Sitting With Adnan

I recently spent the better part of five days sitting next to Adnan Syed. I had known him for about seven years, but this was the most time we had ever spent together.

He was shackled in a four-point restraint so he could barely move. It must have been very uncomfortable. If it had been me, my legs and back would have cramped. Adnan insisted he was fine, and in the course of five days he never complained.

At one point I asked him if he wanted the restraints off. He said no. I took his word for it and understood that he did not want to make a fuss. A day later my partner asked the same question, got the same answer. My partner did not understand. I told him this is Adnan.

His guards liked him. I could tell. You cannot help but like him – and the guards are no different than you or I. Respect is met with respect. Maybe this is something he learned over time, starting when he was stolen from his home in the middle of the night. Maybe this is something that he was born with.

When the alibi witness took the stand, and he heard the truth in her voice, his eyes welled up. I did not need to ask him why. This was something he had waited 17 years to hear.

A few times he looked back to find his family and friends, most importantly, his mother. He did so infrequently. This part was hard for him, I am sure. But the court has rules; you’re not supposed to look back.

There were some difficult times during the hearing. Things were said that we both knew to be untrue. This was expected. These were moments that put extraordinary pressure on me. I had to stand up and speak for this man, to explain that is was all wrong.

There were also some wonderful moments: when truth was revealed from an unexpected source; when deceit was exposed for what it was; when useless became useful. A couple times, as hope became palpable in the courtroom, I caught Adnan smiling.

We chatted during the breaks. He asked about my wife and kids. They are people he has never met. I could not help but imagine what it will be like some day when he visits my home.