My Husband: Loving, Respectful -- and Imprisoned

Editor's Note: Since a woman in Tennessee staged a violent escape from prison for her husband, media have speculated about dysfunctional "prison love." This writer, who recently married a San Quentin inmate, has a very different story.

Last week, I got married. I married an amazing man who is educated, intelligent, beautiful, volunteers with kids, is the lead man at his job and is respected by his peers, co-workers and superiors. He is a dedicated Muslim committed to living the path of Islam. He respects my opinion, teaches me, learns from me and has a loving, dedicated family who supports us completely. He is also in prison.

National media have focused on prison relationships since an ex-prison nurse staged a violent escape for her incarcerated husband in Tennessee, killing a guard in the process. On the day of my wedding, in fact, ABC's "20/20" program was outside the gates of San Quentin State Prison trying to get interviews from women about "prison love." I avoided them. News reports question the relationship between inmate George Hyatte and his wife Jennifer. Was she manipulated by some mastermind criminal? Was she forced into marriage because her life was empty?

The media have tagged women married to prisoners as "self-deceptive," "bored with everyday life," having "long-term low self-esteem," "needing an exaggerated way to rebel," "vulnerable and exploited by sociopaths," and "relatively shy and introverted." None of these labels apply to my husband or myself.

A year ago I walked through San Quentin's prison gates to attend an inmate-run program called Real Choice, which focused on teaching young men about life choices and their consequences. I sat in the chapel and watched the inmates educate and interact with kids, some of whom I had worked with for the past six years in my role as an inner-city youth developer.

It was my first time in an adult prison, and it was nothing like I expected. We sat in classrooms surrounded by inmates, with no correctional officers to be found. The inmates spent their day schooling these kids, not scaring them. I watched them all, but one man in particular caught my attention. Yes, he was fine, but there are plenty of fine men not in prison, so that is not what got me. About mid-way through the program, this tall, beautiful man with a long goatee stood up and demanded our attention with his words. Our heads spun to see him as he read his poem.

At the end of the day I approached him, asking if he gave out copies of his poems. He responded by saying, "Here is my hook-up. If you want them, write me and I will send you copies." He handed me his CDC inmate number. That was it -- I went home.

After our initial contact through mail our relationship developed into friendship. And as we learned about each other over the months, love. We talked about who we were as people, what we believe in, wrote poetry, sent pictures, talked about our families, normal stuff. Our relationship is unique though. How many people these days can say they had a strictly intellectual relationship prior to being married? Or kissed for the first time the day they got engaged? All of my married friends tell me communication is the key to a successful marriage. Well, if that is true we should do just fine. It is what our relationship has been based on from the beginning.

While I spend my day working with kids and supervising nine staff who dedicate their lives to combating youth violence in San Francisco, my husband spends his day working from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the Prison Industry Authority. Then he attends college classes four days a week. We spend the weekend together talking, laughing, eating, playing cards and scrabble and enjoying each other.

I am a 32-year-old, college-educated, street-smart woman. I don't live in a trailer park or the projects. My life was plenty exciting before I met my husband. I'm not having an affair, not old enough to be having a mid-life crisis and I am no more of a rebel now than I have been my entire life. Also, I personally believe my husband should have gone to prison for his crime. He is not innocent, and it is not my life's work to get him cleared. He will tell you that prison probably saved his life. Not because of the California Department of Corrections, but because of a path he chose once incarcerated. Is he the same person he was 14 years ago at the age of 17? No. But he is accountable for his actions. He has been paying for them for the last 5,007 days.

He is a rare man. I have to believe that -- he is my husband. I can't believe that men who have been in prison are throwaway men, unworthy of love or attention. They are the parents of the children I see everyday, and I count on them to come home and be real fathers.

I don't know when my husband will come home. We talk about our life together in the abstract, because the parole board is unpredictable. I work on his parole from the outside and he works on it from the inside. We want financial security, a family, a house, maybe a dog. That man behind the walls of San Quentin Prison is My Perfect Man, and it really isn't about anyone else.
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