Would you ever date someone in prison?
Could you fall in love with one of the millions of men living behind bars in America? (Photo: Natasha Haverty)
One of the enduring realities of life behind bars is that people on the inside often want and need support from people on the outside.
Sometimes that yearning – which can provide practical stuff as well as emotional connections — leads to on-going relationships, love-affairs, even marriages.
I’ve interviewed women several times in my career who were involved in long-term committed relationships with incarcerated men.
For some, particularly in poor African American, Hispanic and rural white communities, the fact that a guy is locked up just isn’t that huge a deal – incarceration is a normal part of the life experience for couples and families.
But it’s still a bit mysterious. Why would a woman hang on? Why would anyone spend years — or decades? — trying to make it work with someone who committed a crime, whose life in on hold indefinitely?
In this week’s Slate magazine, writer Melody Wilson grapples with this question. She herself was in a long-term relationship with an inmate, whom she calls “Justin.”
“[I]n the spring of 2006, Justin came back into my life with a phone call from my mother,” Wilson writes. “This time, he’d really screwed up, my mom told me; he’d been arrested as an accomplice in a double murder.”
Wilson acknowledges that the idea of this kind of relationship faces a lot of skepticism, even dismissal.
Prison relationships, in particular, “tend to be built mostly on fantasy of the other,” Harley Conner assures me. Conner is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at George Washington University who has worked as a probation counselor to jailed youth and has conducted clinical work in forensic and correctional settings for about three years.
In the end, Wilson’s prison relationship ended — after about a year — without much fanfare. “We grew apart,” she writes. But she says she received a lot of meaningful support and love from Justin.
So what do you think? If the person you loved were sent to prison, or if you met someone incarcerated, could you — would you? — connect? Or would this be a non-starter?