A Step Towards Freedom: Evidentiary Hearing for Jarvis Masters

I have been visiting Jarvis Jay Masters on San Quentin’s death row for nearly fourteen years. Jarvis is a writer with countless published articles and two excellent books — Finding Freedom: Writings From Death Row (1997) and That Bird Has My Wings: Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row (2009).  He is a long time Buddhist practitioner.  And he is my close friend. We speak by phone or face-to-face often, jousting with words, laughing, grieving. My kids talk to him when he calls. He is just like any other person in our life, except that he has been on death row for more than twenty years, condemned for a crime he did not commit.

Over all the years I’ve known Jarvis, his lawyers have been working on his appeal. Two years ago, the California State Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing based on compelling arguments that he was wrongfully convicted of participating in a 1985 conspiracy to kill a prison guard, Sergeant Howell Burchfield, despite the fact that Jarvis was in another part of the prison when Sgt. Burchfield was attacked. (For more information about Jarvis Masters and the case see his website: http://www.freejarvis.org/)

On Tuesday, January 4 the court-mandated hearing begins. It is expected to last three weeks, with new evidence and witnesses that we believe will convey the legal errors in his original trial and Jarvis’s innocence. We look forward to the day when Jarvis Masters will walk through the gates of San Quentin as a free man with gifts to share in the wider world.

The evidentiary hearings are scheduled to start at 10am on January 4 in Marin County Superior Court. The court’s address is

3501 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael, California 94903

Further details about the court and directions can be found this website:  http://www.marincourt.org/

If you are in the Bay Area, if you care about Jarvis and about justice, please consider attending one or more sessions of the hearing.  I plan to be there much of the time, and look forward to seeing you.  But Jarvis — with his family friends, lawyers — understands that there are people around the world who wish to see justice in this case.  Your prayers, meditations, and love are welcome.  And if you have words of support to offer Jarvis, I will see to it that these words get to him.

— Alan Senauke

About asenauke

Zen Buddhist priest, activist, writer, father, musician
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7 Responses to A Step Towards Freedom: Evidentiary Hearing for Jarvis Masters

  1. Peter Jung says:



    My friend David Seth Michaels has a blog called the ‘Dream Antilles,’ and often speaks to prison issues. A link is enclosed.

  2. asenauke says:

    Thanks, Peter. Will check it out.
    Buried in snow?

  3. kloncke says:

    Thank you for this wonderful, practical, inaugural post! This helps me to connect some previously unconnected threads, like: about nine months ago I remember Fool Keith handing a copy of That Bird Has My Wings to Kay in a Faithful Fools meditation session. (Or maybe she handed it to him?) We will certainly try to organize a Foolish contingent to support Jarvis at the hearings.

    Some friends and I have been thinking and talking about prison solidarity work this year, especially in the context of political prisoners (in light of Marilyn Buck’s passing). It’s a complex issue, for sure. I think it’s easiest for many of us (especially middle-class folks like me who are less likely to be directly adversely impacted by prisons) to immediately connect with the stories of innocent people unjustly convicted. Over Thanksgiving, while visiting my parents, we watched the Denzel Washington movie about the exoneration of Hurricane Carter. Perfect example. It’s an underdog story, and it’s pretty easy to tell who the good guys and bad guys are.

    Not so simple, always, with political prisoners. Even less so with people convicted for serious crimes they did actually commit, but who nonetheless (a) can change, and (b) should never be subjected to the inhumane conditions of prisons.

    I’m really curious to read Jarvis’ works, to learn more about his take on the prison system, and its effects on those who may not be such sympathetic characters, but who nevertheless do not deserve to be oppressed and tortured by incarceration and detention practices in the US. Without any previous knowledge, I imagine his ideas might resonate with some of the points made in the Hurricane Carter film, which criticized not only Carter’s wrongful incarceration (and the racism that secured it), but also the institution of prison itself, and the conditions to which he was subjected.

    But of course, in addition to the structural issues around prison solidarity, there’s also the bedrock of genuine human connection and relationships, built slowly over time (in this case 14 years!). So thank you very much for embodying the commitment, interconnectedness, and friendship necessary to bring the soulfulness to the politics. Super inspiring to me.

    And thanks again for this information and warm invitation. Kay and I already put the 4th on our calendar: 10am in Room L, as far as I can see.



    • asenauke says:

      Hi, Katie–
      Well I seem to have more or less figured it out and set up the blog, although there are still mystifying aspects to interface. Sometimes I wonder if the people who design these things, with all best intentions, speak English. So I will probably call on you with questions as they arise.

      Jarvis’s writing is very good, as is his understanding of the prison system. “That Bird…” is really about exactly how an African-American youth of promise and intelligence gets channeled into the criminal justice system. In his case, he is lucky to be alive, sane, and clear about his values–human and spiritual. Many others are not so fortunate. I see them each time I go to SQ.
      At the same time, there is an ordinary human quality to these men (and women).

      Did we talk about Marilyn Buck? Can’t remember. I knew her well, from FCI Dublin, where I have teaching for 12 years. Marilyn was the key person in that group. We talked often. And by mysterious coincidence, we were born on the same day, same year. I miss her, as do other women at the prison.

      Among political prisoners I know, her understanding evolved, as have the views of others. At times though, for example in the case of David Gilbert, some cling to positions that advocate armed struggle. And there are certainly circles of folks outside who seem mysteriously to have political views and strategic understanding that has changed little in, say 20 or 30 years. Some of them are friends. I like them, but at a certain point I cannot go where their politics lead, as they veer from the winding path of nonviolence.

      For now the prison system itself, for all involved–which means criminals of all stripes, politicals, and guards–is grounded in punishment and violence. That has to change if society is to remake itself. But how?

  4. nathan says:

    Hi Alan,

    Glad to see you blogging. I’ve enjoyed your writings and interview from afar for awhile now. Look forward to reading more.


  5. beth tom says:

    hello alan. thank you for sharing news about jarvis, he is my friend and teacher.

    i send gratitude for jarvis being, and his writing about his being, so we can see.
    poets are everywhere.

    may the force be with you, jarvis.

    beth tom

  6. Pingback: Friends, Meet Two New Blogs « Kloncke

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