Cover To Cover…‘That Bird Has My Wings’

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By no stretch of the imagination would anyone say that the man in the orange jumpsuit could be called “nice.”

The metal around his waist and wrists attest to his badness, and the look on his face further cements it: this is a man that few people would mess with. But once upon a time, he wasn’t bad at all. Awhile back, that man in the orange jumpsuit was a little boy in blue overalls. He’s a menace now, but he was someone’s baby then.

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So where did things go wrong for him? Read the new book “That Bird Has My Wings” by Jarvis Jay Masters and you’ll see…

Until he was a 7- or 8-year-old, Jarvis Masters lived in a drug house with his sisters. The children knew they were loved because their mother, a heroin addict, came home now and then. But there was rarely anything to eat, cockroaches were playthings, and strangers constantly wandered in to shoot up in the bathroom.

Then someone called Social Services.

The children were split up and Jarvis was placed with an older couple who longed for a child of their own. Mamie and Dennis treated Jarvis like a son, buying him toys, giving him guidance and nurturing his dreams.

When Mamie fell sick, Jarvis was placed in another foster home where he was physically and emotionally abused. He ran away and was eventually sent to CYA (California Youth Authority), an environment in which he wanted to stay. But case workers needed to find him a permanent home, so they sent him to a military discipline camp for boys. Nobody realized that Jarvis had already become accustomed to institutionalization.

When I got this book, I was expecting a 281-page howl of innocence, but author Jarvis Jay Masters only briefly touches on that argument in this powerful autobiography. Yes, he decries his harshest sentence but he doesn’t dwell on it.

The bigger story—the one that comes blasting through “That Bird Has My Wings”—is one of an eager, smart little boy who was hungry for guidance and structure but gets shuttled aside instead. It’s a tale of regret, remorse, quiet acceptance, gratitude and strength that lays the blame squarely and surprisingly on its writer as well as on the adults who hurt him.

If you’re in search of something that doesn’t glorify crime or make it seem like anything less than wrong, you can’t do wrong by getting this book. “That Bird Has My Wings” absolutely soars.

(“That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row” by Jarvis Jay Masters c.2009, HarperOne $24.99/$32.99 Canada, 281 pages.)

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