Any woman in a relationship with a man in prison can attest to the fact that there will, unfortunately, be many in their families and inner-circle of friends who don’t approve of their relationships. Many who are critical of these relationships, however, are not coming from a place of experience or personal interaction with the incarcerated man, and therefore would give them a credible basis on which to judge him as a person — no. Rather, they operate from the standpoint of preconception, bias, and prejudice toward him — and anyone who is in his shoes — based solely on the fact that he is incarcerated. Simply put, they believe their friend or family member who is in this relationship can do much better, particularly with someone who is not locked up.
This is unfortunate because the fact of the matter is many good people reside behind bars — yes, I just said that. Most of us came to prison while in our addiction; this, however, is not nor was not reflective of who we are at our core. When forced to confront ourselves in a place of confinement such as prison, we tend to come to a place of honesty, growth, and for many of us maturity. We are in touch with ourselves and possess more qualities to offer in relationships than ever before; all we desire from those in society is a chance to be judged on who we are today. Unfortunately, many people disallow us this opportunity.
How sad it is that women who are in love with men in prison are denied the opportunity to talk to their girlfriends or family about their latest visit, phone conversation, or the amazing drawing, card or letter she recently received from her man. She knows any mention of him will be met with a scathing rebuke by some in her inner-circle. So, she is forced to keep it all to herself.
Why does she stay? they wonder. Why not leave him and find someone out here? they’ll ask. She tries to tell them she has met the man who understands her like no one else; that he is caring, sweet, and doesn’t judge her like many others do. She pleads with people she loves to just give him a chance to show he’s a good guy, but they’re not interested. Their minds are made up. As a result, she again shuts down and keeps them from her relationship lest they bring her down.
Here’s what I have learned: People with hardline positions who are not willing to have their positions challenged through experience are not going to budge one bit. They are intellectually lazy and emotionally stubborn. You can try to convince them to see something differently in the most direct or subtle ways, and they will refuse to be open-minded. So, for women in this type of relationship, when it comes to trying to get them to accept your man the way you see him — as a person deserving of a second chance — I would offer one rhetorical question: why even bother? You are wasting your time, energy and effort in trying to move an “immovable object.”
The best approach that will provide you with the most peace and serenity is to accept that they will be who they are; they will not give your man the benefit of the doubt. But, truthfully, that’s not what matters. What does matter is the fact you are happy and secure in your relationship. What should keep you going is the confirmation you get every time you talk to him, visit him, or receive a letter expressing exactly how he feels about you, how he tells you he can’t wait to spend every day outside of prison with you by his side. Let these sentiments carry you and comfort you in the midst of the unwarranted judgement and condemnation from those around you. Remember this: what others think about you is none of your business. What ultimately matters is what you think about yourself and your relationship. If both give you peace and happiness, then rest in that. Why bother trying to convince others they should feel the same way?
I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed or have heard about men in this situation either meeting a woman via a pen pal website — or otherwise — and developing a strong relationship or even getting married, only to have it go awry. The euphoria of knowing someone in the outside world cares enough to write, answer phone calls, and visit can be enough to propel someone in prison through a 10-year sentence with a positive outlook on life. I have also, however, seen the opposite happen, where someone has been served divorce papers served from his long-time wife and grew embittered, angry, and pessimistic toward everyone around him throughout the remainder of his sentence. Both scenarios affirm the need for and importance of being loved; of knowing there is someone outside of these thick despairing walls who values what you have to offer them, despite your current circumstance.
Of course I would never criticize someone for deciding to divorce or leave their incarcerated spouse/partner because they have every right to do what they feel they need to do; I’m only asserting how vital it can be for a prisoner to receive love from outside, and how that sense of security can shift one’s entire outlook on life, which ultimately influences how they do their time.
When we come to prison, our need for compassion, understanding, and love is heightened because we are essentially deprived of intimate (emotional and physical) human contact. We have a need for validation that our lives still matter, that we are worthy of the same attention and love we received prior to our incarceration. This is also the reason why many men (and women) who are incarcerated will pay less attention to physical standards in order to receive the love and attention they so desperately desire from someone they may not have looked at twice before. This is not to disparage those whom they will court, but merely a fact of the desperation of those in prison to have a basic human need met. I have seen relationships like these thrive both inside and outside these walls. Through them, many men have learned it is not what someone looks like, but rather the essential qualities of the person that lead to true happiness.
Of course I would be remiss if I ignored the darker side of this dynamic, which is the all-too-common result of an unsuspecting woman (or man) being manipulated into a relationship with someone in prison, only to be abandoned the day the prisoner is released, confirming he was only in it for what he could get while incarcerated. This happens because the criminality with which the prisoner has operated for so long is still very much active; he or she has no desire of changing or ridding themselves of the deviant nature they’ve relied on for so long to navigate the world. Unfortunately, well-meaning people are ensnared in their vicious trap of relationship deceit and taken advantage of for their money, time, and most importantly their emotional investment.
