Humor has always been a big part of my life. At a very young age, though I would laugh like any child would, I understood the healing powers laughter occupied. Unfortunately along the way, I allowed my negative feelings to overpower me, forfeiting laughter, and going into an emotional space where the crime I committed was more accessible.
During my rehabilitative process, I was able to revisit my traumas, understand the root causes of my harmful actions, and eventually find healing. I was able to rekindle my relationship with humor and rediscovered my humanity through that. When blessed with the opportunity to create FIRSTWATCH, naturally I wanted to make some funny videos, which I did.
The videos received great remarks from the guys inside and a few volunteers
who were able to see them in here. But soon a question was asked, “Do you think the public will attack you for putting humor in your videos?” I immediately became reflective and fearful. The last thing I ever want to do is re-victimize or harm anyone, through any medium. The question suggested we are putting out the impression that prison is fun, or, that we are having too much fun in prison. It was further mentioned that laughing in prison lacks remorse, is insensitive to the harm we’ve done and is unaccountable to the debt we owe to society.
My idea behind FIRSTWATCH is not to harm anyone, rather to show the
complexity of the human experience in prison. I hope to disclose humanity in prison by making videos of accountability and transformation. I see men in here who joined gangs as early as 11 or 12 years old. Those gang belief systems taught these young men that laughter is considered a weakness and to walk around with mean and menacing looks. I see men in here who grew up in hyper-masculine sub-societies where anger and violence were not only acceptable, but commendable and encouraged by peers. I see those very same men today (many who came to prison as teenagers) decades into their incarceration, no longer holding on to those hardened thoughts and beliefs, on the contrary joking and laughing and making the other men around them feel good and happy about themselves. These now matured and healed adults live healthy lives rather than perpetuating the same way of thinking that led them to prison when they were young.
I believe in reveal transformation when I make funny videos. Through humor, I am able to uncover who we really are in here. If I cannot show that people are in a healthy place and that yes, we laugh and joke, then I would be manufacturing a dishonest narrative: I am not saying that prison is fun, because it’s not. A lot of pain, heartache, remorse and grueling pursuits of redemption exists in here. But we do have many moments of lightheartedness. As humans, like any other humans, we hurt, we cry. And as humans, like any other humans, we joke, we laugh. It’s a part of humanity’s humanity. I believe the public deserves to see the truth; the silly, playful, and even
bubbly personalities of today’s incarcerated men.
Adnan Khan is the Executive Director and co-founder of Re:Store Justice which he co-founded while incarcerated. Adnan was sentenced to 25 years to life under the Felony/Murder rule at the age of 18. While in prison, he inspired, launched and worked on the Felony/Murder rule legislation (Senate Bill 1437) with his organization, Re:Store Justice. The bill passed and after serving 16 years, in January 2019, Adnan was the first person re-sentenced under the bill he helped create. In addition, during his incarceration, he created FIRSTWATCH, a media filmmaking project produced entirely by incarcerated men at San Quentin State Prison that still produces short films today.
His sentence was also commuted by Governor Jerry Brown in December 2018.
Today, he is continues his advocacy work nationally as well as internationally. He is an Art for Justice Fellow and is on the California Reentry Enrichment Grant steering committee.