My mom hadn’t seen or heard from me in four years. She remarried and moved out of state. So my two sisters and I lived with my uncle, aunts and grandparents. Only one month later, my rebellion and I were kicked out of the house.
The cold homeless nights were hard. I slept wherever I could. Cars, parks, different people’s houses and embarrassingly, out of fear, on the front porch of my cousin’s house one night without them knowing.
I was 18 now and I thought I had found a permanent home with a friend. That didn’t last too long and a couple months later I was arrested and housed permanently in a cell. The next four years I spent in county jail fighting my robbery/murder case. Only my two sisters knew I was locked up.
My sisters didn’t know how to tell my mom and my family about my situation. I told them to make something up about me until I got released. I was fighting a life sentence but didn’t think I would get life in prison.
So they had to lie. My sisters told them that I was somewhere down south, going to school, working … you know, something honorable. That lie would continue and evolve along the way. It continued for nearly three more years.
My trial was about to begin and things weren’t looking good for me. I told my sisters to make something up again in case I lost trial. Fearing a guilty verdict, my sisters told my mom I was headed to the military. This was a couple years after 9/11 and a war was going on.
After hearing that her son was going into the military during a war, my mom pleaded with my sisters to tell me to contact her. She wanted to convince me not to go.
Still not knowing I was locked up, my mom asked my sisters to tell me to either email her, text her, call her … something, anything … just one conversation after nearly four years to beg me not to enlist. Obviously, I couldn’t respond via text or email. So my mom was told that I wanted to be left alone and that I was still angry at the family and that I was going to the military anyway.
Something compelled my mom to write me a handwritten letter in a day and age where handwritten letters are nearly obsolete. She wrote an extremely lengthy letter convincing me not to join the military and handed it to my sisters, telling them to “hand” it to me next time they “see” me.
Throughout the letter, my mom wrote her address, email, cell number, home number and work number several times and all over the place. She wrote her info between paragraphs, on top of the page, inside the margins, written in print and cursive straight, sideways, diagonal … all sorts of directions. My sisters mailed it to me in the jail.
During my trial, the county jail intercepted my letter and sent it to the district attorney, who held on to my letter for the monthlong trial. I was found guilty and when the DA went back to his office about an hour later, he called my mom.
“He’s not going to the military,” he revealed, “he’s going to prison. For the last four years your son was in jail and today he was found guilty of robbery murder and will be sentenced to 25 years to life.”
I can’t even imagine my mom’s reaction with that phone call.
I went back to the module after my guilty verdict and called my sisters, to somehow console them and tell them everything is fine but I was surprised to hear the news they had for me. That’s when they informed me that “mom knows” and how she had found out. I knew I had to finally call my mom.
When I hung up the phone with my sisters, I became a coward. I couldn’t face my mom. I didn’t want to but I knew that I had to call her. I had to take several deep breaths before I finally began to dial the numbers my sisters gave me, which I had written on a shaking piece of paper. I didn’t even know my own mom’s number.
“Please state your name after the tone,” the operator ordered. I said my name with the correct pronunciation.
“This call may be recorded or monitored. Press five to accept this call. To refuse, press nine.” I was hoping she pressed nine. All my worries would be over if she just pressed nine. The operator abruptly stopped talking and I could tell my mom had pressed five. I almost hung up.
“Hello?” she said. I didn’t answer. “Hello?” she repeated, this time with more worry in her voice.
I had not heard my mom’s voice in so long, though it was still such a familiar sound. So familiar that it instantly triggered many memories for me. Between our silence, I was suspended in my thoughts. I began thinking about the past and all the times I lied to her, been disrespectful to her and hurt her in so many ways that I didn’t realize until just then, in that moment, in that suspended silence.
Everything in my head was moving at such a rapid pace, but all making sense at the same time. I knew I had to say something so I greeted her as I had greeted her millions of times in the past. “Uh, as-salaam-walaikum, mom,” I managed to utter, squirming inside. “Walaikum salaam, son,” she responded with a little tremor, trying to sound positive and supportive … but all I sensed was her worry, panic, fear, anxiety, guilt, shame and overwhelming sadness.
I covered the phone receiver with my hand, brought it back to my chest, took another deep breath then brought the phone back up to my ear.
My brief silence made my mom ask again, “Hello?”
Just as I was about to speak, “THIS CALL IS BEING RECORDED AND MONITORED!” the operator interrupted with what seemed like a shout that startled me. Being the coward that I was, I felt that was an opportunity for me to hang up.
“HELLO?” she asked, searching for her son again.
“Hello, yeah mom um …” I knew I had to say something, I couldn’t keep her waiting any longer, I couldn’t find any more reasons to stall, even though I tried during the silence, but I couldn’t. She deserved SOMETHING! But what? I didn’t know what to do or say … even though this was my own mother.
What SHOULD I say? What COULD I say? What’s the right thing to say? What the right thing to do? I wish somebody could help me. I was hoping the operator would come and save me again. This time I would definitely hang up. I looked around to see if the deputies were going to tell me to lock up. I was hoping that something happened and that I HAD TO go lock up. I was looking for an escape, but there was none … and I knew it.
And that’s when I said the hardest thing I ever had to say, “Mom, I’m sorry.”
Adnan Khan is serving a life sentence for murder in San Quentin. He is now 31. He was 17 when his mother left him and 18 when he was arrested.
This column appeared in The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth. David Inocencio founded The Beat Within in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at email@example.com.
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