Family and friends, and society in general, are often critical of those who enter into a relationship with someone in prison, but this not unexpected due to the possibility of the aforementioned scenario. But there are relationships on the opposite side of this coin, that are genuine, mutual, and built on the pillars of a healthy union. Therefore, if you are someone in a relationship with a prisoner, allow me to first commend you on being able to look past the fences and barbed-wire to see something special in your partner. Allow me to say good for you for being able to exhibit a level of strength and internal fortitude to not be beaten down and discouraged by the attacks of those who think you are crazy for sticking by your incarcerated partner. You are a special person for understanding and doing what it takes to weather the storms of committing someone who is incarcerated, knowing that prisoners are simply people who need love too.
I was on the yard today simply enjoying the 75-degree weather. I’d taken a seat on one of the metal benches located on the inner edge of the track when a guy walked up to me, took it upon himself to sit down and start chatting. Now, I’m one of those people who thoroughly enjoys his solitude, so I’d be disingenuous if I said I wasn’t somewhat annoyed by his presence, but I was not going to be rude.
I’ve known the man for a while and assumed he wanted to talk about something in particular, so I greeted him, “What’s up?” He responded, “Ah, not too much, man; I just got done running and thought I’d see what was up with you.” At this point I’m feeling myself become slightly perturbed because if there’s nothing pressing he needed to talk about, I could be enjoying my alone time, but I didn’t let him sense these selfish thoughts. Instead, I allowed him to continue and he told me, “Yeah, I’m going to turn forty-eight tomorrow, man.” Now more engaged by this revelation, I said, “Oh yeah, and how does that feel?” Initially I could sense he was mildly perplexed at my inquiry and stumbled for a satisfactory answer, so he began, “Um, well, I guess I feel alright. I just ran a couple . . . ” and I instinctually (and rudely if I’m being honest) cut him off and probed: “No, I mean how do you feel about your life at forty-eight?” Realizing this would require some thought, he paused for a few seconds and stared distantly to figure out how he was going to articulate his thoughts, then he responded, “Well, to be honest, I feel like I’ve wasted so much of my life.”
This man went on to lament the things he’s done wrong in his life and tally how much they’ve cost him. He highlighted some positive things he’s done as well but spent much more time focusing on the negative consequences of his actions throughout his life. When he got done speaking, I offered him one phrase only: “It’s only a complete waste if you’ve learned nothing from them.”
In my humble opinion, too often and too easily we find ourselves bemoaning our losses, failures, and the litany of mistakes we’ve made. But what good does this do? If we are fixated on the hardship of an adverse situation and its challenging consequences, we will miss the invaluable learning lessons that are embedded. In fact, I would comfortably venture to say that life’s most valuable lessons, wisdoms, and insights are derived from life’s most arduous circumstances, its most trying times. But how can you see them if all you can muster in the midst of struggles, are complaints?
When I came to prison over 14 years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to get me to admit there was anything good that could come from this dreadful existence. I could not have conjured one thing that I could learn from this situation that I didn’t already know — or so I thought. Yet, here I am over 14 years later and can say I have evolved into the best version of myself possible — not despite this situation but because of it.
Sure, I could sit here feeling sorry for myself for 17 1/2 years, or I could choose to make the most of it. In choosing the latter I have learned what I’m passionate about, what life’s greatest joys are, where I derive fulfillment, what I want to do to maximize my potential in the future, why I lived the life I did, and so much more. Most importantly, I have learned what I’m capable of enduring. I now know I can take life’s most potent blow and still stand. Knowing this, there is nothing life can throw at me to shake me, discourage me, defeat me.
I believe there is always something to be learned from our mistakes and regrets. For instance, when we come out of a relationship that continued longer than it should have, we typically sulk for a while and spend countless hours hating our ex or badgering ourselves for allowing it to go on for as long as it did. But hopefully after all the wasted time and energy (that’s really what it is), we can take valuable lessons from it. We should come away knowing what we want and don’t want in a relationship, where boundaries need to be set, and be more perceptive of what others show us going forward so we can detect and address issues before it’s too deep into the relationship. There are indeed many things we should learn from even the most piercing heartaches we suffer — but we have to be willing and open to do so.
Again, if all we do is gripe over how our life has not gone the way we would have liked, we rob ourselves of unique opportunities to learn and grow in substantial, life-changing ways. We can therefore either go through life complaining and wasting time, or we can learn, grow, and become better people for having gone through them and come out wiser and stronger on the other end.