I live in a 4ft x 9ft cell with another man. I occupy the top bunk. Most of my day, however, is spent outside of the cell. I go to work in the media center at about 7:00 am and from there I’m either in some program or class and I don’t return until about 8:30 pm. By 9:00 pm every thing is shut down and everyone is locked in their cell until about 5:30 am the next morning. During that time, my celly and I find a way to become invisible to each other.
When I jump up on the top bunk, I’ll put on my headphones for a little bit of TV or some music. Other than those two options, I’ll either read, or go to sleep. My celly and I barely, or hardly ever exchange conversation. Not because we don’t like each other, but because this is perhaps our only private time to our individual selves. He is in his world, I am in mine. Though, together, we occupy a very small cell (smaller than any other prison cell I have been in), we find a way to reclaim our privacy.
Privacy is an extreme rarity in prison, I literally shower next to other men, eat, stand in line, go to group with other men, and even use the restroom in front of other men on the yard. I get stripped searched where I have to produce my naked body (showered or not) and lift up, bend over, spread out for security purposes. I can get my cell searched randomly where all of my pictures, family’s letters, personal writings, sacred religious books (that I can only pick up once I am in a state of purity and cleanliness), my toothbrush and other personal hygiene items, plastic bowls and spoons, linen, clothing, smelly shoes, socks and underwear, all can be scrutinized by strangers (correctional officers) at any given time. We are constantly watched by each other and by guards (on the ground, in the towers). There’s hardly ever any, what we call, “me time.” And so, when I return to the cell at night for final lockup, I return to a celly in a two-man 4ft x 9ft cell. And when I finally jump on my bunk, I find a way to create and hold on to a sense of privacy. I try to become invisible. It’s finally “me time.”
This invisibility also occurs during institutional lockdowns. The last lockdown was in July 2018 where we were in our cells for nearly three weeks, practically 24 hours a day. Compared to other places and other lockdowns I’ve experienced (which could last months and months), this was relatively short. However, my 24 hours were still spent hidden on the top bunk. My celly would only see me when I would jump down to disappear to the back of the cell for usage of restroom or sink. Then back to the top bunk I’d go. On the flip side, I would only see the top of my celly’s head when he would do the same. While on our respected bunks, not only do we become visually invisible, we also become audibly discreet; meaning we scrupulously limit any noise such as moving, tapping, and conversing with the TV to further sanctify our peace.
I do enjoy doing my time like that. And perhaps it’s not so much of an enjoyment rather than a necessity to clutch a sense of autonomy. Being in my own world, with no one watching me, no one to bother me, I can finally have a moment with Adnan, just Adnan. I grab whatever space I can in this prison yard, which in this situation is the top bunk, and I create a tiny sanctuary that I rule. I disappear into rare independence. It’s only me there. I own privacy again. I finally get to have some “me time.”
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.