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Incarcerated Love
By: Ken 
aka  Tebkrg
 11/10/2002

  Is this the most atrocious thing that one could consider?  How on earth could you love a Prisoner? 
Are you crazy?  They are criminals!  How could you?

 

To love a Prisoner or not to love a Prisoner – Is this a question to ask yourself?  For some, loving a Prisoner is a fact of life.  For some, it is a realization yet to happen.  For some, it would be a fate worse than death! 

Is this the most atrocious thing that one could consider?  How on earth could you love a Prisoner?  Are you crazy?  What kind of life do you have, or will you have?  They are criminals!  How could you?  Walk away now!  Can’t you find someone that is not in prison?  What did they do?  How do you know that you are safe?  If they were worth anything they would not be in prison. 

Over the last two years I have heard just about every possible reaction and objection that you can imagine.  I realize these friends and family members are looking out for my best interests, but now I also realize that their comments are generalized opinion, which is shared by the masses and not based on knowledge of fact.   

I never quite fit the category of the person who would think it atrocious to love a Prisoner, but I do believe that my attitudes have changed significantly over the last couple of years in regard to Prisoners.  Two years ago in fact I was one of the ones where loving a Prisoner was a realization yet to happen.  Two years ago I did not know anyone in prison or that had ever been in prison.  I was naïve to the world of incarceration, to prisons, to the lingo, to the atrocities of conditions and most of all I was naïve to the degree of love and commitment that could be reached by loving a Prisoner.  I was blind to the fact that a Prisoner is more than just their crime.

To many of us a Prisoner is a mother, father, brother, sister, friend or significant other.  It is someone that we love, and someone that has been and is a substantial part of our lives.  To some, Prisoners are the lowest of the low, and are where they should be based on what they have done.  For those that are not personally connected to a Prisoner, they have no other reference than the fact that this individual wronged society and they are paying for their crime.  These people tend to lump together all Prisoners in one category, and do not see the differentiation from the level of prison security, to the type of crime.  These people are our worst nightmare.  These people generalize that all Prisoners are the same and deserve equal treatment.  This is not the case and it is in my experience one of the hardest generalizations to get past.  Our loved one - our Prisoner  - (regardless of the crime) could be a cellmate with a murderer, rapist, white-collar criminal, drug offender, a violent offender or a non-violent offender.  Our loved one is surely one of these categories or one that I have not listed here, but all of these Prisoners are walking the same halls and sharing the same cells.  There is no differentiation allotted by the prison system, so how can we expect the general public to understand this differentiation?  They will not.  We are plagued with ignorant ideas and representations of Prisoners because of the system. 

A Prisoner is first and foremost a human being. There are many Prisoners that have committed crimes so heinous that even I will say “throw away the key”!  But even these Prisoners are human beings.  All Prisoners were born of a mother that I am going to blindly say loved them.  We are all from a family of sorts, and Prisoners may or may not have people in that family that still love and care for them.  You see if I ask “What is a Prisoner”, we must also include in the mix the family and friends of this Prisoner.  These family and friends essentially become Prisoners too.  They are treated differently by society and in many cases hide from society.  So, if every Prisoner is a human being then we must regard and respect Prisoners as such.  We must understand that all Prisoners are capable of thought, emotion, pain, suffering, faith or religion, remorse and rehabilitation.  All Prisoners at least deserve the opportunity of becoming better as human beings.  All Prisoners families and loved ones also deserve at least the respect that we would give any other human being.    

