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 getting married months later, or developing a strong relationship with someone only to have it go awry months or years later. Experiencing the euphoria of knowing someone in the outside world cares enough to take time out of their day 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 gotten served divorce papers from his long-time wife and became embittered, angry, and pessimistic toward everyone around him throughout the remainder of his sentence. Both scenarios, however, reaffirm 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 certainly have their reasons and every right to do what they feel they need to do; I’m only asserting how vital it can be for someone in prison to receive love from someone outside, and how that sense of security can shift their entire outlook on life, which can ultimately influence how they do their time.
When we come to prison, our need for compassion, understanding, and love seem to be heightened because we are essentially deprived of intimate (emotional and physical) human contact. We then are strongly driven for validation that our lives still matter to people, that we are worthy of the same attention and love we were used to prior to our incarceration. This is also the reason why many men (and women) who are incarcerated will be much more amenable to lowering their physical standards, if you will, to receive the love and attention they so desperately desire from someone they likely wouldn’t have looked at twice when they were out. This is certainly not to disparage those whom they will court, it is merely a fact of the desperation of those in prison to have a basic human need met. I have also seen relationships like these thrive both inside these walls and outside. Through them, many men have learned what makes a relationship is not what one looks like, rather it is 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, signifying 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.
Many in society have been critical of women (and men) who enter into relationships with those of us in prison. Family and friends have been equally critical of someone they know who is with someone in prison, but this is to be expected due to the aforementioned scenario being a common occurrence. But then there are those relationships that are on the opposite side of this coin, those that are genuine, mutual, and built on all the pillars of a healthy union. Therefore, if you are someone who is in a relationship with someone in prison, 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 in society who think you are crazy for sticking by your incarcerated partner. And allow me to say you are a special person for understanding and doing what it takes to weather the many inevitable storms of being with someone who is incarcerated, knowing that prisoners are simply people who need love too.