth has brought him reconciliation with his best self. His compelling memoir is a plea for reform, for a common humanity, and I share his hope that this moving story will redouble our efforts to make sure that every child matters. (Desmond Tutu)

A real-life The Wire-heartbreaking and harrowing, impossible to put down. A miraculous accomplishment, That Bird Has My Wings captivates, instructs, and inspires as Masters shows how enlightenment can occur even in a place as grim as San Quentin Prison’s death row. (David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy)

Jarvis Jay Masters’ moving memoir provides an intimate portrait of the tragic racial inequality in our justice system, and testifies to the need for better education, greater training, and increased opportunity to keep these forgotten youth from ending up in our nation’s juvenile centers and prisons. Read this book! (Van Jones, founder, The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights & Green for All, and author of Green Collar Economy)

All across America, boys are lost to trauma and deprivation. Few of them have given voice to their experience and the redemptive power of spirituality as has Jarvis Jay Masters. (James Garbarino, Ph.D., author of Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and What We Can Do About It)

Brave, heartbreaking, redemptive and wise. Jarvis Jay Masters has turned his life into remarkable good medicine. (Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart)

Masters’ . . .ability to recognize, subdue and transform the self-destructive drive such life-denying forces promote is a lesson for us all. His time is now. His book is a testament to the human spirit.” (Mike Farrell, chair of Death Penalty Focus and author of Just Call Me Mike:A Journey to Actor and Activist and From Mule to Man)

“A gripping indictment of poverty and the foster-care system.” (Kirkus Reviews)

A heartbreaking memoir; the brutal conditions of Masters’s boyhood will be difficult for some readers to take, but his ultimate message of hope and reconciliation is moving and inspiring. Highly recommended. (Library Journal)

Masters’ intelligent, incisive prose paints a compelling depiction of the horrors leading to his situation. . . . while awaiting execution, Masters gives us much to think about. (Booklist)

“In this polished tale that belies the author’s raw origins, Masters, who has been imprisoned on San Quentin’s death row since 1990 . . . recalls the neglect, abuse and cycle of crime and hopelessness that relegated him to prison by age 19.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Masters’ intelligent, incisive prose paints a compelling depiction of the horrors leading to his situation . . . Masters gives us much to think about.” (Booklist)

“This brave account of a childhood ravaged by neglect, violence, and institutional indifference is remarkable for its utter lack of anger and bitterness. . . [Masters’s] ultimate message of hope and reconciliation is moving and inspiring. Highly recommended.” (Library Journal)

The compassionate act of self-discovery captured in “That Bird Has My Wings” is one that, will reach well beyond the confines of one cell, one act, or one person - and inspire many. (San Francisco Chronicle)

As Masters moves from foster homes to juvie to prison, you start to understand how badly the system fails kids like him. . . .a page-turner. (San Francisco magazine)

“That Bird Has My Wings is a powerful narrative of a life lost on the streets, and then found again in a prison cell on San Quentin’s death row. This is not a book about guilt or innocence, but about the possibility of redemption.” (Shambhala Sun)

“Masters’ incisive unearthing of his past is a graceful and ultimately liberating story.” (Shambhala Sun)

That Bird Has My Wings absolutely soars.” (Insight News)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; First Edition edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061730459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061730450
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book covers the author's life, from his earliest memories, to the time he walked through the doors of San Quentin as a 19-year old, and beyond that to the circumstances of his ending up on death row, with a few chapters covering his recent and current circumstances.

It is the story of a bright child that survived unbelievable neglect, briefly thrived under the care of loving foster parents, and then was pushed back once more into a system that spares few and pushes many inner city youth ever closer towards the gates of prison. It is a story of missed opportunities, misguided decisions, and wrong turns taken: by the authorities, by well-meaning family members; and by the author, who blames no one but himself. Yet it is also a tale of survival of the spirit, of new-found freedom within the walls of San Quentin, of the possibility of redemption, and of love.

Some of it is heartbreaking, especially the stories about the author's mother, a fierce and charismatic woman, who loved her children yet couldn't stop hurting herself and them. Some of the book's scenery is hard take in -- this is not the Southern California celebrated at the time in pop songs, but a parallel world of unforgiving starkness and brutality, where the wrong word or gesture could cost someone his life.

But through it all shines the author's voice, as a mature man, looking back on himself and on the stations of his journey, not with bitterness, but with compassion and, occasionally, even with a sense of humor. It's a journey worth reading about for all who are grappling with the meaning of "justice" -- no matter which side of the death penalty fence they are on.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jarvis Jay Masters' second book, That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row, just published by HarperOne, is a moving account of Jarvis's life from boy to man. It demonstrates how a sensitive child can be shattered and framed by the system, and yet grow into an awakened spiritual peacemaker in the midst of a potentially violent prison. Jarvis's poignant story is moving and inspiring. And so is Jarvis. I have visited him in San Quentin Prison many times. When I leave, I feel I have wings, riding the currents of Jarvis's deep kindness and positivity. I KNOW he is an innocent man and I look forward to seeing our justice system set him free to fly to the heights to which he aspires.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I teach a college class on juvenile delinquency and give my students the option of reading this book or several others. This book is the favorite by far every semester. When I announce the reading/writing assignment there's an audible groan, students just don't like to read books anymore, (don't get me started on it,) but once they start this book, they can't put it down. The writing is not complicated and it's easy to read. Most of my students come from low income, gang and drug infested environments, so they relate to Masters' childhood struggles. After reading this book many students find that they actually liked to read and asked me to recommend other books!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
How can someone have a big open heart who has lived through such an extremely difficult life, with negative influences around him constantly? Masters opens his heart to share his story and I found him amazing and sad all wrapped together. His writing caught my interest with his honesty and descriptive language. His story is alive with sadness, resilience, and love. He not only survived this life but learned so much because he found self-respect and love somehow from one or two people along the way. Enough to lift him up above the tidal wave of drugs though not of crime. One foster family gave him that lift in the form of pure love! There is so much to his story we can all learn from. He has shared compassion for writing and perseverance to live and learn in life and I'm thankful. A must read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book brings to its reader the hard facts of how our experiences shape our lives and how we can transcend our pain and agonies into the joy of being centered in our awareness and quest for internal freedom. It is a beautifully written book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1981 when 19 year old Jarvis entered San Quentin State Prison in California some of my views were naive and myopic. I erroneously believed that the foster care systems in California and our country were effectively operational and beneficial to all. Not too many years later, I learned the sad truth.

There are many ways to think about THAT BIRD HAS MY WINGS, Jarvis Masters' second book. First, don't expect to read about an angry, bitter and resentful man. Instead, the author talks to us without self-pity and blame - he takes responsibility for his actions. Jarvis takes his readers with him on a courageous journey of self-discovery.

I must agree that this book is a "testament to the human spirit". It is most definitely an inspirational account of one person's resiliency and determination. The author was not afforded the luxury of a computer or even a pen or pencil. He was required to use only the fillers from ballpoint pens. Can you imagine how many pen fillers he used and how physically uncomfortable this must have been for him? Because of Jarvis' perserverance, we are confronted with the disturbing realization of what happens to many children who are removed from their homes. How can your heart not hurt when you hear the innocent words of young Jarvis morph into that of a troubled adolescent and young adult - a person who craved only love and acceptance, first from his family and then from his peers? I cried when Jarvis was removed from his first foster home, the first place where he received unconditional love, respect and positive regard. Throughout the book I wondered what his path might have looked like if he stayed with this family. For me, Jarvis' honest account of his experiences was often difficult and frustrating to read.
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