Years ago, as I took my seat on an airplane, the woman in the adjacent seat introduced herself and promptly told me that she was married to a “lifer, with no possibility of parole.” I commented to her on how difficult it must be, and she insisted that it wasn’t, since she had met and married him years after his incarceration began.
Famous author, Danielle Steele, met her second husband while he was in prison. One day after divorcing that husband, she married another prisoner, with whom she had one child and divorced three years later. And the list goes on.
I had never really speculated too much about the type of woman who meets and marries a prisoner – that is, until I met the woman on the airplane. She was on her way up to visit her husband in a prison on the other side of the state, which she did every other week-end – year round. I wondered why anyone do such a thing, especially the women who marry serial killers, rapists, and perpetrators of other violent crimes. Who would want a man who was a social deviant?
Sheila Isenberg, author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, offered some plausible theories. In researching for her book, she interviewed many murderers in prison, police, prison officials, psychologists, and psychiatrists. She determined that there were common threads running through the women she interviewed. Most came from dysfunctional families made up of a violent father and a passive mother. For that woman, marrying a prisoner – especially one with no possibility of parole – is her way of having a relationship with a powerful man and being in control, while keeping her distance at the same time. For some, it is the notoriety they gain by marrying a prison inmate and the importance she feels by reaching out to and winning someone so infamous.
I never did ask the woman on the plane her reason for marrying the inmate, but she did offer that it was “God’s will.” I also had a friend who went with her aunt to visit her uncle in prison and fell for her uncle’s cell mate. When he was paroled, they got together. Ten months and one baby later, though, he was gone.
Lots of inmates find God during their period of incarceration but don’t bring Him along when they get out on parole. If they can find God on the inside, I guess that it stands to reason that they can find love, too. The more violent and antisocial the offender, the more women who are trying to gain access to them. Though I tend to agree with Isenberg on her theories, I don’t want to discount the fact that there are still normal, successful women of sound mind who meet inmates, fall in love with them, and marry them, with no hope of a normal married life. I think that this is a mystery that we will never fully understand.