Saturday, January 17, 2009

Our January Author: Jarvis Jay Masters

The first stop to supplement your reading of Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters, must be his support committee's website: freejarvis.org particularly the material they have explaining the current status of his appeal.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation provides this site with overview and stats on San Quentin. The department provides a set of pictures of death row, as well. Marin County provides us with a fascinating San Quentin photo album from its historical archives. Hulu.com has full espisodes from the MSNBC series Lockup, including Inside San Quentin. It's very guard-centric and focused on the sensational, but it's one way to get inside and look around.

San Quentin in the news: Don't miss this July 2008 NPR report (with illustrative photography) of the overcrowding at San Quentin. Then there is former warden Jeanne Woodford's LAT editorial from October 2008,
I worked in corrections for 30 years, starting as a correctional officer and working my way up to warden at San Quentin and then on to the top job in the state -- director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. During those years, I came to believe that the death penalty should be replaced with life without the possibility of parole.
The police chief of Newark, CA has also recently expressed concerns that the death penalty hurts public safety and his budget concerns are echoed by at least a couple of California lawmakers.

Under the direction of writer Tobias Wolff, San Quentin has recently revived its prisoner produced newsletter. Copies can be downloaded here. Highly recommended! Of course this reminds me of another favorite book of mine, Life Sentences: Rage and Survival Behind Bars, by Ron Wikberg and Wilbert Rideau, which is sadly out of print, but worth a look in your library. It contains articles from the Angolite, the newspaper of Angola prison in Louisiana. Samples of Rideau's writing can be found here. Other sources for prison writing include PEN American Center's Prison Writing Program and this Canadian site contains links to the writing and art work of more California death row inmates.
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