Marrying the love of your life is everyone’s dream. But what if the love of your life is set to spend the next few years (or their entire lifetime) behind the cold bars of jail? Will you still marry them?
This was the dilemma faced by the brave souls who have shown the world that love knows no bounds. They married inmates and proved that not a thousand mile distance, handcuffs, nor society’s disapproval can hinder love.
Incarceration in the US
Prison is often described as a cold and depressing place. A seemingly apt punishment for people who have broken our laws. A place where we banish people we don’t want to live among us. Yet, not all prisoners are guilty of the crimes they are imprisoned for.
In fact, the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. It houses only 4.4% of the world’s population yet it’s prisoners account for around 22% of the world’s total number of inmates. As of May 2018, the country has 655 prisoners for every 100,000 residents. Canada, it’s neighbor, has more than five times lower incarceration rate.
Prison Pen Pal System
With these statistics, several initiatives have been made to make prison life tolerable.
One of them are the various prison dating websites that have cropped up over the years. Sites like Meet-an-Inmate, Prison Dating, Write a Prisoner and Love a Prisoner allows inmates to post their information online. This can then be browsed by people in the outside world. When they find a profile they like, they can write to them in prison.
US prisoners are not allowed to have any sort of contact from the outside world save from letters and phone calls. So outsiders who want to befriend an inmate often starts with sending them a letter. These letters are thoroughly inspected before inmates can receive them.
The demand for inmate mailing services in US prisons continue to rise as more inmates have found love through the pen pal system.
In fact, JailAid, was founded to address this need. It helps prisoners and their loved ones look for cheaper ways to send letters to or call from prison. It also has an extensive database of state and county jails’ inmate search systems and a prison aid group database.
Inmate Love Stories
Since prison dating websites became a thing, several inmates have found pen pals. Some stayed as just friends while others bloomed into romantic relationships. Here are four pairs of couples who defied status quo and married behind bars:
Steven and Suzie Jennings
Steven was handed a 43-year sentence in 1989 for first degree assault. He met Suzie on a prison pen pal website in 2013. They started out sending letters to each other as friends. Then the letters took on a romantic tone. After a year of exchanging love letters, the couple decided to tie the knot.
Theirs hasn’t been a smooth journey. He was arrested as a young lad while she was brought up in a wholesome Mormon family. She says that her traditional upbringing gave her the fortitude to adjust to a very non-traditional marriage.
Tim Wright and Danielle Laskie
Like most couples in this post, Tim and Danielle met through a prison pen pal website. He was an ex-marine who got arrested for murder while she’s a health care worker in Australia. He proposed to her in a letter before they even met in person. They exchanged vows in a quick ceremony inside Virginia’s Buckingham Correctional Center.
It all started when Danielle saw a documentary about American Prisons. She said that the inmates’ expression of loneliness and abandonment touched something within her. This prompted her to search the internet for ways to communicate with an inmate. That’s where she saw Wright’s profile. The rest, as they say, is history.
Justin Erskine and Emma Pickett
Their love for poetry, books and music brought them together. Justin is serving a life sentence in a Delaware prison with no chance of parole. Emma, a care home worker in the UK, was completely aware that she might never be able to bond with him outside those prison walls.
Still, she chose to pursue the relationship. After a year of letter exchanges, she flew to the US and met him for the first time. Emma, who was once married with 3 kids, also decided to move her children to the States so they can be near him.
Marrying convicted felons is not what parents usually dream for their children. True enough, many of the couples on the list above have faced censorship. First, from their family then their relatives and friends.
“A lot of people don’t understand about the situation and you couldn’t make them understand”, says Laskie. She also tells new acquaintances that her husband is “overseas”. They seem to accept it better than telling them about him being in prison.
Another struggle that these couples have to contend with is the fact that they may never be able to have any real intimacy. Many states and county jails still forbid extended visits.
This means that they can only talk to each other across the table within earshot of jail officers. Their phone calls are always monitored and the letters are thoroughly screened. There can never be a private time. Even the ceremonies are hurried.
Through it all, they persevered. They don’t all claim that their other half is innocent. Rather, they accepted their past and chose to see them for the people they have become. It’s definitely not an easy path to take but the road to happiness never is.