Columns, Op-Eds, & Interviews

Illegal Cell Phones & the Need for Contact

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

I’ve known Ben for about four years now. He’s very social, at times, even a clown.  But, for the most part, he stays to himself or his small circle of friends. Ever since I’ve known him, our conversations have consisted of funny debates about sports then quickly shift to his inquisitive eagerness about current or upcoming legislative changes.

I have always tried to give him as much information as possible.

Four years ago, he asked about Senate Bill 260.  The following year, the unthinkable happened for him when Senate Bill 261 passed.

[SB 260 gives people who were convicted of a certain range of crimes as kids in adult court a chance at a parole hearing after serving a certain number of years. SB 261 is similar to SB 260, but changes the threshold for the age of conviction from under 18 to under 23.]

Ben is a lifer.  He committed a crime when he was 19 years old. That was over 20 years ago. When SB 261 passed, instead of another decade or so, he was headed to the parole board within a year.

Six months prior to his parole board hearing, another unthinkable thing happened. Ben was caught with a cell phone. From the outside looking in, for Ben to get caught with a cell phone was unbelievable. The guys around him couldn’t believe he would “do something so stupid,” especially when he was months away from the most important interview of his life.

Ben received a five-year denial at the parole board. Cell phones are illegal contraband in prison. Because of the crimes we’ve committed, prison administrations want to monitor and control all of our contact with the outside world. Prison officials understand that cell phones could be used for good or harm, and it is their responsibility to protect the public from any further potential threat.

After his five year denial, Ben walked around here depressed, isolated, and I didn’t experience too many funny debates about sports anymore. One thing did remain, however. Ben continued to ask me incessantly about legislative changes. I couldn’t understand why. I felt like he had his chance already when SB 261 passed. Every time we’d cross each other’s path, he would stop and ask me “What’s new!? Anything change?!” A lot was happening and I would try to inform him. I updated him about Assembly Bill 1276, Assembly Bill 1308, Prop 57,  and Senate Bill 1437, all new laws affecting other men inside. Though he was not affected by these new laws, it felt as if Ben still used those changes as pieces of hope for himself.

Within a year of Ben’s five-year denial, he was caught with yet, another cell phone. The men around him said to each other that “he doesn’t want to go home,” or that he was a “dumb ass.”

Ben walked around feeling what seemed to me as shameful, as guys who were further along in their journey talked behind his back about his “stupidity.”

I think about Ben and others like him. I know he’s not “stupid.” I see Ben as respectful, funny, and remorseful for his crime. He cooks for friends and offers people the little that he has. Ben is not a violent person, is not involved in gangs, doesn’t have “anger issues,” nor is he addicted to drugs.

Ben’s addiction is cell phones.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this “addiction.” People who use cell phones in prison not only talk to their families, they may text, use social media and surf the internet. They can check Facebook, Instagram, search on Google and watch YouTube videos. The connection they seek can go beyond family to a bigger and wider linkage into the world.

I wondered if Ben was truly addicted to the phone itself—the material object—or was it deeper than that? What are Ben’s needs? His human needs? What “addiction” is he trying to soothe? I believe the cell phone habit is an addiction to connection, or simply, a deep and intense need to feel and express love to his family, and perhaps to feel connected to the world at large. Unfortunately, he chose to express that need illegally and it cost him a chance at freedom.

In prison, there are a few ways to communicate with our families and loved ones. We write handwritten letters which take about three days for our families to receive. It takes about two or three weeks (sometimes more) for our family’s written responses to reach us, due to administrative security clearances. Another way to have contact with family and loved ones is through the visiting room. Those visits take place on Saturdays and Sundays from about 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. We also get visits on certain holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and, interestingly, the 4th of July.

Recently lifers were returned the right to a family visit, where we can spend 72 hours with our immediate family in a small “apartment” isolated, but on prison grounds.

The other way to talk to family is through a 15 minute collect call a day. I got to call one person for 15 minutes. In my experience, it was difficult to develop, or further sustain a relationship with my sisters and mother in that amount of time. I believe Ben experienced similar struggles.

