By: Cassandra Edwards
It may be a fantasy to some but for me it was a ten year reality. Loving an inmate is a task many can’t imagine for anyone outside their family or close friends, but to be in love with and also marry an inmate is a task within itself. No parent dreams of giving permission to someone behind bars to spend happily ever after with their child. As a young girl myself I fantasized of my dream weeding. I had planned my bridal party and some of my groomsmen, leaving a few slots for whoever my spouse was to be to fill in with his family and friends.
I envisioned the decorations and had planned to walk down the aisle to my mother’s favorite song by Jesse Powell. And then I grew up, allowed myself to be seduced by the charm and wit of my soon to be inmate lover turned husband, and accepted the fact that my fairytale wedding may be only a figment of my imagination. My visions did not consist of an hour long drive with my best friend to a small congested courthouse to obtain a marriage license or stamp of approval by some unknown judge. Nor did it include a minister who could not even pronounce my name marrying me in the presence of three witnesses, whom I also barely knew.
Quality time was not envisioned as time restricted visits sneaking prohibited touches while armed guards circulated the room. When I planned to prepare lavish meals for my husband as he returned from work I did not think of traveling to an overpriced vending machine, selecting his favorite sandwich, and warming it in the microwave to the appropriate temperature.
When I thought of taking family pictures every year I did not imagine they would be prison polaroids captured in three seconds with my husband in the same bland outfit. The one thing that those pictures did capture was my happiness. I was generally happy and content with the man I had chosen to spend the rest of my life with, despite what others thought of him as they pulled up the charges he was faced with on the Department of Corrections website.
My happiness began to quickly fade away as I watched my friends with their boyfriends and became envious of their relationship. I was not able to showcase my spouse at family events, school functions, or even take birthday and holiday vacations. Being married I had to carry myself a certain way or so I thought even though my husband was miles away. I did not want to bring shame to his name as I had to walk the streets and attend the same events as his family members who were itching to report back to him any of my wrong doings.
It became stressful trying to manage a social life with my single friends and be at his every beckon and call every time my phone rang. Lord forbid I was out enjoying my favorite past time at a comedy show and missed or declined his call. I realized that this was the life I chose. The life I signed up for and committed myself to.
I have heard so many people talk about falling in love with inmates because they are so attentive and affectionate. When you are competing with no one else for attention except other prisoners it is easy to win. Investing in a relationship takes time and definitely takes money when dealing with an inmate. I do not believe when women claim to not send any money or do anything for the men behind bars because at some point you are going to load money to their books to buy food, phone minutes, and anything else they want to keep them happy.
If not the investment of money in maintaining the relationship should be a tax deduction itself. In the beginning of our relationship on average I visited my husband at least twice sometimes three times a week, each time I had to fill up my tank and took at least twenty five dollars in the visiting room for snacks and pictures. Rarely did I leave with any change.
Looking back there were many things I could have done with that one hundred dollars every week, not mentioning the money to get commissary, pay off gambling debts, support habits, etc. In return I received a phone call multiple times a day, to the point they became overwhelming and very expensive. I received letters, and handmade cards on the regular, as well as an occasional green check to do whatever I wanted with, knowing next week I would need to replenish his inmate account.
The mental and emotional stress of loving an inmate is overwhelming. The smallest misunderstanding led to an argument and accusations of unfaithfulness. If I were unavailable due to work, church, or even attending a recreational event where my background may have been too loud to answer the phone, I was assumed to have been out doing something I had no business doing. He attempted to cut me off from my friends by down talking them because they were single and enjoyed going out and partying, but thought I should hook them up with his new found inmate friends.
He even tried selecting friends for me by asking me to carpool with women who were coming to visit their men but it was not a carpool because they never had a vehicle to drive. What I did not know in the beginning was that every time I let someone ride to the jail with me he received funds from their lover or family member. The manipulation tactics did not stop there as he often tried to make me feel guilty about wanting to do anything besides sit in the visiting room. He calculated my every visit to the exact time he wanted me to come.
Years later I found out it was not because he cared about me being on that highway late or leaving work early but because he has other females, he had previously dated who were visiting him as well. I did not discover this reality until he came home ten years later with a shoe box of photos that I happened to go through one day. Many women fall victim to these men thinking they will be faithful. Just because a man is not sleeping with another woman does not mean he is being faithful.
I found out years later my husband was in relationships by mail with women he met through other inmates, had been writing his ex-girlfriends and promising them a life of happiness once he came home, and was spending countless hours on the phone with them during my work and church hours. Perhaps if I knew all these things I would have ended the relationship juts as soon as I started it. Though I was not naïve, I did not have any proof of anything besides the distance that was growing between us.
If you ask my now ex-husband he will tell you things changed when I cheated on him. And yes I did go through a period of unfaithfulness, with his permission under the stipulation I did not come up pregnant or with any disease. He fails to tell that portion of the story even today. Things actually changed when I began to see him for the manipulator he was.
When I began to question his need for more money and extra deposits on other inmates account. He brushed it off as debts from gambling and playing poker when in actuality he had begun using the same drugs he would try to have me bring into the facility for him. Once I stopped supplying his habit there became a distance between us. However I remained optimistic that things would be different once he came home. After all the man would not turn his back on the one person who was in his corner the entire time right?
I stopped going to the comedy clubs, remained faithful to my marriage, and threw myself into church. I would now visit probably once a month if that. I never stopped sending money on his book to make sure he was taken care of but the phone calls were now very strained and awkward silence filled the lines. We talked of plans once he came home as he went up for his parole hearing and with less than a year til his release date I began planning for the life with my husband I had always dreamed of. Fast forward to his release from prison……
The ride home was sketchy. Not because of the fact my plates were expired and I was worried about the police but because I was worried of what was to come in the days, months, and years ahead. I was nervous about sleeping with a man who I had never been intimate with and worried that he would fall back into the streets if he could not secure a job. These thoughts rambled as he called everyone who he claimed he would never talk to again since they abandoned him while in jail and let them know he was on his way home.
The first week was great but then the built up anger and frustration began to overtake him. His jealous roots began to show if I were anywhere but in his presence. His lavish spending habits became a problem even with the part time job he secured. The need to prove to everyone he was back on the scene proved destructive after he went out partying one night and totaled the only vehicle we had. His open ended promises of giving me the world were not satisfying enough when the bills were due and gas was needed for the car.
The man who had lived with a designated bedtime and curfew for ten years of his adult life now felt the need to walk in the doors at sometimes five in the morning because he did not have to answer to anyone o his whereabouts. The same lifestyle he left behind he now revisited as he was not going to keep working for pennies.
I threw myself closer to God and further away from him. If things were not as he wanted them I could expect him to flip over TVs or try to pick a fist fight with me. My final straw was when he jumped in my vehicle as I was driving and began to beat me in the face because he felt as if I were taking him for a joke.
In my childhood dreams, my perfect marriage never ended in divorce but that was the reality I was living in. I never imagined loving an inmate but that had become my reality. The fantasy that some see or hear about is so much more than just what a phone call and a letter can do. Be prepared for the mental, emotional, and maybe physical abuse that comes along with dealing with someone who has been programmed and institutionalized. I am sure this is not true of every relationship but this was my reality.