As a prisoner’s wife, it’s not uncommon to hold onto items to keep the memory of one’s husband alive or to create his presence; we keep things like cologne, hair, and clothing. But to keep my husband with me, it required that I go one step further.
When my husband was home, he had an annoying habit of using my bobby pins as toothpicks. And, as you might suspect, these out-of-shape pieces of metal never made it into the trash. Fed up with seeing them all over the house, I began pointing them out each time I came across one: “Tooth apparatus, tooth apparatus, tooth apparatus!”
After my husband was incarcerated, I moved into a new residence. During the final walk-through of our old home, I noticed a tooth apparatus.
I collected each one I found.
Once in our new home, before I even unpacked, I inconspicuously positioned the tooth apparatus I had found in the old home in our new home, a place where together we shared no memories. Now, each time I come across one, I move it; that way, the element of surprise keeps my husband alive, marks his territory, and fills my heart’s empty space.
Keeping the tooth apparatus pushed the boundaries of my sanity and cleanliness. But with long prison sentences, it is hard to recall the moments that matter, especially when fading memories are replaced with the demands of prison life.
For me, these tooth apparatus are symbols of auld lang syne, a contorted pathway between yesterday and today that pushes the play button on this life lived before incarceration. It takes me back to the time we fell in love, our courtship, and our engagement. And whenever I discover these apparatus, it all comes back to me with the promise of better days; a promise he left behind.
But whether the bobby pin is used as intended or a tooth apparatus, its greatest use for me is that it keeps two people connected who are caught between two different worlds
This piece appeared in First Person Arts Workshop: Through the Bars: Objects and Memorials for Individuals Affected by Incarceration.
What do you keep to remind you of your partner?
In the first two years of her husband’s incarceration, Monica wrote two to three letters a day. She sent numerous cards, books, magazines, and lots of money. She couldn’t afford these things, but felt compelled to send them. She sat by the phone, stalked the mail carrier, and rarely left the house. She handled all of his affairs. Monica drove ten hours round trip every two weeks for a one-hour visit and did so cheerfully even on an hour or two of sleep. When Monica was from away home, all calls were forwarded to her cell. She’d promised her husband she would always be there for him and doing so meant never missing a call.
One Sunday morning, while warming up for Sunday worship, Monica realized she’d forgotten her phone. With ten minutes left before the start of Sunday service, she ditched her commitment to lead worship and went home to retrieve it. The possibly of missing a call was too great. Monica ate, breathed and slept; commissary, visits, calls. She never went out with friends and even stopped taking their calls for fear of holding up the line, despite having call waiting.
Forgetting to take her phone off vibrate, after leaving class one night, Monica missed her husband’s call. Though her husband understood, Monica was devastated. She’d failed him. She felt, she’d let him down.
Monica was in the advance stages of “Super Spouse Syndrome”.
Super powers are necessary when dealing with an incarcerated partner such as being: clairvoyant, omnipresent and equip with powers of persuasion. Super Spouse Syndrome forces us to try to fix the side-effects of incarceration. Though many of us do no set out to be a “super spouse”, along the way something kicks in and we are driven to idealism and perfection. Before you know it, we are attempting to leap tall prison sentences in a single bound. How is a super spouse created?
- Naysayers- People who doubt we can do it. Friends, family, or that inner voice. We feel as if we have something to prove and we work to validate our position– “Nothing is going to stop our love”.
- Time- We try to make up for “lost” time. We feel as if we owe it to them; overcompensation.
- Pressure- Comparing ourselves to other wives. Opinionated friends and family. Keeping up with Joneses. We have a sense of obligation; this is what we are “supposed” to do.
- Traditions- Add to all of this the “traditional” role of wife, girlfriend, or partner; one who lovingly cares for, respects and encourages their partner, fixes their ill-wills, shows them affection, and passionately loves them; a homemaker, who joyfully does chores, raises kids, and doesn’t complain.
Weeks later, Monica missed her daily post office drop. It wasn’t enough to have the mail carrier pick up her letters. She had to physically drop them in the mailbox. Monica was frustrated with the $500 phone bills and the rigors of living a married life on a single girl’s income. The proverbial “S” on her chest was fading and the real Monica was shining through.
Being a super spouse is not without its consequences. We will experience:
- Stress- The demands outweigh the resources we have to deal with it.
- Fatigue/Burn Out- Stress drains our energy. We don’t sleep. We push ourselves to do everything NOW. We don’t allow time to refuel.
- Anxiety- We fear we are not meeting up to expectations. We are not doing things “right”.
- Discouragement/Depression/Doubt- We are worn down emotional with worry, stress, anxiety; We feel hopeless. Can we really do this?
- Anger/Resentment- We began to resent the reasons for our stress.
Super spousers are always on the edge of a melt-down. Minor incidents become a crisis. The good news—Super Spouse Syndrome is easy to cure.
