Jarvis Jay Masters

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Jarvis Jay Masters (born 1962, Long Beach, California) is an American man currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California. He arrived at San Quentin in 1981 at the age of 19 convicted of armed robbery and was moved to death row in 1990 after being convicted of murder for his part in the killing of a prison guard.

During his time in prison, Masters became a Buddhist and started writing about his experiences from that perspective.[1]

Death penalty case[edit]

On June 8, 1985, San Quentin guard Sergeant Howell Burchfield (born December 16, 1947) was stabbed with a makeshift spear.[2] Masters and two other men were tried for Burchfield's murder. Andre Johnson was tried for stabbing Burchfield while Lawrence Woodard was tried for ordering the murder. Masters was accused of sharpening the piece of metal that was used in the murder. Masters was on the fourth tier at the time of the murder. Of the three men, only Masters was given the death penalty. The other two were given sentences of life without parole. Masters has been on death row since 1990.

The California Supreme Court has read Masters' habeas corpus petition and decided it stated a prima facie case for granting a new trial. On February 14, 2007, they issued a very strong and unusual order to California state prosecutors to respond to Masters’s claims in the petition. The order to show cause requires the Attorney General to show why Masters is not entitled to a new trial for eight reasons. Masters’s lead lawyer, Joe Baxter, called the California Supreme Court’s Order to Show Cause “unique and breathtaking in its scope.”

On April 11, 2008, the California Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing. Joe Baxter, Masters’s lead lawyer said the court's order "allows us to prove his innocence on many different fronts and allows us to prove he didn't have a fair trial."

Finding Buddhism[edit]

In the early 1990s, a member of Masters's legal team, Melody Ermachild Chavis, began talking to him about Buddhism and they began studying together. About a year later, she arranged for HE Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche to come to the prison to give Jarvis a Red Tara empowerment. He has been practicing ever since.


Throughout his incarceration, Masters has been writing essays about his time in prison and on death row. Masters is credited with publishing the classic recipe for pruno in his poem, "Recipe for Prison Pruno."[3]

His two books are:

  • Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row, Padma Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1-881847-08-X
  • That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row, HarperOne, 2009. ISBN 0-06-173045-9

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jarvis Masters, Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row, 1997.
  2. ^ "The State". The Los Angeles Times. December 3, 1985. Retrieved July 23, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Recipe for Prison Pruno". 

External links[edit]

"An Interview with Buddhist Author, Death Row Inmate Jarvis Jay Masters"