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Publisher's Summary

From the number one New York Times best-selling author, an extraordinary story of redemption in the darkest of places.

Jarvis Jay Masters’ 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.

With uncanny clarity, David Sheff describes Masters’ gradual but profound transformation from a man dedicated to hurting others to one who has prevented violence on the prison yard, counselled high school kids by mail and helped prisoners - and even guards - find meaning in their lives.

Along the way, Masters becomes drawn to the Buddhist principles - compassion, sacrifice and living in the moment - and gains the admiration of Buddhists worldwide. And while he is still in San Quentin and still on death row, he shows us all how to ease our everyday suffering, relish the light that surrounds us and endure the tragedies that befall us all.

©2020 David Sheff (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"This is a beautiful, profoundly spiritual book.... Jarvis Jay Masters’s transformation, from an unloved child of violence and poverty to Buddhist teacher on Death Row, is thrilling. [Listening to] it changed me, threw the lights on, opened and gentled my heart. I’m going to [recommend] it to everyone I know." (Anne Lamott, New York Times best-selling author of Almost Everything)

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

"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." (Andrew Solomon, New York Times best-selling author of Far from the Tree)

What listeners say about The Buddhist on Death Row

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  • Emma
  • 07-19-21

Vital reading to awaken.

I would highly recommend this human being, this story, this author, this narrator to every single being. It is nourishment for the soul. Jarvis Jay Masters keeps it real in the most challenging of spaces. My love for him and those who have shared him is immense. I am so deeply grateful to you all.

“How will I use today?
Will I be asleep or awake?
What will I notice?
Who will I help?
Whose life will I touch?”

Jarvis Jay Masters.

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  • Justine Appleby
  • 10-13-20

Pretty interesting

Easy to follow, decent narration. An interesting story. Makes you want to discover more about Jarvis Masters