We, incarcerated men, film life inside these walls. FirstWatch is the first project of its kind: we are the producers, cameramen, photographers, editors, sound designers, writers, and journalists. From pre-production to post-production, the FirstWatch team creates every single piece ourselves while serving time inside San Quentin State Prison. In an effort to humanize incarceration, the series explores how accountability and rehabilitation open the potential for healing and restoration.


Kell's Story

The PB&J Sandwich

Cellfie: The Big Move ft. Choy

Why You Should Be a Chef ft. Niccola

Father's Day: Phil's Story

Father's Day: Curtis's Story

Accountability: Choy

Accountability: Adnan

Accountability: Antwan


Upu's Story

The Bet ft. The Golden State Warriors

Travis's Prison Journey

Phoeun's Prison Journey

Lumumba's Prison Journey

Lumumba's History

Lawrence's Prison Journey

Lumumba's Atlas


San Quentin Has Flipped

San Quentin Has Flipped

On any given prison yard, when the powers that be transfer one segment of incarcerated people out, and bring a new group in, we say the yard flipped. And in the last six months, San Quentin has flipped in a way that none of us have ever seen before.…



James King CDCR # V-69030 2–W–10 "They're coming in the morning." No need to ask who. In prison, "they" are the guards, and since we'd been on lockdown for five days at the time, it was also obvious what they were coming to do. Search. I learned very early in my incarceration that I lack the necessary imagination to successfully hide contraband. Early efforts at…

The Gift

The Gift

James King CDCR # V-69030 2–W–10 About a week after my cellie (roommate) turned 69, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations gave him a job working in the kitchen. Kitchen jobs are among the most contentious jobs in prison. On one hand, for incarcerated people who lack financial support, these jobs are an excellent means for them to eat a little more (Each incarcerated person is fed on…

The Concrete Ceiling

The Concrete Ceiling

James King CDCR # V-69030 2–W–10 Disclosure # 1: As an incarcerated writer, I find prison writing that focuses on the "talent" of incarcerated individuals in order to motivate people to support prison reform as short-sighted and demeaning. Disclosure # 2: I am not atcually an incarcerated writer; I am a writer who is currently incarcerated. Disclosure # 3: When asked by a Board of Parole Hearings investigator what type…



CDCR # AB5054 5-N-33 I like to believe that all writing is autobiographical. No matter what the author is writing about, their biases, personality, and interests are evident on the page for all to see if one simply looks closely enough. Take me for example, for the last year, I've been writing about criminal justice, identity, and community. I've explored these topics through Op-Eds, poetry, personal essays, academic writings, and short…

Seizing Opportunities

Seizing Opportunities

By Lawrence Pela #AB-5053 I would like to say I take advantage of every opportunity I have but it’s not true. More often than I’d like, all kinds of different opportunities find themselves slipping through my fingers. Opportunities to be funny, to make more friends, to maximize my time, to tell someone about Jesus, to do something different, and even opportunities to speak out go unfulfilled. Too frequently…

US versus THEM

US versus THEM

By Lawrence Pela. How do sensationalized depictions of incarcerated people affect US incarcerated people? Find out.…

"You're So Articulate!"

"You're So Articulate!"

By Adnan Khan. Words matter. What does being articulate mean and why does the reaction come as a surprise when describing people in prison?…


The "first watch" in prison is the graveyard shift when we are put away in our cells for the remainder of the night until morning. Correctional officers periodically check in on us by flashing a light into our cells to make sure we’re still alive. We’ve made this “FirstWatch” our own, checking in on ourselves and flashing a light on our lives, a life kept away from society. FirstWatch is our narrative of our world, told from our perspective. First watch, then judge.


We are not men who kill each other, secretly pass knives and contraband, plot against one other or conspire attacks on guards. We are not men who deny our crimes or who claim innocence. We are men who try hard, stay up at night doing college essays under a dim TV light, or sometimes in the dark, out of respect for our cellies, stealing slivers of light coming off the tiers.

We are men who are punctual for our self-help groups, men who share our traumas with words and tears. We empathize with deep breaths and sighs and hugs and offerings of canteen snacks for support. We are men who hold ourselves and each other accountable for the crimes we’ve committed and for the grief we’ve forced upon innocent people and their families.

We are men who are ambitious about finding ways to give back to society. With the desire to contribute to our communities, we share our stories from inside these walls.


We teach each other, read books, study commercials, documentaries, and TV shows counting how long each clip lasts, taking notes on unique camera angles, observe creative use of B-Roll, discuss and analyze the visual artistry of last night’s episode, and usually, we learn by trial and error.


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