Whenever you speak for or against anything, you advocate.
Advocating in our world is two fold.
For your partner:
When your loved one is in prison, you must advocate for them. Be their voice. Be present in the process. How? Educate yourself about the legal process and the facility. Know the names of unit managers, counselors and decision makers. Knowledge is the foundation you stand on when dealing with prison officials and working towards and end goal.
It’s your voice that keeps your loved one relevant. You are their good will ambassador—the keeper of the name. It’s through you that people will get to know your loved one. If people like you, they are generally willing to extend that courtesy to your loved one, regardless of their location. But, the biggest way you advocate is to society.
For the world:
Whether you like it or not, because you are in this position, you are now an educator to those around you. Use your life and this experience to teach others about this world and hopefully change one mind.
Find your voice and advocate.
How do you advocate for your partner?
What are some ways you can advocate more?
PWGP launches a new blog weekly blog series: PWGP’s of Living with a Loved One Locked Up. Over the years, I’ve listened to many of you wonder how to get through a life and relationship separated by distance and time. This series is an attempt to answer those questions.
This series contains the abc’s, eh PWGP’s of being in a relationship with someone incarcerated. From A to Z, I’ll take you through the thoughts, emotions, principles and inevitables of this life.
As always, PWGP resources are designed to be interactive. I encourage discussion about each principle posted. I ask you to share how you have used a particular principle in your life. I’ll challenge you to create action items. I want to inspire you to always be proactive during this time and to take whatever steps necessary to have the best relationship possible.
Ok, so meet me back here in four days on Monday, January 6 and let’s begin the PWGP’s of Living with Your Loved One Locked Up. [rft]
I spend a lot of time counseling women who have committed their lives to standing by you. These women are the very embodiment of unconditional love. I often see many women hurt, mistreated and devastated by partners whose idea of love differs from theirs. You don’t have a choice to do this time, but we do.
Here are a few things you should know:
You should know that we really love you. We love you with two years. We love you with life sentences. Some of us even love you with death. You should know that if a woman is willing to love you at all during a prison sentence, she is someone worth respecting and hanging on to.
You should know it’s not game to ‘play the field’ behind bars. In fact, it’s lame and tacky. Take a look around. You ain’t ballin’. If you are using someone for comfort and commissary under the guise of love and romance, you should know it’s not kind. It takes more strength of character to tell the truth about your intentions. You may be surprised to learn that some are still willing to support you.
Many of us give up everything to take care of you. We lose jobs, friends, homes, sanity and in extreme cases, children. You should know it’s not right to ask and/or guilt your woman into believing or feeling that she must give up everything because you sit in prison. Losing one’s livelihood is too high a price to pay for love because at the end of the day, you have accommodations.
You should know life goes on. To demand that she not go out and enjoy the world she is a part of is selfish. There are two lives dealing with this situation. Don’t make her a pseudo prisoner by sentencing her to house arrest. You should know it doesn’t have to be hard time for both for you.
Bottom line, don’t be a cliché. Don’t spend your time there being about nothing. Prove society wrong (that prisoners are the lowest form of life) but above all, respect the work and sacrifice we put in to not only keep you relevant to the world, but to rehabilitate your image. This is a tough crowd.
You should know that ain’t nobody got time for foolishness.
p.s. You should know that if you love and respect your partner with everything you have, this note is not for you. Refer back to first line of paragraph two.
What would you say in your open letter?
What else do the incarcerated need to know?
When people find out how long I have been married to someone incarcerated, one of the quickest questions I receive is “What about sex?” I respond “What about it?” It is completely inappropriate to inquire about another person’s sex life, which is why I ask the person why and how this is their business. However, the question of sex is a revealing look at the mentality of people when it comes to prison, relationships, sex and (the piece they don’t consider)…intimacy, as it often leads my inquisitor to respond with “I don’t see how you do it.” And, this is where I educate them.
We live in such a sexualized world. Sex permeates every aspect of our lives, from direct references to the slightest innuendo. Some say sex is the most important part of a relationship. If that were true, relationships separated by distance and time would be flaccid, but that is not the case. When you are in a relationship removed from sex, thoughts and urges wane.
Intimacy is not a function of the anatomy. It is a function of the heart and at the center of that heart is communication. Communication is the tool by which intimacy enters. In this type of relationship, you can’t use sex to fix an argument or pass the time, you have to communicate. Intimacy is the ability to connect on a level so deep it transcends physicality and understanding. Intimacy is the by-product of communicating with love.
