Jarvis Jay Masters has been in San Quentin for 37years, living on death row for the last 28 years for a crime he did not commit. You can learn more about him and his case at www.freejarvis.org or join his community on FB at Finding Freedom: Jarvis Masters. He has written two books, Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row, about his journey to becoming a buddhist, and That Bird Has My Wings, telling the story of his extremely difficult childhood. You can read about him and his life now in Rebecca Solnit’s article just published online on May 29, Another Birthday on Death Row - Lion's Roar.
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Recent News About Jarvis' Case
Jarvis and and Witness to Innocence, a nonprofit organization composed of and led by exonerated death row inmates and their family members, is challenging California’s new lethal injection regulations with the help of the ACLU. Read more...
- To bring public and judicial attention to his case, Jarvis began a hunger strike just after Thanksgiving 2017. He was hospitalized on December 19, 2017 and released from the hospital on December 23rd. Upon returning to San Quentin, he resumed the strike and was hospitalized again on January 10, 2018. As of January 18, 2018, Jarvis has been released to San Quentin and has begun to eat again, but he has lost more than sixty pounds, and his health is increasingly unstable. Almost 56 now, Jarvis is exhausted from waiting for exoneration from a crime he did not commit. He does not wish to die in prison. He has been waiting an unconscionable time for his habeas corpus appeal to be heard and calls our attention to other innocent prisoners on death row, many of whom have already died before their appeals were heard. Jarvis asks us to act by writing to Governor Brown and Attorney General Becerra on his behalf to have his Writ heard as soon as possible. Click on the “How to Help Free Jarvis” section for sample letters that you can send under your signature.
- As of January 2018, it will be five years that the Writ of Habeas Corpus appeal hearing was fully briefed, and yet the California Supreme Court has still not called for an oral argument and decision in that part of the proceedings. Jarvis has been on death row now for more than 27 years.
- August 17, 2016: The California Supreme Court still has before it Jarvis's action for Writ of Habeas Corpus, which has been to a hearing, was fully briefed as of January 2013, and only awaits the court's call for an oral argument and decision in that part of the proceedings.
- February 22, 2016: The California Supreme Court today affirmed Jarvis's original conviction. Read Alan Senauke's commentary on the California Supreme Court's troubling opinion on Jarvis Masters' appeal.
- Jarvis Masters is featured in March 2016 edition of Harper's Magazine, "Bird in a Cage" by Rebecca Solnit. Read the article here.
- On November 3rd, The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Jarvis's Opening Brief. As of November 18th, the Court has 90 days to deliberate and issue an opinion as to whether the conviction will be upheld or reversed. For more information about the oral arguments, go to Alan Senauke's blog at
- Lawyers heard from CA Supreme Court for a date for oral arguments!! Oral arguments may be as early as November 2015.
Read more and listen here.
- April 2015: Case is fully briefed in response to Evidentiary Hearing Fact Finding Report. Lawyers are currently waiting to hear from CA Supreme Court for a date for oral arguments.
- April 2015:The UK Independent Newspaper includes Jarvis in story about delays in death penalty appeals.
- March 2015:Death Penalty Focus submits Amicus Brief to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals naming Jarvis as example of outstanding delays in death penalty appeals.
- November 2014 and May 2015:Truthworker Theater Company collaborates with Jarvis on production using stories from his books.
is a widely-published African American Buddhist writer living on San Quentin's
Death Row. Thousands of people have read his stories and essays. A growing international community of concerned citizens is calling for his wrongful conviction to be overturned.
This website was created by the Committee to Free Jarvis Jay Masters.
It does not originate in San Quentin.
Jarvis Masters was convicted of participating in the killing of a prison guard, Sergeant Howell Burchfield, despite the fact that he was in another part of the prison when the guard was killed. Another prisoner was convicted of actually stabbing Sergeant Burchfield, and a third man of ordering the killing. We have deep sympathy for the Burchfield family’s loss, and while we respect their desire for justice, we believe that Jarvis is not guilty of the crime for which he alone was given the death sentence.
This website provides
an introduction to Jarvis Masters' life and work. You can find out about
Jarvis's background. We have provided a
summary of how and why Jarvis was sentenced
to death, and an update on his appeal.
We also set out why we believe Jarvis is innocent.
While living on death
row, Jarvis has become an eloquent writer.
Read about his highly-praised books That Bird Has My Wings: An Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row
(how to order it) as well as Finding Freedom -- Writings From Death Row (how
to order it). Both books have been praised
by such important figures as Desmond Tutu, Sister Helen Prejean, and Angela Davis.
An important aspect
of Jarvis's life on Death Row has been his Buddhist practice. Read about
how Jarvis became a Buddhist,
and how meditation
has changed his life and affected the lives of his fellow prisoners.
We in the Committee
join the Catholic Church, numerous Protestant denominations, Amnesty International,
and people of conscience around the world in seeking an end to capital
punishment. We have included pages discussing abolition
of the death penalty, and offer suggestions on how you can join in this
work and assist in the effort to free
Many people have responded
to Jarvis's situation. We will post some of the feedback our Committee
has received from supporters. We also provide a way for you to respond
to this website and to support the campaign to free Jarvis Jay Masters.
Pema Chödrön is one
of America's best-known Buddhist teachers, and is a personal teacher of
Jarvis Masters. This is what she writes about Jarvis:
is an easy man to respect and an easy man to love. What I learn from
him all the time is what it really means to keep one's vows of not harming
and of helping other people in whatever ways one can. I always think,
'If Jarvis can do it in those most challenging and difficult situations,
I can do it too.' It is a continual aspiration from my heart that Jarvis
Masters not be killed and that I have the pleasure of knowing him as
a free man; a free man who I know will benefit all the people he encounters."
"One cannot be neutral in situations of injustice, and in his memoir, That Bird Has My Wings, Jarvis Jay Masters exposes the complex problems of a system that has resulted in a disproportionate number of blacks in the U.S. prison system. In the history of South Africa, we are not unfamiliar with this phenomenon. Forthright about his own failings as well, Masters’ truth has brought him reconciliation with the divine and with his best self. His 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
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