The Buddhist On Death Row ★★★ David Sheff, HarperCollins, R330
Sheff tells the story of Jarvis Jay Masters, on death row after being charged with the murder of a prison guard. It is essentially about a man who was not seeking religion but found himself in the thick of it when he was condemned to die. The story simultaneously looks into what made Masters: born in 1962 in Long Beach, California, into a house filled with crack cocaine, physical abuse from his father, and men who paid his mother for sex. He and his siblings were split up and sent to foster care when he was five. He was in and out of homes and institutions, enduring obscene violence and trauma. His criminal life progressed from turns in juvenile detention to San Quentin, where he was set up for the murder of a guard. The story then jumps to present life as he faces his unresolved issues to achieve inner peace through Buddhist precepts. As well as the spiritual, the book takes you into the life of a man who has spent over two decades in solitary confinement — more than half his life. A compelling read.