Why are our loved ones in prison?  This is an interesting question.  Many will debate that it does not matter what the circumstances were, the individual made a choice of conduct and knew the consequences of making that choice.  You did the crime and you should do the time.  I agree.  I agree that if you commit a crime that you should be punished and in most cases regardless of the circumstance.  I will never say that if you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol that you are not responsible for your crime.  You are.  But, in many circumstances you were not in control for that moment, and it was not YOU that committed the crime but the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Anger and crimes of passion can be looked upon in the same way in my mind.  I do believe that a person can be so jealous and/or so angry that they can commit a crime that otherwise they are not capable of committing.  There are many circumstances like these that I would defend as not the ‘individual’ committing the crime but an “influence” committing the crime.  The individual is still responsible for the crime but an ‘influence’ caused them to commit the crime and it was not necessarily premeditated.  Am I trying to justify crime committed in this way?  No, of course not.  What I am trying to show here is that there are often outside influences in our lives that affect our behaviour.  Even the most calm and complacent individual can find themselves in a situation of desperation, anger, or a drug induced state that causes an inability to judge right from wrong.  Should these people be punished?  Yes, but let’s look at the root cause of the crime and work to fix that root cause.  If the crime is a result of drug or alcohol abuse then let’s work to fix that.  If the crime is a result of anger then let’s work with an anger management program.  There are many reasons that we commit crimes that are influenced by environment, circumstance, or otherwise induced state and they need to be looked at as such.  Is this person that committed a crime under the influence that has received proper treatment going to re-offend?  It is always a possibility, but we don’t have programs in place to rehabilitate and measure the success of such programs.  Ask yourself however, that if these programs did exist would they make sense?  Would they work?  Would we have a more productive society if we cared enough to help our fellow man pick up and start over?  Now don’t get me wrong here, as I am not suggesting that people committing crimes under an influence should not be incarcerated.  Incarcerate them, but rehabilitate them and offer them programs to address the root cause.  Most of our current Prisoners will be released one day and rehabilitation would be in the best interest of society.

Now we have to also consider premeditated crime.  Planned crime.  Is this a different kind of crime?  Yes.  Planned crime is and should be punished the way our correctional system is set up.  This is more indicative and deserving of our system of incarceration today.  Does this crime have a root cause like the “influenced” crime I speak of above?  Yes.  Can we treat or rehabilitate this individual?  Yes.  This however is a much further reaching debate, and has too many possibilities to discuss here.  This kind of crime however does stretch across all types of crime from murder to fraud.  Violent and non-violent crime is also found in this category.  Again, we don’t have the programs or the measures in place to even offer a chance at change and success.

We must also consider the innocents that are in prison.  I truly believe that most people don’t wish to consider that this is a problem or a reality.  It is.  Especially with the development of DNA testing we are seeing more and more innocently convicted ‘criminals’ released from prison.  Media coverage is somewhat subdued when this is happening.  Media is more interested in the sensationalism of the crime and punishment aspect and not the plight of one wrongly accused and incarcerated.

So the question was why are our loved ones in prison?  They are there for many reasons.  But remember that these Prisoners and their reasons for incarceration are as different in each individual case as are the differences that exist between those hundreds of people in any crowd, in any shopping mall in the country, at any given moment.

Here is another provoking thought.  Many people ‘on the outside’ of the prison walls have committed crimes.  Many of us have stolen as a child.  Many of us have been involved in illicit drug use and perhaps sales of the same.  Many of us have cheated or committed fraud against another.  Many of us have driven under the influence.  Many of us have done harm to another.  What is the difference between them and us – the Prisoners in our prisons?  We did not get caught.  The point that I am attempting to make here is that our prisons are full of people that got caught committing a crime.  You and I and our neighbors may be just as guilty but escaped or hidden our involvement and exposure of it.  Before you condemn a Prisoner, look into your own past or look at your neighbor – could you or could they be just as guilty?

We know from a management perspective in corporate America that you cannot ‘manage’ effectively every individual in the same way.  Each individual is unique and has unique ways of processing information as well as acting on that information.  In corporate America we accept this fact and we design our management, training, and discipline systems to address this fact.  Why have our prisons and correctional systems not kept pace with this reality?  Why do we think that one punishment fits all crimes?  Why do we think that all Prisoners are of the same motivation and affected by the same stimulus?  Our prison system is archaic and is failing us by not being forward thinking and progressive.  We are reactive rather than proactive.  This is wrong.

Our Prisoners are as different as each leaf on a tree.  No two are exactly the same.  We will continue to lock together violent and non-violent offenders.  If we are a product of our environment, (an old adage) then what will become of the non-violent offender when locked in close quarters with the habitually violent offender?  Guess.  One may argue that the non-violent offender can equally affect the disposition of the violent offender.  Yes this is true, but it will depend on who is the stronger and the more dominate of the two.  Who do you think will usually win?  Guess.  The definition on insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.  Is this not what our correctional system is doing?  They are doing the same thing that they have always done and they don’t understand why the result is not different.  Makes you think doesn’t it?