- Talk to your partner. Ask their expectations. You may find you are doing far more than what they require. If two letters a week are acceptable and you are writing five, let go of three. Accept his input. If you seek to do more than what is necessary for his happiness, examine the reasons why.
- Learn how to say “no”. As in any relationship, using the word no is acceptable. Stop creating impossible ideals; have a relationship not powered by incarceration. Ask yourself is it realistic to say yes to everything?
- Push back peer pressure- People love giving advice. Keep the inner workings of your relationship to yourself. Note: The wives you are emulating are probably in the midst of the syndrome and in case you haven’t heard, the Joneses are faking it.
- Take a day “off”- Spend the day doing nothing. Pamper yourself. All things prison related is off limits. Decompress.
- Prepare for a non-perfect life.
Monica equated the amount of work she put in to her efforts with how much she loved. The demands of her earlier routine were not something she could maintain over time, nor something her husband expected. Five years later, Monica writes whenever she feels the need, whether one letter a week or a month. She visits when finances allow and their every day calls have been scaled back to a more manageable level. She has achieved perfectionism within her reality. “Super spouse” Monica was trying to cram years in to minutes, now she uses minutes to create moments within the years.
Look up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a regular woman doing extraordinary things. All super heros have weaknesses that do not make them any less super. We have to find a balance that works for us, when fighting the never ending battle of truth, justice, and the prison way.
Are you suffering from Super Spouse Syndrome?
Join us tonight on blogtalkradio as we discuss this.
Are you going through life pulling when you should push or vice versa? That’s another way of asking–Are making things harder than they have to be?
Think about it?
What in your life seems really difficult? Can you change this with a shift in perspective?
I’m not sure anyone can truly “understand” another person’s life story, but if they want to keep asking, I’ll keep answering.
Hope you enjoy it. ~Reesy
Correct, loving anyone is a risk. I believe society uses those modifiers because they dont completely understand how we love our men, forgetting they are men. People fear what they dont understand. Any relationship, inside or outside of prison can have its challenges. I have been through many cancerous relationships with men that were not in prison and this with my husband is the most loving and calming I have ever had. Its love, just love~
Recently, I did a show with five members of the documentary Prison Wives. One of things I learned during our conversation is that 30 hours of their lives was condensed to 45 minutes. There has been a lot of negative feedback from our community. Many of us have been extremely judgmental, cruel, and mean about the lives of the “prison wives.” I will admit that I was one of them. I felt some of the shows did not show the lifestyle in the best light. There was one show in particular that really rubbed me raw.
While speaking to Jane Bailey, Pam Booker, Tim McDonald, Grace Dark Horse, Juli Cummings, I felt a kinship with them because, quite frankly, I am one of them and though I have hang ups with the term “prison wives” for its slang connotation, I also learned the show could have ended up with another name that would have been much, much worse.
One of the biggest complaints in the prisoner’s wife/partner community is about people judging us and treating us like pariahs, but we in turn do the same to others and more egregiously, to our own kind.
Think about it. If someone were to film 30 hours of your life and cut it down to less than an hour, there are bound to be things left out and misrepresented. This helped me put that episode that bothered me in to context. I’m sure there was a little bit more information I needed to know to understand this woman’s plight, BUT if all things stayed the same, I don’t have the right to speak about how she deals with her life anyway. Who am I?
Bottom line, sometimes we live a double-standard of judgment. It’s never okay to speak ill of anyone’s life when you are not living it. Yes, as a community we deal with the same issues. I’ve heard it described as being in the same boat, but we come to this life through different experiences and backgrounds. We all do the best we can. While I might not chose to deal with certain aspects of this life in the way another woman chooses to deal, it doesn’t mean either one of us is right, wrong, better or less. We are different; different, yet the same.
To learn more about the series Prison Wives, click here.
To listen to the interview on Mrs. GE-6309 Time, click here.
What do you think?
Ever thought about applying for the job to be with your partner? Sure, you already have the position, but what fun to create a romantic cover letter and resume, highlighting your skills and experience.
Please find enclosed my resume for the position of Love of Your Life.
I believe my skills and experience are a good match to the criteria for this position. I have extensive experience in dating and relating to the opposite sex.
I’m a team player and love the benefits of being in a relationship.
I believe I can make a positive contribution to this position, and am looking forward to the opportunity to work with and under you.
Please contact me should you require any additional information.
To obtain the position of Love of Your Life.
Promoted to the position of fiancé, after a couple months of dating, being friends and laying a foundation. A year later, I obtain the highest honor of being Mrs. Nivens Thompson.
- School of Hard Knocks, Class of Yesterday Today
- Masters in the ART of being Reesy
- Masters in Prisoner’s Wife-ology
- Degrees in Ambition, Stress, Self-Improvement
- Currently enrolled in Life Experience Training
With over 23 years dating experience and six years of marriage, I’ve heard positions as a girlfriend, main chick, side piece, booty call, and wife. Responsibilities include: couple appearances, supporting partner, ego-stroking, keeping a home, relations, mothering, friendship, mind-reading, arguing, hearing and listening and other duties as assigned.
