I used to talk to this woman at Lovelock Correctional Center who stood by her man for 20 years. Anytime I saw her at visiting I had a feeling of friendship and calm wash over me because she was very easy to talk to and sort of took me under her wing when I first started to visit Jeremy regularly at that prison. I saw her not too long before her man was released, which was also just before I married Jeremy. I remember when I told her that I was going to marry Jeremy, she just enveloped me in her arms for the biggest hug ever. If there is ever a time when I needed comfort, it was before I made that life leap. Our ships passed briefly in the proverbial night, but I liked her a great deal. I always asked myself if that was going to be me someday, a thought that both interests me and terrifies me. She was dedicated to her husband for 20 years of incarceration and I used to wonder how she did it, what her private life was like, if she thought a lot about sex and walking in the sunshine with her husband.
It has been almost 8 years since I hugged this woman goodbye, a stranger goodbye, a sad and happy goodbye, a “farewell, I will never see you again but thank you for your time in my life” goodbye. More than likely, when you part from someone to meet you prison, you know you’ll never seen them again. It’s part of the landscape of prison relationships.
All these memories and repressed excitement that makes my heart beat came to the surface after listening to the latest episode of Ear Hustle, a podcast from inside San Quentin state prison in California, that I’ve started to listen to and enjoy. I find myself laughing and nodding my head while I listen and I realize just how familiar prison feels to me, how much I know, and how common the themes are, no matter where your person is incarcerated. This particular episode was about couples, sex, family visits, connecting on an intimate level, and the general struggle of being in a romantic relationship, or shall I say maintaining a romantic relationship, while one member happens to be behind the barbed wire. It ain’t easy, that’s for sure, and you can quote me on that.
When I think about my marriage to Jeremy, how we met after he was already in prison, how there are no “family visits”(also referred to as conjugal visits) in the state of Nevada, and how we have never even held hands in the sun….well, I start to think about just how different my marriage really is. Sometimes Jeremy and I literally look at each other, fully aware of the bizarre life we have built, and we laugh. Yet it all seems so “normal” because if you do anything for an extended length of time, it inevitably seems commonplace, no matter how unconventional it might be. Been married almost 8 years and never had sex with each other or been outside together? Totally normal.
Only a very small number of states allow conjugal visits and usually if you have a life without parole sentence, those visits are even less likely. So, the chances of me getting alone time with my husband is pretty much nonexistent. I never had to really come to terms with that fact, it just is. It does “help” that we never were together in the “free” world, but I’ve just accepted that prison infringes on anything private. Even though I am free citizen, I am also a prisoner right along with Jeremy when it comes to our time together. I have little control over my own skin to skin contact with my life partner. I have made adjustments to my life plans when it comes to intimacy, have had to redefine the term and my expectations. I have officially ruled out having children as something that I would want for myself at this point, and have settled with the idea, that for now, I can be outside and Jeremy can be outside, but we cannot be outside together. “You have to see my new hair color in the sun” I tell him, but I know that isn’t possible.
I used to get frustrated when people would casually ask “So WHEN do you get to have sex with Jeremy?” Over the years, I’ve learned that people on the outside just don’t really understand how the prison system works, the restrictions that are imposed, and just how difficult the rules make it to even see each other sometimes, let alone maintain any type of “sex life” beyond creative writing and an exchange of words over a monitored and recorded call. You have to throw a bit of your inhibition away and if you have anxiety like me, you have to throw all of your inhibition away and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
So, as a 32 year old woman, I have to dig deep and modify where I can because at this point I’m not interested in extracurricular activities (my silly reference to extramarital affairs). In this life, there just comes a point, one that I’ve been at for a while, that you stare down the prison bullshit and then turn to your partner and say “Okay! I love you and I’m in it for the long haul and this sucks but let’s make this shit work”. The application for “friends with benefits” has long been torn up and thrown into the air like correctional confetti.
Side boyfriends and accepting ones fate aside… I have seen and heard a lot of funny stories about women visiting their men and trying to “release”. Well, it’s hard to release when you are constantly being watched like some freak show, the guard’s personal prison porn. The thought of a voyeuristic intrusion doesn’t seem to faze some people, though, and I have on more than one occasion tried to ignore quick face sucking, momentary grinding, and the end of a kinky sex fantasy in the visiting room. My ears pick up every other word and I find myself trying to block out and listen at the same time. You gotta do what you gotta do, I guess. No judgement.
Note: If you ever do end up in the visiting room at Ely State Prison, choose your chair wisely and stay away from any weird stains. No, I`m not joking.