Jarvis Jay Masters has become one of America’s most inspiring Buddhist practitioners—while locked in a cell on death row. Author David Sheff joins us for a Town Hall livestream to relay Masters’ incredible story in his book The Buddhist on Death Row, recounting the profound journey of the violent man who became drawn to the core principles of Buddhism—compassion, sacrifice, and living in the moment.
In conversation with Ari Kohn, Sheff describes Masters’s gradual but profound transformation from a man dedicated to hurting others to one who has prevented violence in the prison yard, counseled high school kids by mail, and helped prisoners and guards alike find meaning in their lives. Sheff outlines Masters’ early life, from his childhood in an abusive household to his progress into juvenile detention, car theft, armed robbery, and ultimately prison. When a murder conviction landed Masters on death row in 1990, he was held in solitary confinement, torn by rage and anxiety, felled by headaches, seizures, and panic attacks—until desperation prompted him to take up meditation and redefine his worldview. Masters has since earned the admiration of Buddhists worldwide, including many of the faith’s most renowned practitioners. Sheff invites us to explore Masters’ story and engage with his values—to relish the light that surrounds us and endure the tragedies that befall us all.
David Sheff is the author of multiple books including the New York Times bestselling memoir Beautiful Boy. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Outside, Rolling Stone, Wired, Fortune, and elsewhere.
Ari Kohn runs the Post-Prison Education Program, which provides scholarships to former inmates and community mentorship while they earn degrees.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.