I’m able to be with my husband because we have true intimacy. I hear his heartbeat from the inside. I read the sound of his voice. I know the wounds and hurts before the words are spoken. I see the weariness that hides behind his eyes. I possess powers no other woman has because he only communicates with me, as in he allows me to see him stripped-down naked without masks, presumptions, or ego. Sex is fleeting, a moment in time, or a washed-off action in jest. Intimacy is a fingerprint on the soul. His hand print is on my heart. This is how I do it. Education complete.[rft]
Do you have true intimacy with your partner?
What’s the difference between sex and intimacy for you?
Ever chant a slogan over and over or cheer a team to victory? Remember the feeling?
The words become a part of you. You feel empowered. Excited. Intoxicating. Sane.
What do you chant about your relationship? How do you keep going?
The prison system has a way of permeating all aspects of your life. Sayings, slogans, and affirmations are a way to escape the demands of a prison-filled world.
“We are going to make it!”
“I’m okay, if you are okay.”
“You are my air.”
“Family first. Prison whenever.”
“He/She is worth it.”
“My bid is better when you are better.”
Each time you utter a special saying, you recommit, but don’t stop there. Invent a world with a population of two, where no one else speaks the language, where you are…free.
Having a phrase that expresses who you are as a couple opens the door to your safe haven. Physicality is limited but there are no boundaries to the mind.
Your job is to do whatever necessary to make this life easier, to fortify each other and to keep moving forward, even if it seems out of this world.
Mrs. GE-6309 Time: My secret world is ‘homecoming.’ Homecoming is more than an event. It is a place I go when I want to feel better, a place where I dream and am happy. [rft]
What mottos/mantras/slogans to you use to cheer on your relationship?
How do you escape?
I often hear prisoners’ wives comparing themselves to military spouses. Early on, I too offered this analogy to help explain away the blank stares. In the context of: “My husband is incarcerated, but it’s no different than his being in the military.” Sure, there are similar tenets; partners are away from each other for extended periods; families must figure out how to raise kids, maintain a home, and create intimacy despite distance. Both relationships face difficulty with reintegration. That’s where the similarities end. For obvious reasons, prisoners’ wives do not receive the same respect as military wives and with another public distinction: military wives stand by their partners, prisoner’s wives wait.
When our partners come home, flags do not wave, TV cameras do not appear, and friends may not even call to say “Welcome Home.” Our partners’ homecoming comes with far less fanfare with some standing in line ready to brand our family—dishonorable.
Mary Poppins said it best, “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Likening ourselves to a military partner tastes sweeter than admitting our actual situation. When we try to convince someone our relationship is [like] something else, it devalues the true definition of the relationship. Comparisons seek to offer explanations and justifications. The mere act of analyzation diminishes one side over the other.
The decision to remain in a relationship with someone incarcerated is far more than a function of the heart. We take in to account the offense and whether or not, it lines up with who we are spiritually and morally. We factor in the long-term effects of the tenure of the sentence. We ask ourselves if we have the mental fortitude to take on, not only the separation, but also the perceptions and criticisms we face. Once we conclude the relationship is worth the hardship, the relationship is valid—nothing else required. When we back peddle with the military comparison, we wear away at the legitimacy of our relationship, with each spoon full of sugar.
Respect comes when we stand our ground and exude pride by stepping in to our true skin. The validity of our lives is not in the likeness to another institution but in the unlikeness of it and in embracing the notion that our lives are different, not less—eliminating the need for sugar. [rft]
Do you use the military analogy?
Are you ready to stand in your truth?
We pay for this life with different types of currency: money, family, friends, time and freedom.
Can you afford it?
Is the price you pay greater than the return on your investment?
Many prisoners’ wives/partners say they’ll gladly pay any price because it’s worth it. But, are you writing blank checks? Giving more than what you have?
Do you withdraw on an account that is emotionally, spiritually, and physically bankrupt?
You can’t make payments from an account with insufficient funds[rft].
What do you have in your account?
How can you start saving now?
We all hear stories of how a relationship where one partner is incarcerated doesn’t work. I know many couples who successfully navigate this process. Relationships are as varied as the partners themselves and as in all types of relationships no right or wrong way exists. Couples who manage to make this look easy have a few things in common. These couples use a mix of the following things to keep their relationships fresh and manageable:
Good Attitude: You have heard the expression: Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. From having an open-spirit, to being strong-willed, to being more optimistic, your experience is directly related to your attitude. They don’t fret over things they can’t control.