Those of you who have children (especially if you have more than one) know that one strategy of encouragement, reward, and/or discipline does not work on each child equally.  This is the same reasoning adopted by corporate America to recognize differences of individuals in the development of management strategy.  Why then would this strategy of one crime, one punishment work on our Prisoners?

This one crime one punishment strategy leads us to what prison life is like.  Well, truthfully I have not spent a day in prison – outside of a prison visiting room – but I will offer my perspective. 

Prison is cold.  Prison is sterile of any color outside of the depressing.  Prison is emotionless.  Prison is lonely.  Prison is unforgiving.  Prison is frightening.  Prison is angry.  Prison is loveless.  Prison is violent.  Prison is dominance over the weak.  Prison is looking over your shoulder.  Prison is 20 plus hours a day spent in a 6X8-foot room.  Prison is no wall around your toilet.  Prison is void of any privacy.  Prison is sharing that 6X8-foot cell with someone that you don’t like and never will.  Prison is being separated from the love of your family.  Prison is expensive collect phone calls that you family pay for.  Prison is a phone call to family that lasts five minutes every ninety days.  Prison is a family visit that only lasts 20 minutes and is behind glass.  Prison is leaving your significant other and kids behind.  Prison is hoping with all you heart that you will receive mail today.  Prison is tasteless food with insufficient time to eat it.  Prison is never knowing if you are going to be violated - or by who.  Prison is worrying that your significant other may find another while you are incarcerated.  Prison is worrying that your children may forget or disown you.  Prison is watching relationships that you once had fade.  Prison is frustration with no outlet.  Prison is crying yourself to sleep without sound so that no one knows you are crying.  Prison is beating the system to survive.  Prison is becoming the person and doing the things that you never thought yourself capable of being or doing.  Prison is remorse.  Prison is regret.  Prison is shutting down your brain to the reality of existence and dreaming of a better place.  Prison is seeing things that you never wanted to see.  Prison is abuse.  Prison is disease.  Prison is rape.  Prison is Gang related activity.  Prison is emotional breakdown.  Prison is stripping the individual of any feeling of worth. Prison is about authority exercised by the system over the Prisoner.  Prison is about rules and regulations that change daily and without warning or explanation.  Prison is about dominating our fallen angels to a point of submission.  Prison is a sub culture and way of life that is sometimes worse than the original crime.  Prison is a world of its own with tolerances exercised on both sides of the system – the Authority and the Prisoner.  Prison is about contraband, supply and demand, goods and services that are prohibited, drugs, alcohol, violence, sex and rape.  In a free society such as ours, our prisons are an atrocity and an insult to anyone with intelligence if you think that this system addresses a need or approaches a solution to reduce recidivism.

