Courtship can happen quickly in prison relationships. Some say it’s because there are no games or real life distractions. The communication is open and they grow very close, very quickly. The ladies describe feeling special and like they’re “seen” by the prisoner, welcoming the affection. Prison wives say the forbidden nature of the relationship is intriguing at first, but then when things got serious they got nervous. They all remember saying, “This can’t be happening. I can’t fall in love with an inmate.”
Dawn Franks Interview
This social justice advocate spent 21 years in a relationship with a man in prison who she knew from high school. Michael Steward was a college football superstar whose life was interrupted by an injury and then his involvement in a series of armed robberies. Because of a mandatory minimum sentencing law called 924c Michael received a 49 years sentence. Dawn has been advocating for changes to that law on behalf of Michael and his friend Larry Harris (serving 95 years). The First Step Act 2018 puts an end to stacking sentences but it hasn’t been made retroactive.
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Inmates don’t have access to the internet but some prisons have services that allow a typed email or text messages handled by a third party for a fee. Most communication starts through old-fashioned hand-written letters. All mail (incoming and outgoing) is opened and read by security. There are rules about mail; glittery cards or cards with attachments are not allowed. Only a few pictures that aren’t too revealing are allowed at a time.
Journey & Ben – Love Letters
Prison wives say letter-writing can be very romantic. A lot of thought is put behind words when communication isn’t instant and it can be easier to open up. They include poems and hand-drawn pictures. Many prison wives keep a box of these memories from over the years, re-reading them over and over again when they feel lonely.
“I didn't have anything to offer her except a lot of lonely nights.”
By Adolfo Davis as told to Elyse Blennerhassett
Published in collaboration with Vice
"...I have learned so much on this unexpected journey. This journey has been 25 years. Love has prevailed, love has lost. Faith has been high, faith has been little. Frustration has soared, frustration has subsided. Loneliness has adrifted and loneliness has hovered. But, time it has been consistently long. One thing I've maintained when in-love feelings have taken a sabbatical our friendship is the foundation why I've remained as an advocate against 924c for them. I couldn't live peaceably being aware of this injustice that has oppressed someone I know that they don't deserve to spend 49 or 95 years in prison for crimes that no one was killed or shot. For this reason I fight for them to regain their liberty that should have been given back to them many years ago. Rehabilitation has occurred but when can it be demonstrated? Age was a factor immaturity and drugs all played a factor when they were involved in the crimes they committed. It was a very short period in their lives. They were college students, athletes who never participated in any criminal activities that got caught up. This is why I may disappear from my social media platform to refuel...but the fight is still in me..."
After a few letters, couples will graduate to phone calls. This process can take a few weeks. The inmate requests to put the person on his telephone list and the prison calls her to confirm. The calls can be quite expensive, but what other option do they have?
The Prison Policy Initiative research and advocacy led the Federal Communications Commission to lower the cost of calls home from prisons and jails.
Written by Peter Wagner and Alexi Jones
There are a lot of prison wife memes about how important it is to not miss a phone call. There are also a lot of memes about the automated voice that comes on every few minutes to remind them the call is being recorded and monitored. For all these reasons it’s hard to speak privately.
Sonny Interview – Phone Problems
Inmates are only allowed access to the phones at certain times and often there’s a line up to use them. In Sonny’s prison there were 3 phones for 140 men and that caused a lot of tension.
Phone sex is common but not allowed. Couples find ways to navigate the rules. They have to. The telephone is their lifeline.