Paying My Debt

By Adnan Khan #F-55145

When I committed my crime, I realized I owed a debt to society. And in order for me to pay that debt, I was told to do two things, serve 25 years to life, and pay nearly $23,000 for restitution.

Once I came to prison, I started to reimburse society by simply doing time. Whether I sat in my cell or went to yard, it was completely up to me how I was to do that time. I could get fat if I wanted to, I could sleep all day, I could use drugs, commit more crimes, violate prison rules, or do nothing at all. It was my choice to learn something, grow intellectually, morally, or emotionally, or to do my time denying, blaming, or not feeling any remorse whatsoever for what I’ve done. Either way, that would be me paying my debt to society by “doing time.”

The other way was to financially pay society back. How I was able to do that was get a job assignment in prison. I worked as a building porter (sweeping, mopping, cleaning stuff), in the laundry (separating, folding, distributing stuff), in the canteen (stocking, pulling orders, and taking inventory of stuff), in the kitchen (counting, cooking, portioning stuff). Each of those job assignments paid a small hourly wage. This was the only way I could earn wages in prison in order to pay my debt. In one of my kitchen jobs, I was paid $0.08 an hour. The state then took 55% of those eight cents for my $23,000 restitution fee. According to my calculations, while earning $0.08 an hour and the state receiving 55% of my income for restitution, it would take me over 270 years to pay that restitution off. So what that means is, I am not able to pay off my financial debt to society while doing time in prison.

I do not mind whatsoever paying my restitution. I am willing to fulfill any financial obligation I have to society. What troubles me and many other men in here is that sometimes our family and friends can be subjected to our debt. Any money my family or friends send me, the state will deduct 55% of that as well. So if my law abiding, hard working mother, who has never been in trouble her entire life (and who DID NOT commit this crime with me) sends me $100.00, the state will subtract $55.00 and put her money towards my restitution. Though this $100.00 is technically mine once sent to me, it is not money that I have “earned.” It is money my mother has earned through her labor.

What most people do not realize is that I also have some personal expenses as an incarcerated person. Though the state does provide some basic necessities, almost all incarcerated people I know (that can afford it) buy their own soap, deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. And although the state provides three meals a day, I prefer to have more choice of food such as soups, rice, beans, and other pouch food items to fulfill my hunger. I am also a coffee drinker, and once in a while I like to splurge with a bag of chips or some duplex vanilla cookies, which add to my expenses.

Phone calls are another expense I have in prison, not my family. I am allowed to choose one persona a day to call. I am permitted a fifteen minute, collect phone call a day which my family pays for. Those phone calls can become very expensive. Visits cost as well. Yes, it is a choice for my family to come see me, however the choice is mine as well. It costs my family roundtrip transportation and vending machine food (such as Snickers’ ice cream) which they also pay for. Yes, those choices are ours, but they are expenses nonetheless.

Upon my release, I will, however, receive some financial assistance. I‘ll be given $200.00 “gate money” by the state for my re-entry. That number ($200.00) has been around for many decades. Over several decades of inflation, prices and cost of living have sky rocketed but the $200.00 gate money remains the same in 2018.

I want to pay back my debt to society. I want to do it with remorse, accountability, and amends. I also want to pay back my financial debt. Unlike a lot of incarcerated men I know, I am in a privileged position to have a potential job offer upon my release. If that holds true, I fully intend to pay my restitution (though in increments) as soon as possible. Be that as it may, that’s just me and my possible rare situation. Unfortunately, for many of us, we will be re-entering society not only broke, but in debt.

About First Watch

First Watch is a media project started at San Quentin State Prison. All content is shot, directed, edited, and scored by the journalists inside prison.

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