Prison is not all bad, nor am I advocating prison reform.  Prison is what prison is, but we must recognize first and foremost that these Prisoners are people.  They are human beings.  Punishment is a necessary part of our freedom, our government and society, but is punishment best served by our current system?  I am not going to answer that question myself.  I will leave that to you – the reader – to decide.  It is not until you know and love a Prisoner that you will have an appreciation for the life of a Prisoner.  Again, if they did the crime, then even I believe that they should do the time.  How the time is done and how the system is operated is however of fundamental concern.  I will never advocate “Country Club” systems and in some circumstances our Prisoners have too many privileges.  The problem is that the privileges that they have are not the right ones.  The privileges that they need and can make a difference are seldom given.  What do they need?  I am an advocate of emotional health.  Prisoners need to build and maintain emotional health.  We stunt this part of the Prisoner when we incarcerate them.  Prisoners need to maintain healthy contact with their loved ones.  Prisoners need to count on that contact, as it is the only emotional contact they will experience while incarcerated.   Remember that one day these Prisoners are going to be released and if you have deprived these individuals with rational and emotional contact how will they cope when they come out?  What kind of stress does this present to loved ones and society?  Strong emotional health is one of the most fundamental needs of a human being next to food and water.  Emotional health keeps us balanced and functioning in a reasonable way.  Lock someone up and starve him or her of a basic instinctual need and what happens?  Human beings are social animals and we need contact.  We need love.  We need emotional ties and feelings.  If Prisoners need any one privilege it is to have greater access to their loved ones whether through letters, phone or personal visits.  Record the calls, videotape the visit, even post one Guard on every Prisoner in the visiting room – just allow greater contact to build and maintain these critical relationships with loved ones.  Next in line and need are programs of education, skill training, and life counseling.  Our Prisoners need to be challenged intellectually and physically while serving time.  These challenges will develop skills that if present in the first place, may have kept them out of prison.  Many programs are needed, far too many to list here.  Prisons today are an industry and they manufacture their own raw ingredients by stunting the current Prisoner’s future success.  By doing this the Prison industry is guaranteed a recurring recidivism rate to feed their industry, keep jobs in place and strengthen economies where the prisons are located.  Keep them down and keep them coming back!  Keep our Wardens, our Correctional Officers, our prison administrative people and all the related industry jobs gainfully employed.  If the number of jobs that are currently involved with the prison system were in danger because we instituted programs and rehabilitation to Prisoners that would actually keep them out of prison – what would we do?  Where would all these people work?  Gosh, I don’t want to ask that question because one person’s employment in my mind does not warrant the gross treatment of our Prisoners and a system that is designed to breed and feed itself a revolving product.  Crime as we know it today could stop and it would be decades before the prisons that we have today would be negatively affected because we already bring back most of those that are ever released!

Loving a Prisoner presents challenges.  The word challenge does not really cover the degree to which you are tested when you love a Prisoner.  When you love a Prisoner you too are in prison.  You as family member, friend or significant other will ‘do the time’ with the Prisoner.  Whether this is someone that you knew prior to incarceration – in the case of a family member or spouse – or someone that you met after incarceration - as a pen pal or through visitation groups or ministries - you will have challenges in your life. 

The man or woman that you love and care for created victims through their crime, but in a similar sense you as the Prisoner’s loved one left behind become a victim.  I know that this will enrage many people that read this statement.  Think of it this way.  You are the mother or the father and you love your son.  You have a happy and healthy family life.  Your family has never been in trouble with the law.  Your son makes a critical mistake in judgement and -violent or non-violent - commits a crime.  You did not see this coming.  It blindsided you.  Do you stop loving your son when he is tried, convicted, and sent to prison?  No.  Same situation goes for a significant other or a friend.  Sometimes we just don’t see it coming and it just happens.  Thankfully the innocently convicted have been able to retain the love and support of their friends and family to fight for their rights – you see if someone is thrown in prison it does not mean that we forget them.  Every Prisoner is more than just their crime.  Every Prisoner potentially has someone that is broken hearted and missing him or her no matter how heinous their crime.  I know this is a large pill for some to swallow but it is true.  Even the worst of the criminally insane may have someone that cares for them.  Victims have rights and so do the families and loved ones of the convicted.  

Loved ones of Prisoners fall into depressions.  They lose jobs and they lose property when the loss of income is realized.  They lose friends and often times the support of other family members that don’t understand their love and commitment to a Prisoner.  Loved ones of Prisoners are shunned by society.  Kids of Prisoners have problems in school.  Men and women alike who’s significant others are incarcerated hold the home front and pray for their safety and security.  Loved ones of Prisoners lead a secret life for fear of exposure and unnecessary grief from society.  If your loved one committed a crime then how can you be trusted?  Many significant others of Prisoners have lost jobs just because they are associated with someone that has been involved in criminal activity.  Association does not mean participation, acceptance or even knowledge of criminal behavior prior to the crime being committed. 

