Recently on a tour coming in from the outside, we were asked by a visitor how often do we think about the person and people that we’ve harmed in our crime. The variety of answers ranged from “rarely” to “everyday.” One of us said after nearly twenty years, he thinks about it occasionally. Another responded by remembering the date of his crime and how he annually writes a victim impact letter on that date (for himself, not to be sent anywhere or to anyone). Someone else answered he annually fasts on the date he committed his crime, and thinks about the person and people he’s harmed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even on his own birthday. Another tour member said that he rarely and hardly ever thinks about them not because he doesn’t understand the impact of his actions but because, for once in his life, he feels he is in a healthy place. He said he’s been in prison since he was 17 years old (he’s 40 years old now) and to think about his crime would remind himself of the person who he used to be, not who he is today. As for me, because I ask for forgiveness and ease for the people I’ve harmed in my daily prayers, I respond with “everyday.”
The assortment of responses and where each man was on his journey was interesting for me to hear. But what was more interesting was our discussion with each other after the tour ended. A lot of the focus shifted on me. I was being given advice on how I should forgive myself, how I needed to let go of the guilt and shame I still carry, and how thinking about the people I’ve harmed everyday, was unhealthy. There seemed to be a genuine concern about my well-being and even a suggestion of maybe speaking to a mental health doctor, which to me felt like an overreaction.
I felt I had to unnecessarily defend myself. Unnecessary, because we all have our own path to healing, none more superior than the others. To defend myself I invited them into my rationale. I first announced that I was, in fact, in a healthy place. I then explained that from my perspective, it would not only be unhealthy if I were to forget, but extremely selfish. I described my idea of “healthy guilt” and how everything I do (every class, essay, project etc) I work hard to excel in. My fixation for separating myself as far away as possible from the person who could commit such an act shows up in my refusal to approach anything with mediocre passion. I feel (for me and me only) that mediocrity is linked with unaccountability. I told them that everything I do and how hard I push myself to reach perfection (which I understand is unobtainable) comes from a place of sorrow and remorse, which I need a constant reminder of. I cannot replace or remove what I did 15 years ago, nor can I make anything better for the innocent people affected by my selfish act back then, but my daily remembrance of the people harmed and the act of bettering myself is at least my weakest attempt to make somewhat of an amends.
Today, I am in a healthy place, which is not void of guilt. My spirituality and my remorse have a symbiotic relationship; a relationship that begets inspiration, motivation, and happiness, as well as shame, guilt, regret, and humility. I laugh, I work hard, I treat people justly, I pray everyday and I call to mind the people affected by my actions.
We were all standing in the corner of the yard oblivious of time and surrounding when one of us realized it was almost time for us to be in our scheduled groups or classes. An hour or so had passed under a blazing sun, in our literally, heated discussion. At the end, some understood me, one gave me a charitable acceptance of my logic, while others still completely disagreed. As I departed alone, I thought of how every man is on his journey between the day of his crime and healing. We were all on the same path, just in different places. Where a person “should” end up, remains undetermined. Guilt and health may have no destination, only journey.
Adnan Khan is the Co-Founder of Re:store Justice. Adnan also created FIRSTWATCH, a media filmmaking project produced entirely by incarcerated men at San Quentin State Prison. Adnan works in collaboration with survivors of crime, currently and formerly incarcerated people, district attorneys, CDCR officials and other stakeholders to move towards restorative practices. While incarcerated he Co-Founded the organization Re:store Justice and worked on the felony/murder rule legislation, Senate Bill 1437. The bill passed in August 2018 and on January, 18th 2019, Adnan was the first person re-sentenced under the bill he helped create. Today, he is continuing his advocacy & work at Re:store Justice.