Why Women Marry Prisoners

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If you watched the most recent popular True Crime series on Netflix, The Making of a Murderer, you were probably fascinated in seeing the part of the storyline where Steven Avery gained a new love interest while incarcerated. You may also remember the prison worker in 2013 who helped two inmates she claimed she was in a romantic relationship with escape from a New York prison. Other notorious prison marriages or committed relationships include that of serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, the Hillside stranglers, and the Menendez brothers. It’s reported that Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and Scott Peterson who was imprisoned for killing his wife and unborn child, receive countless letters from would be suitors.[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]“I’d rather meet the love of my life while incarciated [sic] then intoxicated.”[/mks_pullquote]

Who would seek out connection, particularly a love connection, with an inmate? As part of our True Crime series, we’ll explore what type of person may be drawn to a convict and how that relationship works. 

I have discovered that this group of people classifies themselves as “MWI:” Met While Incarcerated. I learned a lot of ‘lingo’ with which I was previously unfamiliar as I corresponded with women in various scenarios that MWI and eventually married while incarcerated. 

It is probably commonly thought that inmates might eventually become romantically involved with people they knew before serving time, however the reality is that simply being pen pals can be the catalyst for a budding romance. There are a growing number of programs that support letter-writing with inmates. Pen pals are encouraged to keep it platonic or to inspire the inmate’s spiritual development, but of course this compassion sometimes is misconstrued for or truly leads to amorous love. 

There are many individuals in the world who are in a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship of which a major part involves face to face interaction and touch. These people might be baffled as to who would be drawn to someone they will rarely (or sometimes never) see in person and not ever be able to have moments that couples ‘out in the world’ enjoy. Let’s explore a few qualities that might explain this, along with some quotes from MWI women (names/screen names removed) that I came across through various social media support groups.

ATTACHMENT ISSUES

There are a number of people who have difficulty with connection. Children raised in an environment that lent itself to ambivalence, unpredictability, or resistance likely developed an insecure attachment. This is also sometimes the case for people who have suffered from a trauma or have issues with broken trust or inconsistent relationships, therefore potentially leading people to truly feel more comfortable and confident in emotional intimacy with an inmate. There is enough of a barrier between the closeness and full vulnerability that allows it to be safe. There is also predictability since the boundaries are very clearly defined between someone ‘on the outside’ in relationship with someone incarcerated.

“I for one like it this way. It has given us a chance to know each other with no materialistic boundries [sic]. Nothing but words and letters. Lots of lots of letters.”

SELF-CONCEPT/EMOTIONAL (IM)MATURITY

Someone who is highly compassionate may feel particularly sympathetic to an inmate and be fulfilled by the role of being this inmate’s motivation, link to the outside world, and to have such a perceived influence on the inmate’s emotional experience. There is strength and empowerment for women who feel as if they are “rescuing” their partners. Those who are more likely to feel connected and fall in love with someone who is being punished for a crime are typically people who have a history of abuse or low self-esteem, so their overall self concept is lower. Particularly if they have suffered abuse, some women feel safer in relationships where their partner physically can’t touch them.

“I’d rather meet the love of my life while incarciated [sic] then intoxicated.”

Finally, people who crave constant stimulation or excitement may find it quite attractive to land the “bad boy.” This provides a continuous thrill and the ability to create one’s own story in many ways rather than having to truly settle into an honest emotional connection with someone.

MENTAL HEALTH

To summarize what one of the MWIs told me in her response to my plethora of curious questions: “This is my 2nd legal marriage and 3rd religious one. I am in school to be a social worker with a degree in substance abuse since I am a LPN who is a recovering addict and currently can not nurse and I know about the psychology stuff cause I am also diagnosed with bipolar and had to have trauma session while in rehab for the abuse I went through. My story is a lifetime move [sic] if I started from the beginning most are amazed I am still happy and up beat and I don’t talk a lot about the 5 suicide attempts and the hospitalization. Are you sure your [sic] ready for this?” 

Several of the women were very open about their clinical diagnosis and how the relationship with their prisoner makes them feel wanted and needed and satisfied, particularly after several previously failed relationships. Many people who are serving time for committing violent crimes are sociopaths.  Strengths of a sociopath include manipulating others, high self confidence, social assertiveness for empowerment, immediate gratification, and poor behavioral control making those with low self-esteem, mental health struggles, and attachment issues the perfect catch.

All any of us want to feel is that we matter and to know we are emotionally supported, whatever that means to us individually. Perhaps what those of us in average/non-prison relationships don’t realize is how fulfilling these marriages-while-incarcerated can be for both parties.

This is the third installment of our True Crime mini-series here on ShrinkTank with stories about why we are fascinated by true crime, why we are fascinated with serial killers, and a couple of explorations of other true crime stories. Come back soon for more. I dare you not to look.

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