Imagine this: you’re a young, beautiful woman in her 30’s with dreams of a husband and kids. You’ve met the perfect man. He loves you, you love him. You talk of a future together. Life is good. Oh, but wait, you live in New York and he’s in Massachusetts, about four hours away. Well, no biggie. Lots of people have successfully dealt with long-distance relationships, right? That shouldn’t deter you. Except there’s one additional detail. Your perfect man happens to be in prison. For murder.
Such is reality for Marie* as she talks to me about life in love with a prisoner. Marie’s a smart, attractive girl, more than capable of getting herself a boyfriend who resides outside of prison walls. But none of that matters, because her heart belongs to Erik.*
I figured, to have that kind of connection, they must have met before Erik was sent to the big house, right? Not so. Turns out, the inspiration behind their meeting was the show Lockup. Marie says the particular episode that changed her life featured a 17-year-old prisoner who’d gotten a letter from the mother of his child. Although the letter spewed nothing but hatred, the young prisoner nonetheless admitted that at least he knew, for a moment, someone had been thinking of him and he wasn’t entirely forgotten just because he was in prison. Marie knew in that moment she wanted a prison pen pal.
She searched all night long, not sleeping, viewing hundreds of profiles, not even knowing whether she wanted a male or female. She knew only that she was driven to find someone – anyone – with whom she might establish a connection. And then she came across the profile for Erik. Her interest meter shot to the moon. Was it his looks? Sure, that was a factor. Marie’s got a soft spot for tattoos, animals, and gorgeous men. Erik had that in spades. His profile photo showed him holding a puppy. Awwww. His arms are loaded with gorgeous tats. And he’s, as she says, HOT! How could she resist? So she wrote him a letter. He wrote back. Two months later they spoke on the phone; four months after that they met in person. In prison.
But what about that whole murder thing? Marie researched his case and has spoken about it with Erik. While the offense is a violent one, she could accept the circumstances. It wasn’t pre-meditated but happened in a fight when he was trying to stick up for a friend. His conviction allows him eligibility for parole, which comes up five years from now – in 2020. Marie is willing to wait.
Although she didn’t explicity say so, I get the sense that she feels she has no choice. She and Erik are in love. She has no interest in other men. And she did say this: “To me, I have spent an inordinate amount of time with men that have proven to be total a**holes and brought very little joy to my life. Erik, even from prison, has filled my life with more joy, love, laughter, honesty, and support than all of my past boyfriends combined.” Given that, what’s a girl to do?
Some may say Marie’s crazy. That she’s throwing away her life. After all, there are big questions that won’t be answered until Erik is released. IF he’s released. And that question may be the biggest one of all. The possibility that he won’t make parole in five years is something Marie can’t bring herself to consider. “I can’t talk about it,” she says. “The thought is just too painful and is actually making me tear up as I answer the question.”
There are other considerations, too. Phone calls are limited. Email’s forbidden. Right now the only time Marie can see Erik in person is on Sundays, and that itself is a huge commitment. She leaves her home around 4:00 in the morning to make the four hour drive to the prison. Once she arrives she sits in her car in the parking lot. She waits. And waits. Other cars arrive, and although the visitors coming to see inmates aren’t even allowed inside until 11:00, there’s an honor system in which it’s acknowledged who’s arrived first, second, and so on. Marie is generally at the front of the line so when visitation hours finally begin at 1:00, she knows she’ll get in. This is a first come, first served system.
She stays with Erik until 4:00. They can sit together, and touch each other, but there are no conjugal visits. No siree. The clothes stay on and privacy is non-existent. Marie has no way of knowing if she and Erik will be physically compatible, and won’t know until he’s out. At 4:00 she makes the drive back home. Sometimes in the summer, when freeways are more crowded, it can take her up to six hours. The following weekend, repeat.
Is she wasting her life? Not according to her. Although unconventional, love is still the heartbeat keeping the relationship alive. It may not be a situation for everyone, but as Marie candidly puts it, “at the end of the day, I don’t give a f**k what anyone thinks.”