Next semester, Nicholas Khan will begin his Bachelor of Arts in graphic design on a scholarship at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of T&T (COSTAATT) in Port-of-Spain.
It will be a complete turnaround from the 5,462 days he was incarcerated at the Golden Grove and Port-of-Spain prisons for murder.
In the ten months since he was released from jail, Khan, 33, has opened a business, became a COSTAATT advisor and regularly lectures to secondary school students about the bad choices he made as a teenager and the 15 years he spent behind bars.
Khan was sentenced to 30 years in jail but only served half of his time because of his exemplary record, role model qualities and academic pursuits in prison.
Days before his release, the Sunday Guardian highlighted Khan’s story, “Nicholas Khan gets a second chance after serving a reduced murder sentence.”
Although he has been a free man since January 14, Khan still feels uncomfortable walking the streets.
“It has been a kind of jumpy experience for me. Between the space of January to now, I could count about 40 youths whom I know personally and had interaction with in jail, whether we shared the same cell or we went to court together, they are all dead. They were killed,” he said.
These killings have left Khan uneasy.
H admitted: “I does feel paranoid ... I does really feel emotional when I watch the news and see they make all that jail to come out here and dead, boy. Honestly, I can’t put my mother through that.”
Every day, the former inmate thanks God for seeing the sunrise and for his family who have been his pillar of support, strength and motivation.
While his biggest regret was taking a life, Khan knows that had he not been imprisoned, he might have lived fast and died young because of his criminal behaviour.
“It’s this person dying on my hands,” Khan said. “If I didn’t end up in jail I would ah dead. If my life didn’t change I don’t think I would be the person I am today. Everything was for a reason. I tried not to question it. I tried to go through my obstacles. I bite my lip and face my grind.”
The former inmate now works from home and focuses on the positives.
“I does tell people close to me that I am not an average person walking the streets. I can’t do that because I don’t know who is on to me,” he said.
“I am not saying that somebody on to me ... I have a past and I see things happen to people that I know, that their past caught up with them. Not because I doing so much positive it can’t happen to me now. It could happen to me the same way.”
Don’t join gangs
For Khan, being free comes at a price. He pleaded with gang members to put down their guns and to think about their actions and lifestyles.
“There is so much I want to tell them. It’s really a sad thing that they are just throwing away their life like that. I don’t mean to sound hypocritical. I was once like them but I woke up to reality in prison because I had no choice. I was in a situation where I ain’t sure to come back into society,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Khan spoke to a group of secondary school students about his criminal past, urging them to stay out of trouble but they refused to listen.
“All I seeing them is going to jail and dying, that is all I seeing on their faces because they didn’t even want to hear me out. That is how sad it is. I couldn’t reach out to them. They didn’t understand the seriousness I was telling them because they want to prove themselves to the next man in a gang,” he said.
Khan said there were no rewards for joining a gang because “when you join a gang, the leader don’t care about you. You are easily replaced when you get locked up or killed.”
Although he was never part of a gang, he said he heard many stories in jail and did some introspection.
Khan could not read and by age 13, his life started to go downhill. He started stealing from his mother and breaking into homes in his neighbourhood.
When he was given an ultimatum to return to either return to classes at Diego Martin Junior Secondary School or pursue a trade, he instead chose to wash cars for $100 a day over his education.
Unable to get by on those paltry earnings, Khan turned to robbing people. This eventually led him to murder in 2017.
Khan remembered taking a taxi from Chaguanas to Curepe and encountering businessman Ricky Rasheed Mohammed whom he attempted to rob. Mohammed, 53, was beaten with an industrial stapler and died of injuries to his skull and brain.
The police eventually arrested and charged Khan who pleaded guilty to the murder and larceny of Mohammed’s vehicle.
In prison, Khan met Dr Baz Dreisinger, a professor of English at City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who introduced him to college education. His desire to learn led him to write three books of poetry, including two, “Trials and Tribulations” and “Ambition to Overcome”, that reflected his troubled life.
Those books opened doors for Khan and helped him turn his life around. He kept in contact with Dreisinger who took him to COSTAATT in February to speak about his challenges inside and outside of jail to college president Dr Keith Nurse.
Nurse offered him a scholarship and an advisory job to run Link-Up, a prison-to-college pipeline initiative.
Next year, Khan will pursue his degree.
“Before I start the course, I have to go back to the basics of learning Maths and English. I was told that I already have a business mindset. There were a lot of projects I have put on the back burner which I will deal with in 2024. I just needed time to be with my family after spending 15 years in jail,” he said.
Link-up offers college-level courses to inmates.
“I am actually the advisor to the project now. Everything is still on the ground. We are looking to kick it off early next year,” Khan said, beaming with pride.
He is one of 16 former incarcerated leaders from around the globe who will visit South Africa next March to do transitional work as part of a Global Freedom Fellowship programme hosted by the Incarceration Nations Network (INN), an initiative launched last year by Dreisinger.
INN also funded Khan’s registered courier business which employs one person.