Georgia and Don
I was asked once “why an other-wise intelligent” woman would marry a man in prison. For me the answer was easy, I loved him and still do. Women marry men in prison for all kinds of reasons but those of us that stay together, we married for love. An inmate’s spouse is not really that different for any other spouse. Our marriages have the same problems any other marriage has; kids, money, just the day to day stresses. Surprised? You should not be, we are just couples like any of you are. Then again we have our unique problems. That is part of what I want to share with you here.
Being married to an inmate has its own set of unique problems. First and most obviously, is the fact they are incarcerated. Most people realize that means that we are not allowed to live together as man and wife, but there is so much more involved than that. You are married but alone and in many ways just as imprisoned as he is without having commented any crime except loving an inmate.
Many people view the spouses as criminals too and treat us as such. That is why I first became involved with the “Prison Wives” project. I want people, you, to understand what it means to be a prison wife and who we are. I can not and will not speak for all wives I can only present my own situation and let you judge.
Me, personally I am college educated (two degrees) , professionally I was a computer consultant for an international corporation that everyone knows (since retired from), was widowed after a 25 years marriage to wonderful man that never even had a traffic ticket, raised two children and was like any other middle aged woman that lives in your neighborhood. I met and fell in love with Don, when he was 3 years into a 10 sentence for armed robbery that he did not commit. If you are like I was, your first thought is “yeah right, they all say that”. I’m not writing this to plead that case either, he has served the time and guilty or not doesn’t matter here.
After our marriage I found that life had changed in many ways. Did I know what to expect? I knew or thought I did, but I was wrong. My life revolved around phone calls, mail and visits. The costs of being married to an inmate are huge both in monetary costs but also emotional costs. Unlike the other wives on this site, I did not have the costs of lawyers, appeals or the other legal problems they have, we knew when he would be released. My costs included huge phone bills, travel expenses for visits and sending him money. I could go into detail of these costs but it was just money. The real cost of being an inmate’s wife isn’t about money, it is so much more. Family and friends disapproval, self-esteem, loneliness, fear, confusion are only a few of the issues faced. I could not tell the people I worked with the truth about my husband because I could and would have lost my job so I was found myself having to lie about the whereabouts of my husband, my activities on the week-ends, and other issues related to my marriage. I was NEVER and am not ashamed of my husband but for my safety I could not always be honest. Something I hated.
I want to share an example of what I experienced. For those of you married, think about how you would feel if after you say “I Do” he turns and walks away and you go home alone. That was my wedding, no family, no friends, no flowers, no music, we were allowed a “kiss the bride” kiss but it had to be less than 30 seconds and a hug, again less than 30 seconds, the longest kiss we had for the next six years. Our physical contact was holding hands and for our “wedding” pictures he was allowed to put his arm around me. He and 12 other men went through one door, back in the prison and I and the other 12 brides went out another, leading outside. That day was one of the hardest and loneliest I’ve ever experienced. And yes there were 13 weddings performed that day, the prison he was in at the time only allowed marriages two times a year.
My husband is a responsible man and he took his responsibilities as a husband seriously. He understood that many of the things a husband is expected to do he could not given the situation but he did advise me, tried to protect me even from myself sometimes, loved me, worried about me. We spoke daily, more than once usually, we discussed money, kids, bills, weather, our dogs, even things I guarantee that most “free” couples never discuss.
Our relationship was and is a very close one.
I have called Don a “Concrete Marshmallow” most of our relationship, he is hard on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. He presents a hard outer shell but I have seen him cry because I was sick and hurting during a visit. He, in many ways, is more sensitive than I am. He needed reassurance as much, if not more than I did. He was always vulnerable but also defensive. Getting through that hard outer shell was difficult because trust does not come easy for him, and there have been times that he has rebuilt that shell. He has been apologetic for not being able to show emotions more and yet I have never known a man as sweet or as caring as him. He has proved to be a loving, caring, honest, and gentle man. He knows me better than I know myself sometimes.
Have I ever been sorry that I married this man, NO, but I was not prepared for some of the demands that being married to him entailed. The night before our marriage I told him that if he wasn’t sure he would spend the rest of his life with me then not to come out. It should have been him saying that to me, of the 13 couples married that day as far as I have been told only one other couple is still married.
Prison marriages, for the most part, do not last much past two years. Then these men are abandoned and forgotten, not just by the women that profess to love them but also in many cases by family and friends. Part of my message here is intended for those that do not understand how or why we marry an inmate. However, I also want to convey a message to those that have or are beginning a relationship with an inmate. It is the hardest thing you will ever do, it takes courage, work, strength and more. Understand what you are doing before you commit to the relationship. Most of all once you have committed, STAY! Remember he only has you and as “tough” as he might seem that is a shell build to protect himself. He needs you in ways that are impossible for us on the outside to understand and in many ways he is more fragile. If you feel that you can no longer maintain this life then be honest and upfront with him, don’t lie to him or leave him hanging.
I have no soapbox that I want to stand on, I have my issues with our Justice System, and anyone involved with the court systems knows them too well. Mostly I just want you to understand that guilty or innocent, our husbands are worthy of being loved as we are also. Daily we deal with issues that few ever consider but it just strengthens the bonds that bind us. Each of us as spouses’ of an inmate have had to face issues we never expected, deal with injustices both for ourselves and on behalf of our spouse. We laugh with our spouses’ and cry alone in our pillows; we try to show the world a face of courage, strength, and dedication that sometimes we don’t feel. We are married and yet alone, our commitment and devotion are at times scorned, others laughed at, or pitied but we are a unique group that knows what it means to truly be loved and to love.
The Sweat That I Cry
By Don Benson
I look at your picture and wipe a tear from my eye.
excuse me, I mean sweat, a convict can’t cry.
We’re use to the dull, the dingy, the gray,
we’re use the bars which keep us away
from the people we love, the things that we need.
Three things we’ve learned well, Hate, Anger and Greed.
our nights are now days, our days are now nights,
Sleeping with one eye open, prepared for a fight.
you never know who might stab you in the back.
You see in here color doesn’t matter, he could be white or black.
Since Society has tagged me a convict,
therefore I cannot cry, so please excuse me
While I wipe this sweat from my eyes.
Taken at the Big Texan on the way home, the morning after I picked him up from the bus.
Next are the Children born Aug 16, 2009, yes they are in the show, too.
Alice-a Momma's Girl
Then there is Bear, he is just so laid back.
This is the Baby-Bitsy
Little Man and Little Bee playing
Frankie the Granny of our Children-she is 15.
Next is Joey, she is Momma to Bear, Seth and Alice, she is 7.
Next is the Lover, Little Man he will a year old in April
Seth-the middle child and a ADD but he is a Daddy's boy
And the newest member of the Family Little Bee