By Indira Grace
I worked in a mixed custody prison in the state of Kansas for a total of three years. In that time, I held multiple positions, all of them working specifically with inmates.
There is a plethora of misinformation and misconceptions about prison and those who are doing time. This book, Finding Freedom: How Death Row Broke and Opened My Heart by Jarvis Jay Masters, helps to clear some of the misinformation and misconceptions. He gives life and compassion to those deemed, by much of society, to deserve neither.
This book embodies, describes, and explains so much of what I believe people need to know about prison and those who are serving time.
Mr. Masters’ descriptions of how he, and others, ended up behind the wall, what life is like there, and how they cope on a daily basis are an absolute reality. To have a deeper understanding of all those things are exactly what society needs to understand and focus on, to help reform our justice system.
From a former prison staff perspective, I enjoyed how he humanized the men he was serving time with. It reminded me of my interactions with the men inside, as I experienced the beauty, the kindness, the compassion, the heartbreak expressed by many who are doing time. His stories are important and his experiences are life-altering for the reader if we allow them to be.
I have a deep appreciation for his insight in how the prison staff often led to the chaos around them. This is real. I have witnessed it firsthand and is part of what led me to be former prison staff.
From a Buddhist perspective, and from someone who has taken both her Refuge and Bodhisattva vows, I love how he was able to find creative ways to teach compassion and to save the lives of sentient beings inside a place where lives are lost in record numbers. I also appreciate the insight into his internal unrest as he decides how to embody his vows.
I think many of us who walk this path feel the loneliness and experience the internal dialogue that goes with it. I also admire how he continues his practice, no matter what is going on around him. He recognizes that some days his practice is great, and other days, his practice suffers thanks to a basketball game. It is his reality, and for most of us, ours, too.
This book is an easy read, with an organic flow.
It brings forth all the emotions, and is written from the perspective of someone who has been through more than their fair share in this life and who is trying to make life better in a very tough situation. This book is also a must read for all those who believe in prison reform and should be required reading for those who do not.
It is a gentle reminder that all voices matter, that all stories deserve to be heart, that all life is precious, and that hope is real.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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