Loving a Prisoner is a challenge daily.  Loving a Prisoner is a frustrating road of worry, doubt, depression, fear, anxiety, and abuse by a system that is not set up to punish us -  but it does just the same. Loving a Prisoner is waiting for a letter or a phone call that sometimes does not come. Loving a Prisoner is calling the prison when that letter or phone call does not come, and being treated like pond scum when all you want to know is that they are alive and well.  Loving a Prisoner is visiting either behind glass or with contact, but supervised, video taped and regulated down to the length of the shorts that you wear in the summer.  Loving a Prisoner is about unconditional love, support and respect for a human being regardless of their crime - for a Prisoner is more than just their crime.  Loving a Prisoner is crossing state borders and driving hundreds of miles for a 2-hour visit.  Loving a Prisoner is supporting them through their hell and knowing that a simple hug would help but is impossible to give.  Loving a Prisoner is watching them grieve when a parent or loved one passes and they say goodbye in solitude behind bars.  Loving a Prisoner is sending them a videotape of the funeral so that they can have closure. 

Loving a Prisoner is the best experience of my life!  Loving a Prisoner is coming to know them through the written word and developing a mental and emotional intimacy that most people never share with someone that they love.  Loving a Prisoner has taught me tolerance, patience, respect, forgiveness, and about sincerity, truth, unconditional love and most of all about the human condition.  Now, loving a Prisoner is the most rewarding experience of my life.  I have been in love before, but I have never achieved such an astounding level of love and commitment with anyone before in my life.  Loving a Prisoner is all about communication and the sharing of thoughts, hopes and dreams because other than the emotion of love, communication is all that you have.  Loving a Prisoner keeps you isolated from mainstream society because they don’t understand.  A person comes to terms with this isolation and becomes somewhat self sufficient in order to deal with this life and choice of love.  Loving a Prisoner opens your eyes to prison life and the inadequacy of the system based on what it is there to accomplish.  This too you learn to accept as time goes on.  Loving a Prisoner alienates you from society in general because they just don’t get it.

Friends and family are one of the biggest challenges when loving a Prisoner.  I have told some people the full scenario, and others just know that my significant other is currently living in a different state.  I hide from the truth with most people because I understand that other than with the people that I trust the most, I will become the talk at the water cooler, at parties, and anywhere where I am not.  You will become an item of interest and speculation.  You will be regarded as weird or different.  People will ask you why you are doing this?  You become the ‘joke’ and realize this when the conversation stops when you walk in the room.  I have lived my life as a minority to society and have suffered ridicule because of my minority status.  I have come to terms with the fact that if people don’t understand, agree or approve then they make fun and ostracize in defense of ‘their way’.  I am accustomed to this kind of treatment so it has absolutely no affect on me.  For some it does, it has tremendous affect.  This kind of gossip and whispering behind the back can devastate peoples self worth and feeling of community and/or being accepted.  This treatment is unfair and unnecessary and these people should look into their own lives before they treat others with a lack of dignity and respect.  I realize that some people don’t intend any harm and that this situation is novel and a good opening line at a party or over coffee, but it hurts to be the subject of the latest gossip – even when harm is not intended.  Loving a Prisoner is not a crime.  Loving a Prisoner is human – nothing more and nothing less.  It is Ok to love a Prisoner.

In the beginning I was concerned with what peoples perceptions were regarding my love for a Prisoner and as time goes by it does not matter much anymore.  I think that the novelty of the situation has worn off for me too!  I think that what I said above about being a ‘minority’ who has always been to a certain extent chastised by society has helped me cope with this less known, less accepted love story.  I think that this is a main reason why I am at a point of not caring what society in general thinks or how they perceive the situation.  I do however not want to walk away and hide, nor do I want to fight society with my choice.  So how in fact do we break free from the common perceptions of what a Prisoner is?  I don’t think that loving a Prisoner would matter if we could educate society to the fact that the definition of a Prisoner is not common from one Prisoner to another as well as the fact that no one Prisoner is solely defined by their crime.  Now how do we do this?  That is a question that will be difficult to answer and even more difficult to put an action plan into place.  Society and people in general have preconceived ideas and opinions based on limited knowledge and fact.  People are ignorant to the depth and scope and the differences that exist between Prisoners.  I will not name any one person that is currently incarcerated but we are all aware that there are men and women that are currently locked up that are beyond rehabilitation and troubled psychologically beyond repair.  Some of these people have committed crimes so heinous and we know that if they were let back into society would commit the same or equally heinous act again.  The fact that an individual can commit a crime so terrible and could commit the same act again means to me that their incarceration (whatever the sentence) is a fitting punishment.  This however does not eliminate the fact that this individual may be loved or may be capable of giving love.  This individual is still human, first and foremost.  The general population must come to terms with the fact that there are Prisoners in our system that have committed crimes against others that are not heinous, and these individuals are capable of seeing their mistake, feeling remorse for their act (violent or non-violent) and can be rehabilitated into active society as contributing members. 