In 2009, when I was in a maximum security prison in Corcoran, I too was caught with a cell phone. I was well aware that cell phones were illegal contraband. Having one was wrong and I knew it was wrong. However, at that time, my need to be connected with my family mattered to me more than the consequences. I felt depressed and distant, from my sisters, physically and emotionally. With the cell phone, I was able to call them at a comfortable time and spend hours talking with them. I was a consistent presence in their lives. I actually got to know my sisters.

I’ve had a distant relationship with my mother my entire life. In 2009, I was the closest to my mom I’ve ever been. We were able to talk at length, openly.  Most importantly, we had the time to mend, build, and further sustain our severed mother/son relationship. We shared secrets and talked honestly about our interpretations of prior experiences with each other. We had ample time to converse, process, and heal. It was amazing and for the first time in our lives, my sisters, mother and I were actually happy. After being caught with a phone in 2009, I gave up using cell phones.

Unfortunately and honestly, though we love each other and are there for each other, the closeness in the relationship with my family grew distant.

I thoroughly understand what Ben and I, and others did was wrong. We broke prison rules, lied, covered up, and selfishly placed our needs above making amends for the people we’ve harmed.

Cell phones are illegal contraband in prison and they come into the prison illegally. The phones get distributed through the prison’s black market. I understand that by participating in the use of cell phones, I am also participating in criminal activity.  I am not advocating for the illegal use of cell phones. But what I am encouraging is maybe, the legal use of cell phones. Or, perhaps a more affordable system for incarcerated people to communicate with their families. After all, isn’t the establishment of love the essence of rehabilitation?


Adnan Khan is the Co-Founder of Re:store Justice. Adnan also created FIRSTWATCH, a media filmmaking project with films 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.

During his own time in San Quentin,  he co-founded the organization Re:store Justice and worked as an advocate 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. 

This column first appeared at FirstWatch.

12 Comments

  • I almost teared up at Khan’s touching last line, “…isn’t the establishment of love the essence of rehabilitation?” But then I remembered what HE did to land in prison.

    Khan continually glosses over significant facts to make his readers feel warm and fuzzy. Starting with his OWN crime. He needs to begin ALL his writings with:

    “I did 16 years for my part in the robbery and stabbing death of Kevin Leonard McNutt after I hit him in the head….all for some marijuana.”

    So, Mr. Khan, what crime did “Ben” commit that landed him in adult court with a life sentence if you only got 16 years for the murder of a man?

    And the reason “Ben” and you broke the cellphone law? Facebook? Youtube? Reaching out to “establish love?” You forgot to mention watching porn and the SERIOUS security risk cell phones represent as a way to plan escapes, conduct hits, drug transactions, attacks on officers, etc.

  • Editor’s Note:

    Dear Cognistator,

    As LASD Apostle is completely aware, and you would be too if you bothered to click on the logical link in the bio section below this essay on illegal cell phones in prison, we have written at length about Adnan Khan’s back story, including about the underlying crime for which he was originally convicted, which was the murder of 19-year-old Kevin Leonard McNutt, how and why Khan was resentenced, and that Kevin McNutt’s mother believes the resentencing is wrong. We also wrote about how and why—separate and apart from his resentencing under SB 1437—Khan’s sentence was commuted by then-Governor Jerry Brown, on Christmas Day 2018. And further, we ran an essay by a woman whose sister was murdered, but who knows Khan, and the positive work he has done during his years in prison, who discussed her views on his resentencing. All of this is available to you if you follow the trail of links.

    However, this essay is about illegal cell phones in prison.

    We hope to run more essays by Mr. Khan and others like him because we believe their voices are informed and important, as are the voices of people like Rebecca Weiker and Aqeela Sherrills who are survivors of the murder of loved ones, and whose work for justice reform is daily informed by those indelible losses.

    https://witnessla.com/how-la-violence-reduction-expert-aqeela-sherrills-own-sorrow-led-him-to-help-newark-nj-lower-its-murder-rate/

    https://witnessla.com/adnan-khan-criminal-justice-reform-and-supporting-victims-its-not-a-zero-sum-choice/

  • Celeste, as I’ve said in an earlier post, I don’t think Khan is beyond redemption, but his rehabilitation begins with HONESTY, not love. You forgot THIS link. People can read it and decide for themselves how truthful Mr. Khan was:

    https://www.leagle.com/decision/incaco20090325010

    Khan first said the plan was, “when McNutt showed them the marijuana, he was going to just grab it and run.”

