NEW YORK — Oprah Winfrey has selected a prison memoir by Jarvis Jay Masters, currently on death row in San Quentin State Prison in California, for her latest book club pick. Masters' “That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row” was first published in 2009.
Activists for years have called for the release of Masters, sentenced to death in 1990 for taking part in the murder of a San Quentin prison guard. Masters, first imprisoned in 1981 for armed robbery, has filed numerous appeals in efforts to have his murder conviction overturned. A hearing is scheduled for next month in federal court.
“A little more than 10 years ago, I was given a memoir by Jarvis Jay Masters, a man serving a death row sentence in San Quentin,” Winfrey said in a statement Tuesday. “His story, of a young boy victimized by addiction, poverty, violence, the foster care system, and later the justice system, profoundly touched me then, and still does today, which is why I’m naming ‘That Bird Has My Wings’ as my latest Oprah’s Book Club selection.”
Masters said in a statement that he would be “forever grateful” to Winfrey for choosing his book.
“I turned 60 this year, having entered San Quentin at the age 19. I wrote ‘That Bird Has My Wings’ while in solitary confinement, isolated and alone,” he said. “My greatest hope at that time was that a few young people would read my story and learn from my mistakes. Thanks to Ms. Winfrey and her book club, my story will be introduced to a national audience. It is my greatest hope that their lives will be the better for it."
Supporters of Masters have backed his claims of innocence and cited him as a model of how people can transform themselves. In “Don’t Stop Believing That People Can Change,” a New York Times essay published in April, author Rebecca Solnit wrote that “he has often defused potential violence and offered solace and a trustworthy ear to the sorrows of those around him.”
Masters has also written “Finding Freedom: How Death Row Broke and Opened My Heart,” published in 1997.