Amy Friedman was married for seven years to a convicted murderer. Her account of their love shows why we shouldn't dismiss "those crazy ladies" who fall in love with convicts.
Writes Friedman on Salon,
So here's my sensational headline: "She married a murderer." But what I've found is that most of us who marry convicted men are not mad. (I've also found that most men in prison — even those guilty of the worst crimes — are not monsters.) Our stories are complicated — like every true love story is.
What follows is the story of her romance with Will, a former drug dealer imprisoned for murder. Friedman married Will after knowing him only a short time, because marriage was the only way they could see each other, and remained married to him for the final years of his incarceration. It was only after his parole, when he sank into depression, that they divorced.
It's easy to see marrying a convict as a story of Bad Relationship Decisions, but that's not how Friedman tells it. She says, "I don't regret it, but being married to Will was hard and painful. Being a prisoner's wife requires mighty resistance — to the mind-numbing, bureaucratic prison system itself, but even more, to those who so casually dismiss us as less than, those who see us not as people who deserve support and respect but who deserve contempt." She also writes that she still believes in the power of love to stop prisoners "turn[ing] from people who have committed crimes into real, honest-to-god monsters."
What's most interesting about Friedman's piece is her refusal to cast her marriage as a mistake, her insistence that it had value — and not just as a learning experience. Often, women's writing about past relationships — especially relationships with men who, like Will, would probably seem inappropriate to lots of people — take the form of, "I loved him, but it was because I was messed up, and I am better now." Friedman fully acknowledges that some of her choices weren't rational — of her marriage, she says, "Was it rash? Of course." At the same time, she's not interested in chastising her past self or telling other women how to avoid her mistakes — instead, she clearly views her marriage as valid and important, both to her and to Will.
Few of us would want our sister, our daughter, or our best friend to marry a convict — and the divorce rate for prison marriages is reportedly extremely high. And yet many relationships that look ill-advised from the outside — and even that eventually fail — have an internal logic to the people in them, and an enduring value. Friedman's story would have been different had she given any indication that Will was abusive or cruel to her — no amount of love can excuse abuse. But there are loving relationships that are unwise, that are painful, even that are doomed, and that still leave both parties, in the end, with something they'd never exchange or wish away. Friedman doesn't romanticize her difficult marriage, but she doesn't repudiate it either — and her assertion of its worth is both honest and brave.
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