    He later said, “We’re not supposed to have any weapons. I was supposed to rough him up and take—you know, I was supposed to run, first of all.” Good catch.

    Not that McNutt was a upstanding citizen, but did he deserve to be stabbed to death? Would it be asking too much of Khan to begin his writings with the crime he committed and the name of his victim?

    It would be refreshing to me if you gave HALF the benefit of the doubt to cops as you do to a convicted murderer.

  • Life Behind them walls ain’t as easy as most of y’all think, just cause many of us incarcerate theses men for what ever wrongs they have done, don’t mean they don’t come to realize the wrongs they’ve done.

    Prison becomes a new life once your sentenced, Some have a date and many other have a date they know the will never reach.

    We all sit behind keyboards and say if I should have, could have, would have, once the judge lays down that hammer. Life as a free man is gone and a new life begins, some that are locked up, many that are locked up will never change. But some after years of everyday being the same day realize, they fucked up.

    We as free men, can always condone the convicted. But walk a day in their shoes and how would we feel, it’s easy to say I wouldn’t, he shouldn’t, she shouldn’t have done what he or she did. We weren’t in their shoes.

    I shake my head at the criminal justice system and I shake my head at the life some of us were given. At the end of the day, I still say God Bless This Great America.

    Happy 4th of July To You All

    The Marathon Continues

    • “Life behind them walls isn’t as easy as most of y’all think….”

      Gettin’ behind them walls ain’t easy either:

      1. Innocent until PROVEN guilty.
      2. Guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of twelve–twelve different personalities.
      3 Adverse Court decisions can be appealed all the way up to State & Federal Supreme Courts.

      Gettin’ behind them walls ain’t easy at all.

  • And 1, here’s the deal. Many of posters spent many, many years working around folks now locked up in prison while they were wearing their “street shoes.” You know, when they were out there running the hoods and the barrios. Living the life. Not a care in the world, except where that next hit was com’n from. Had their bitch’es and mamma’s when they wanted them, had a few kids by ’em. But no big thang.

    Jobs were for suckers. Jobs were for people who had something to steal. Those fools were the prey for the boyz. Survival of the fittest, man! Law of the jungle!!!!

    Well it turns out that many of the posters on this site were the individuals who spent their working lives around the folks who had lived the high life in their “street shoes.” And, more importantly, they saw and comforted victims after they had been plundered by people in their “street shoes.” Seeing a victim right after a crime is not a pretty sight and it isn’t something that ivory tower liberals have an opportunity to see and experience, but many who comment here have had this experience over and over again. That sight gives you a perspective of how much the “street shoe” crowd care for their fellow man. Not much is the answer, in case you haven’t been in their shoes. They know this because they’ve seen it over and over and had enough experience to know that those people had absolutely no compassion.

    Never in their life did the “street shoe” crowd even consider what it was like to wear the shoes of those they victimized. And now that they are wearing their “prison shoes”, you suggest that we should consider what it is like to be in THEIR shoes?

    Dude, the inconvenience of not having a cell phone is a frigging joke. There are pay phones available – which are subject to recording so any “business” being discussed is duly recorded – is the LEAST of their worries in my book.

  • Cognistator and 25 Cents More….

    Great posts?

    It always amazes me how easily folks forgot about the trauma, fear and long term affects being the victim of a crime has not only on the victim, but their families. Social justice warriors have adopted criminals and victimizers as being prayed upon by the police and a corrupt legal system and cast the criminal as the “victim” while totally neglecting the “real victim”.

    What a time we live in.

  • I’m a “Right Leaning Moderate” and have spent 28 years (and counting) on patrol. I admittedly find myself getting sucked in by the progressive’s misinformed and destructive agendas dealing with the criminal justice system. Mostly from the false hope that these animals have the ability or desire to reform.

    Until I read things like “25 cents more” last post. Then I’m back to reality.

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