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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 96 A HArd Sell on deAtH row By Jarvis Jay masters kimscafuro The cell door opened so I could be escorted to a visit. The guard came inside and placed me in hand restraints, brought me out onto the tier, and picked up the box of Top Ramen that had been there since commissary deliveries that morning. It was a bit of a struggle for him to squeeze the box of noodle soups under my handcuffed arm. “Got it?” He was a little edgy—a guard must have both hands free while escorting a death row inmate. “You’re not going to drop it, are you?” When we came to Blaze’s cell I let the case of a couple dozen packages drop onto the tier. I wanted to give the soups to Blaze, who had been out of funds for some time. “All these ramen mine?” asked Blaze. “Only a few would’ve been cool, you know.” The guard was doing me a favor by letting me stop here before taking me off the tier and down the stairwell. He began to hand Blaze the packages of ramen through his food tray slot, one handful at a time. “Now what am I ’pose to do with all these?” “If it was me,” I said. “I’d prob’ly give some to somebody I don’t like. Man, you know the type—the guys you hate, don’t like, don’t give a shit about.” I watched Blaze up close as a few seconds passed. He didn’t like the idea. “Fuck it! I’m goin’ to go ahead and do this shit,” he said. “I’ll give three to Sammy. I hate his guts! Then I’ll give some to Kickstand. That dude Pooch and his big mouth will get some. Plus, some go to Hobo. I’d really like to beat Hobo’s ass.” Blaze stood at the bars, gritting his teeth. But after a moment he added, “I’m not feelin’ this. I don’t like doin’ this shit.” I lowered my voice and we both inched up close to the bars. “You’ll be surprised what a few ramen can do... hear what I’m tryin’ to say? You be surprised!” The guard yanked the handcuffs behind me. “TIME’S UP! LET’S GO!” “Watch what happens,” I said quickly, “how it all goes down.” I was led around the corner to the top of the stairs a few feet beyond Blaze’s cell. “ONE COMING DOWN!” the guard hollered down the stairs. He held onto my handcuffs until we got the “ALL CLEAR” from ground-floor security. Hours later, on my way back from my visit, the guard again let me stop at Blaze’s cell. “Dude! Dude!” Blaze was jumping off his bunk to the front of his cell. “While you were at your visit I asked some guards to take all the soups to everyone.” “To all you said you would?” “Yeah, it left me with about six.” “That’s all?” “I’m gonna split these with you—three for me and three for you.” “Damn!” “Damn is right!” Blaze said. “It was you, though,” I told him, “who said that only a few would have been cool. At least now you don’t have as many, eh?” “I didn’t mean three,” said Blaze. “Three? Only three?” “Don’t trip,” I said. “It’ll all work itself out.” “A funky three? To have only three left?” He then looked over at his bunk. “Man! What kind of shit is this?” While Blaze had counted six, I saw only five soups in front of him. “It doesn’t ’pose to go down like this,” Blaze said. “Well, why didn’t you keep all the rest?” I asked. “It was all your idea,” he said. “This shit is somethin’ about karma. I don’t exactly know what. But you know what? I realized somethin—I ended up doing somethin’ nobody else did or would do. I gave nearly my all to dudes I didn’t give a shit about. Ain’t that a bitch! Now you go on and tell me if I’m wrong.” “Nah, you right. You right,” I said. “But I never thought you’d do it.” “Why you say that?” “It was just an idea,” I said. “Man, I never thought you could give all those soups away.” “It doesn’t matter,” Blaze said. “The real thing is, I can see now how karma will get it all back for me. You see, karma have to keep its word! Why else would anybody believe in it?” Jarvis Jay Masters is the author of Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row. He has been imprisoned since 1981 and on death row at san Quentin state Prison since 1990. in 1989 Masters took refuge vows, in prison, with Chagdud tulku rinpoche. He is now a student of Pema Chödrön. He has appealed his conviction and the appeal is currently before the California supreme Court. Journeys