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The Prison Wife

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Photos On His Computer
His Wife Has Changed
Meeting In Person
by Frances Russo

   "My husband and I met online in a chat room.  He was in New Jersey and I was in Las Vegas.  We met two weeks later.  We fell deeply in love right away and married in a few weeks in Las Vegas.  It was a whirlwind life and love.  He wined me and dined me.  We made love every day, all day.  He told me from the start that he had committed a crime.  We got in our Jaguar and drove 2500 miles across the country so he could turn himself in.  That was the right thing to do.  We knew it, and we did it.  He had to serve his time. 

   "Jimmy is the type of man you'd never believe has a criminal record.  He worked as a bailbondsman for years.  He is a wonderful person.  He helps people...and I'm madly in love with him, only to be separated at this time." 

   Having a husband in prison is a stigma in our society. However, it is possible to cope and get through this difficult time in your life. Let me help you along the way and give you a few tips.

   I myself am a "Prison Wife." My husband has been in the prison system for the past 22 months. He was first in a minimum security unit, a place called "The Farm," with open doors, and no barbed wire. Now he is in a halfway house, hoping to come back home the summer of 2005.

   The "Prison Wife" is the forgotten one, as she waits at home for her husband. Our society takes care of the sick, the dyimg, the homeless, but the prisoner's wife is alone and forgotten.

   She is faced with insurmountable problems....financial, emotional, psychological, social, stigmatization, health problems to face alone, children to take care of. She keeps the household "together" until her husband comes home. She works, pays the bills, pays the mortgage or rent, the car payments, the insurances. She takes care of the children, the repairs for the house, and just about everything else under the sun. Holidays and birthdays come and go. She is alone and lonely, most often faced with depression.

   Most prison wives find it difficult to even face another day. The prison wife lives in hiding because she is afraid the neighbors may find out. So she lies and says he is on a "business trip," to protect herself.  After all, the neighbors would be shocked to know that a criminal's wife lives next door to them.

   And what does she tell the children? No one wants to let his child play with a criminal's child.

   When her husband leaves for prison, the wife goes through a period of "grieving." She goes through the same "grieving process" that a widow goes through. The only difference is that the widow can eventually move on, while the prison wife cannot. The prison wife is a "wife," but without a husband. She cannot go out and socialize, and it is difficult to make new friends, as she feels she is being "unfaithful" to her husband.

   After a certain amount of time (months or even years), it is acceptable in our socity for the widow to step out, start dating and even remarry. The prison wife who is faithful and dedicated to her husband does not have this option.  Some women wait years for their man to return - ten, even twenty or more years.

   There are close to two million prisoners in our country....that makes me wonder just how many wives and loved ones are left behind and forgotten. We think about the prisoner, but rarely think about those left behind.....the wives, the children, the mothers, and the girlfriends, to name a few. Those loved ones, who did not commit a crime, except the crime of "loving a criminal." They did not commit a crime, and yet they are punished.

   When their husband goes to prison, they are not notified by the prison system where their husband is. I believe there should be some notification system in this country. The wife must sit and wait, until her husband is able to place a collect call to her.

   There should be support systems in this country for prison wives. There should be follow-up programs for families of the incarcerated - to see how they are coping.

   I will now give you some tips on how to get through this period of your life if you happen to be a prison wife, too. This is from my own personal experience, and I hope it can help you.  Remember, you are not alone. There are so many of us out there experiencing the same feelings and emotions...the same problems.

"Ways To Cope"

1. Take one day at a time.  Do not think too far in advance. Try to "get through one more day."

2. Plan small projects for each day, and try to reach a goal. For instance, I put all our photos in photo albums during the first few weeks of my husband's incarceration. When that project was complete, I started cleaning out drawers and closets.

3. Organize your life. I reorganized bills and mail, using folders and envelopes, and I kept logs, writing everything down.

4. Keep pictures of your husband around the house. I have pictures in every room.

5. Join a church group. I started baking cakes for the monthly cake sale. I enjoyed doing it, and felt I was contributing something to society.

6. Get involved...acquire hobbies. Knitting, needlepoint, gardening, writing, keeping a diary....anything. Just do something, even if you force yourself to do it. As time goes on, it will get easier, and you will begin to enjoy it. I planted an "Angel Garden" with angel statues and flowers. I began writing poetry, stories, and letters to the editor. I also began writing a journal, which became a very important part of my life.

7. Keep in close contact with your husband. Accept phone calls (if you can afford it, as prison phone calls are extrememly expensive), send your husband letters, cards, magazine and newspaper clippings, and computer print-outs of things that interest him. Send him pictures (old and new). Men in prison love to look at pictures from home.  It helps them keep from becoming homesick. My husband has almost 100 pictures that he keeps in photo albums, and loves to share with the inmates, and show them our family and home. If I change something in the household,or buy anything new, I take a picture and send it to him, so he always feels connected to our home. I also take pictures of the pets, the garden, and the cars.

8. Keep a notebook near the phone at all times. Jot down things you want to discuss with your husband when he calls. Remember, those are 15-minute calls, and there is a lot to say in a short period of time, so get organized beforehand.

9. Cry when you have to, but try to stay focused. Do not be torn apart by the prison system. You are still a person, and a wife...and you need to be supportive to your husband.

10. Try to stay healthy. Eat right, avoid junk food and alcohol. Exercise. Try walking. After all, you want to be physically fit when your husband comes home!

I hope this article will be of some help to the wives and loved ones of prisoners, as they await their loved one's return while he is in prison.

My name is Frances Russo, RN, BSN, MA. I am a retired Registered Nurse,who is now legally blind, and does freelance writing as a hobby. I enjoy writing short stories for magazines and poetry. During my life, I enjoyed education, and international travel, having traveled to 28 countries. I've lived in Manhattan, California, Las Vegas, and New Jersey. My husband is currently within the prison system, and I enjoy writing a journal, which has become quite popular. It is called "Reflections Of A Prison Wife."  

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