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Sister Harrietta Turner

A Letter About Prison Marriages
Written in the Fall of 2003

This letter refers to male inmates marrying women from the free world. There are some basic reasons why these marriages take place. Some of the reasons are good, some are understandable and some are less than good reasons.

The most important thing for each party considering this step is that they make sure they have become a born-again Christian as John 3:5 and continuing on in the Chapter explains. And then Romans 12:1 urges us to present our bodies as living sacrifices which is our reasonable service. This is the full surrender which we owe to our Lord but many Christians do not do.

When these steps have been taken one needs to pray for guidance in one’s life and listen to the Lord and His Word specifically to us through the Scriptures and through others and circumstances.

30 years ago I married a man who was serving a life sentence. I met him about 7 years before when he had served a couple of years on the sentence. We corresponded, and eventually became engaged. The Lord gave me Scriptures and the assurance that I was in His will and everything worked out for an ‘outside the prison’ ceremony. My husband had home passes because of good behavior for about 9 months. We both had prayed for a child and the Lord granted that prayer. Our son Matthew was born when I was 37 years old and is now 29 years old.

Since my husband was eligible for parole when we married I looked forward to his soon release and homecoming. But it was not to be. He disobeyed some prison rules while out on a pass and he has not been eligible for outside passes since then nor has he been able even to attain the status of Honor Grade which is needed to be considered for passes and for parole. Whether he will ever be paroled is questionable.

The Lord has sustained myself and my son all these years but the hardships have been far greater than anyone could imagine. And if I had not been specifically led into this situation I would not have been able to stay in it. My husband has been incarcerated since he was 21 and he was 60 years old this summer. I was 66 in September.

I have been in prison ministry for about 25 years. This was possibly the main reason for my being led to marry a prisoner. And much good has come out of the marriage. We do have a companionship and friendship which has continued these many years. All my relatives have died and I have only my husband, son and a grandson.

From my above experience I would just state the following:

The Advantages of a prison marriage for the women:

  1. We can minister in a Christian way to those we marry and give them encouragement to keep on living and hoping. They will re-enter a society which is afraid of them, probably won’t employ them and will consistently reject them.
  2. We do receive a lot of undivided attention, affection, and security from these incarcerated men. They have no other major interests so our lives become of interest to them and they are grateful and affectionate and wanting to keep our friendship so they make an extra effort to be nice and thoughtful. Also for now they aren’t going anywhere and we know where they are at all times and very few will be exposed to any other eligible or on-the-prowl women.
  3. And there are some women who would have no one and be alone if it weren’t for the incarcerated husband.

The Disadvantages of a prison marriage.

  1. They aren’t always going to get out as soon as we think they are and anyone marrying a prisoner needs to be aware of this and be sure they can deal with it.
    This is the case for most as it isn’t always easy to keep all the prison rules or keep out of trouble in prison and getting infractions for disobeying rules is very common and hard to avoid. These can bring negative points on the record and delay parole. The men are in prison for disobeying laws in the first place and obedience to authority is not their strong point. Also some prisoners may not realize they are actually institutionalized and are afraid of life on the outside. This can lead them to delay their own paroles. To keep the women in their lives they often imply they will be getting out sooner than is the case.
  2. Because they have no freedom and often no income they are very limited in material resources and they feel the need of a allowance per week from someone on the outside and that someone will be the one they marry. I have supported my husband in this way for over 31 years. They also have a lot of time to think of what they need. Since they can’t get out to earn the money for it and it is often not available in the canteen and prison jobs aren’t often possible then they will ask the mate for it and usually expect it. You don’t mind for awhile but year after year you do get tired of being the provider. God has arranged it for the men to provide for their families. It is unnatural and a burden to have the roles reversed.
  3. The men are not only not there to provide for their families but they aren’t there to help with any children and children have a lot of needs for attention, affection , discipline and a role model. Can you provide these things adequately for your children? I didn’t and our son has been in trouble with the law since he was 9 years old. He has spent 2 terms in prison and much more time in various other facilities. At age 30 his life has still not recovered from the loss of his father and the inadequacies of his mother … my lack of knowledge of child training and my inability to be both parents.
  4. You may meet someone else and regret the marriage. Your husband will live in fear of this.
  5. You will find that the Collect calls which all prisons require the inmates to make (my husband is in the same town as I am but has to call Collect anyway) … these calls will be a financial burden and will often be annoying as you will have work to do … all the work for you both and then he calls right in the middle of that. He makes more calls than you wish and usually ignores your request to limit them. They say the Prisons make a profit from these calls that the family is forced to pay for.
  6. There are many other injustices and harassment type situations a wife will experience from the prison staff. And she will be the target of on-the-prowl men on the outside who think she is missing so much … and they would like to provide it. The community won’t usually know how to treat the wife and she may feel excluded, different and set apart. And she will be set apart emotionally by the problems the marriage has brought her into and others can’t possibly understand.
  7. Then there are those prisoners who are wanting to marry a woman just for the material and social benefits to them while they are in prison but they have these as ulterior motives and aren’t sincere about really caring for the woman they marry. And they will usually go their own way when they get out if they do succeed in getting out of prison. And if they don’t leave you, you might wish they would. It is very hard to discern which men are this type as they can be very clever and deceptive.
  8. Since I have had no experience with my husband getting out of prison on parole I can’t speak to that situation. But while they are confined they are kept under strict control. When they get out it is obvious that any addictions or temptations they had before prison will try to return in full force and they may give in to these after being deprived against their will for all these years especially when they find themselves rejected by the society they re-enter although they have already supposedly paid their debt to that same society. Also their personalities are bound to change as they experience freedom. What will they be like when they are released? How will they relate to life and to their wives? That is a very serious unknown factor and one that no one should take a chance on unless the Lord definitely guides one to marry the particular man while he is in prison.




Harrietta Turner flyinhi@bellsouth.net
PO Box 565
Spruce Pine, NC 28777


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