- Almost seven years of being a prisoner’s wife.
- Gained self-confidence, assurance, and reliance.
- Know all of your favorites.
- Perfected being the “ying” to your “yang”.
- 8 years of pole dancing.
- Ability to drop it like it’s hot.
- Expert multi-tasker.
- Good listener.
References furnished upon request.
You can make this as basic or as detailed as you want. Go apply for those positions. I got a feeling you will be hired on the spot.
Write a cover letter and romantic resume for your partner.
Just like businesses and non-profit organizations, have a mission to stay on track to provide goals and structure, relationships should have one as well. Sure, we vow to love, honor, [obey], be together forever and ever, but what is expected as we are getting through to the forever part.
What do you want to achieve?
What rules do you want to abide by?
The Thompson Family union is our strength, power, and fortitude to deal with life’s up and downs. Our marriage is designed by us and is not governed by influences of society or religious references, unless we choose. Our union is 100% of each of us. It is a safe haven, a place where masks are not needed, but different faces are encouraged. Our support of each other will empower us to be ourselves stripped to the bone. Our mission is to love each other in a place where space and time does not exist. We will continue to live by the concept of “WillReese.”No one half is greater than the whole. We will respect and encourage each other’s growth and development as individuals, because our strength as a couple relies on our separate, but equal abilities. We are a couple who inspires others with our life and love and who model what it is to be in a great relationship.
Write a mission statement for your relationship.
Nivens and I continue to find ways to reaffirm our commitment. We like to perform an annual checkup on our relationship, testing its emotional health and strength.We provide a list of prescriptives, a personal diagnosis of our current condition. As our union matures, our wants and needs change.
Our relationship health depends on minimizing potential side effects.
Here is my recent checkup:
Things I am:
I am a handful, dramatic, overbearing, stubborn.
I am still mourning the death of a dream.
I am ready for a traditional life.
I am that chick, any chick.
Things I am not:
I am not without flaws. In fact, as the years pass, some seem to get worse
I am not as happy as I seem.
I am not easy.
I am not the same chick you married six years ago.
Things I will:
I will continue to make the most of a less than ideal situation.
I will hold it down, until you can take over.
I will support and encourage you.
I will play my position.
I will love you like none other.
Things I won’t:
I will not make promises I can’t keep.
I will not hide how I feel.
I will not tolerate anything that jeopardizes your freedom.
Things I can’t:
I cannot change the way the world views you.
I cannot be responsible for your happiness but I can continue to do those things that create that feeling for you.
I cannot live on a pedestal. If you continue to put me there, you must promise to catch me when I fall.
I cannot love you past your pain, but I can love you to a place where your pain is less relevant.
I cannot set you free.
Things I need:
I need you to be patient. I don’t have all the answers.
I need to feel special. It’s leftover residue from not having my dad around. Sorry, you have to clean it up.
Will you accept all these things I am, am not, will, will not, cannot, and need? As long as you will have me, I am yours. However, if you go back to prison, you are on your own. Love your wife. ~Reesy
What’s in your annual checkup?
My husband, Nivens, LOVES breakfast. We often ate breakfast for dinner, pancakes, eggs, juice—a full buffet. He also loves eating breakfast at Shoneys, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes with my family (my two sisters, their husbands, their kids, mom me). Actually, our first wedding is at Shoney’s, goofing off with the family, me, complete in a napkin veil. On every trip to his favorite eatery, he had another one of his favorites—apple pancakes. [Ick!] I am a basic eater. I don’t like my foods to touch, nor do I mix flavors. Fruit is to be eaten as fruit, not on top of, inside of, or mixed with anything else. Hand me an apple, I will eat it, put it on top of pancakes…not happening. I am a no butter, syrup only, kind of girl; butter pecan syrup, if I’m feeling adventurous.
Since his incarceration, my family and I have been to Shoney’s, several times. Despite an empty seat at the table, his place is always filled. I keep at least one picture of him with me at all times. Whenever we are all together at breakfast, I take out the picture, set it up on the table, and place a plate of apple pancakes in front of it. We all take turns “speaking” to him.
At the end of last month’s visit, as my mom said her goodbyes, I overhear her telling Nivens that his plate of apple pancakes is waiting. It’s my job to remember his likes but for my mom to remember is akin to saying “We miss you”. In that moment, I feel as warm and gooey as those glazed, slathered apples.
Whenever I have my version of pancakes, I think about the apple version and what it represents— a time when we were a complete family, when I didn’t have an empty seat beside me, when I didn’t have to speak for him, when our love was just sweet without the added bitter.
I look forward to breaking the fast of not having Nivens home. He lists a trip to Shoney’s on his upon-freedom-to-do list. This time a picture of him won’t be necessary because Nivens will be with us and we will be complete.
I want apple pancakes.
What is your husband’s favorite meal?
What is his favorite place to eat?