Prisoner, Inmate, Convict…  These are all words that are used as labels to identify an individual that is incarcerated.  The word “Prisoner” is just that – a label.  Prisoners are people who have committed crimes.  One word however cannot describe the individual crime, the motivation to commit that crime, the severity of the crime, whether the crime was violent, who that person was or could be, or whether that “Prisoner” will likely commit a crime again in the future.  To make my point think of the word “tree”.  When each and every person thinks of the word tree you will have a different image in your mind than someone else.  Some of you will think of pine trees or evergreens, some will think of birch trees, some will think of oak or maple trees, and some of you will think of palm trees.  There are thousands of types of trees in the world and every person that thinks of the word tree will probably have a different tree in mind.  What is my point?  We know that the word tree is just a label for many different species of trees and we generally accept it.  We know that the difference is there because we all know that a palm tree will not grow in Alaska!  We know that the word is a label and that all the ‘trees’ in the world are not the same.  Some have different needs from others.  They are all individually different.  Why do we as a society not know this about Prisoners?  Why do we choose to accept that each and every one of them is the same as the next?  We must get past this.

Now, I am not going to validate the statistic that I am about to quote because although I read it somewhere I don’t remember where so please take it as you will.  Basically, it was stated that if the current rate of incarceration that is experienced in the United States continues on its upward rate that by 2050 ( or there about ) 50% of the American population will be in prison!  Do we have to wait for this to happen – where one in ever two Americans is in prison – before we understand that all Prisoners are not alike?  I hope not.  I would liken this dilemma with many other experiences in life.  Until you have experienced a situation first hand (or done considerable research on the subject) you will have opinions that are perhaps not correct and perhaps down right wrong.  Sometimes it takes first hand experience to come to terms and really understand what the truth of the situation is.  I do believe that even if our incarcerated numbers continue to increase there will be the segments of society that will always look upon a Prisoner as a Prisoner – there will never be a consideration that one could be different from another.

Now, how did I come to this place in my life where I love a Prisoner?  Does that really matter?  For some I have learned it does.  People want to know the how and why and what of the situation and I suppose this is an attempt to understand, or because they have never known this situation in their life.  They are curious.  Well, the short version of the story is that I was looking for a pen pal and found an Internet site that listed prison pen pals.  This site intrigued me and I read ads with interest and decided to write two Prisoners.  Both wrote back and one soon stopped writing for reasons unknown.  The other continued to write and all I can say is that “love happened” somewhere about the six month mark while exchanging letters.  Was I looking for love – gosh no.  Did I even consider it an option when I started writing?  Gosh, no.  Am I incapable of love in a so-called socially acceptable normal situation?  Gosh, no.  I have had healthy relationships with people that are not incarcerated and I am a mentally healthy individual that is professional and living a happy life with a nice lifestyle overall.  I am not weird, I am not strange, and I don’t run home and hide in my home and lock myself away from society.  I am the ‘normal’ next door neighbor that you would never suspect would fall in love with a Prisoner – or so you thought!  I am the friend that you have to dinner on a regular basis and go camping with, or travel with.  I am the colleague at work that you have lunch with.  I am they person that you trust to watch your home and pets when you are away.  You leave your kids with me when you go out.  I am just that person that you would never suspect as loving a Prisoner.

You see, we have come full loop now – the loop that I go through with my friends when they find out about my secret love.  You see my friends see me as normal, and then I expose this secret love and after their initial shock and novelty, I explain all of the above and they still ask  – why?  Why would you love a Prisoner?   There is that general word again – Prisoner.  Some people will never get it!  


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