Who would seek out connection, particularly a love connection, with a serial killer or criminal? To find out, I corresponded with women in romantic relationships with inmates.
Let’s explore what type of person may be drawn to a convict and how that relationship works.
Who Are These Women?
If you watched Making a Murderer, you were probably fascinated by the part where Steven Avery gained a new love interest while incarcerated. You may also remember the prison worker in 2013 who helped two inmates escape from a New York prison because of her claim that they were in a romantic relationship.
Other notorious prison marriages or committed relationships include that of serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, the Hillside Strangler, and the Menendez brothers.
It’s also reported that the Oklahoma City bombers, Timothy McVeigh, and Scott Peterson (who was imprisoned for killing his wife and unborn child), receive countless letters from would-be suitors.
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.
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 a relationship with someone incarcerated.
“I for one like it this way. It has given us a chance to know each other with no materialistic boundaries. Nothing but words and letters. Lots of lots of letters.”
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.
Women find strength and empowerment when they 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 incarcerated than 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.
To summarize what one of the MWIs told me in her response to my plethora of curious questions:
“This is my second legal marriage and third religious one. I am in school to be a social worker with a degree in substance abuse since I am an LPN who is a recovering addict…I know about the psychology stuff cause I am also diagnosed with bipolar and had to have therapy sessions for trauma while in rehab for the abuse I went through. My story is a Lifetime movie. If I started from the beginning, most are amazed that I am still happy and upbeat. I don’t talk a lot about the 5 suicide attempts and the hospitalization.”
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.
If you’re intrigued about the psychological facets of True Crime, check out our articles Why Are We Fascinated by True Crime?, Why Are We Fascinated with Serial Killers?, and a couple of explorations of other true crime stories.