Mode of communication: Communication is the backbone of any relationship. Letters, calls, email, visits, doesn’t matter as long as you communicate. Communication tricks distance. No matter how far apart you are, reading a letter or hearing a voice will instantly transport you to where they are. Always find a way. Remember, quality matters over quantity.
Support System: Family, friends, church members, support groups, anyone willing to accept you and offer you an ear is someone you want to have in your corner. You need an outlet to release the baggage you might not know you are carrying. Anyone in this life doesn’t get through it alone, isolation breeds misery. Happy couples know this.
Memento: A picture, piece of clothing, DNA, quite honestly something to obsess over. You want to create the illusion your partner is with you. The picture in your heart works, but over time things fade. Couples who make it work express their devotion in endless pictures, t-shirts, cards, etc.
YOU: “And the two shall become one”…this sounds great on greeting cards and as a notion to live by when having a relationship, but not so much in the case of losing oneself under all things prison related. None of this is possible without you. You are the one who answers the calls. You are the one making the trips, sending the packages, getting the money orders. You are the one paying the bills, raising kids, maintaining homes, going to school….AND taking care of your partner. You are the one making sure your partner maintains some level of comfort. Take care of you! Successful couples never forget comfort for both partners is essential.
What does your kit contain?
Keeping a relationship together under normal circumstances is hard work. Keeping a relationship together when your partner is incarcerated is harder. Most prison relationships fail. Partners who decide to honor their commitments do so with the best of intentions and do so knowing it will be an arduous task. The complexity of this type of relationship is not to be taken lightly, but with planning, conformity, and an acceptance of your new reality. Incarceration does not have to be a death sentence for your union.
Realize there is a stigma associated with your partner’s prison sentence; a stigma that might attach itself to you, if you let it. It is not your job to make others feel ‘ok’ with the choices you have made in your life. What others think of you, quite frankly, is not your business. Your business is to proudly live your life. Stepping into the role of a prisoner’s wife/partner will be an enormous adjustment. Do not make this adjustment more difficult by hanging your head in shame.
You will experience a sense of loss when your partner leaves the home; allow yourself the time needed to adjust to your new circumstance. Surrounding yourself with a strong support system e.g. friends, ministries, and support groups will go a long away to keep you sane. Do not be afraid to ask for help. There will be days when you feel like you can’t carry on, but a good support system will help love you pass the pain.
Incarceration is not an inexpensive endeavor and these expenses will affect your monthly budget. Bills such as postage costs, calls, visitation expenses, packages, books etc. will add up — quick. Figure out your normal monthly budget. Figure out prison expenses; distinguish your wants versus needs and plan, plan, plan. Being prepared will help minimize financial strains.
Staying connected as a family is essential and facilitates your partner’s reintegration in to the family unit. A man in prison is still a man. Keep him as the head of the family. Ask his opinion. Make decisions together, no matter how trivial. Send him pictures of your environment – a changed hairstyle, rearranged furniture, new dress etc. No event is too small. Allow him to participate in discipline of the kids; to participate in their development. Share progress reports and report cards. Schedule calls during homework time. Ongoing familial attachments will go a long way to diminish your partner’s sense of isolation.
One of the biggest challenges for a prisoner’s wife/partner is keeping love alive. Your relationship is under new management and will require you to think outside the system. Intimate and honest communication has to be the foundation of your relationship. Letters and calls are dates; prepare for them, savor them. Each word, each action is an offering of the heart. Being a prisoner’s wife/partner will teach you the art of courtship; reminiscent of the days of nostalgic romance where a simple glance or slight touch unlocks the fantasies of your mind. Love is mental. Create rituals only the two of you share. Love is a commitment. Commit to having a boundless love, in spite of the boundaries.
Every situation in your life — no matter how bleak — has a silver lining but you will need to mature in to this process to see it clearly. Focus on the reasons you stay. Above all else, when facing a high failure rate, strive to be a part of the minority and take pride in saying to the world – “Not us, not our relationship!” [rft]
What are your secrets to beating the failure rate?
“I don’t understand it.”
“How can you be with someone incarcerated?”
“It makes no sense.”
“These relationships don’t work.”
Well critics, thanks for your thoughts but I offer this: All relationships are different.
No one can ever appreciate the depths of a relationship between two people. Outsiders will not speak the language, cannot read the nuisances, nor understand its infrastructure.
People design relationships that work best for them. If their design doesn’t look “right” to you, it’s not supposed to.
What do you think?