Relationships with an Inmate during Long-Term Incarceration – From a year, to a year and a dark day – Part 3

When locked in prison, many inmates lose sight of what is real to people on the outs.

In Part 1 of this series we discussed the mind of an Inmate during his or her original arrest, the booking and the first week in jail – a time of pure hell. Part 2 dwelled on the Inmate’s first couple of months and his relationship with a close friend or lover, a period of transition. In Part 3, the final installment in this series, we will deal with the period in which most relationships completely fall apart. Those who remain together, however, can create an unbreakable bond that they never knew existed.

The Inmate’s Mind

When locked in prison, many inmates lose sight of what is real to people on the outs.

Unless a relationship was healthy and long-standing prior to an Inmate’s arrest, it is unlikely that it will last during a long absence. However, in the Inmate’s mind, the relationship still exists, and his or her feelings are exactly what they were from day one. His life with you and others is frozen in time. He is clinging to all he has left. In fact, with a couple, the letters he now sends may be filled with romantic overtures and thoughts you haven’t heard since you first got together.

In his letters, phone calls and visits he will talk about your future in positive terms. His memory often just does not jibe with the reality of how things were when he was first arrested.  All he has left is his fond recollections of you and because he has 18 hours a day to do nothing but think and romanticize about his memory of your best times, this is his new reality.

Your Mind – Sticking with Him

You may feel similarly.

You may be the rare person who can live like this; many friends or spouses can. It’s wonderful to be worshipped, to have someone you care about be completely dependent on you.  Knowing that just the thought of you can inspire such devotion is intoxicating. It’s clean and fresh and exciting. We hear of couples who start as pen-pals and eventually even marry while one-half is in prison.

How does this happen? The reasons are simple: No petty problems, limited time spent together, romantic fantasies. Love is safe and almost parental in its structure. You both live for the future without the day to day problems of the present. The past is forgotten, it no longer exists.

Your Mind – Split Between Him and Another

On the other hand, if you have decided to move forward with your life but wish to give him another chance when he is released, you need to continue to stoke the relationship and remain in his life. This does not mean that you have to do without a relationship to meet your physical and emotional needs, but you need to keep this to yourself. It is wise to never bring this up with your partner on the inside as it is best to have him live with the idea that you are the loving, faithful person in his mind. Someday in the future you may choose to tell him, but now is not the time.

Keep the letters coming, put a little money on his commissary account when you can, set up a schedule when it is best to phone you, but do not allow him to control your life. You will resent it if he does and he will lose respect for you. If this is the life you have chosen, it is okay. Your emotional survival is paramount. Your job is much harder than his, as his life in prison is in many ways as simple as a child’s in summer camp. Well, maybe a bit more difficult, but not much more.

Your Mind – “Goodbye My Dear…”

Lastly, you may decide that the relationship must end. You may have fallen in love with another person or may just want to be free of this person. Regardless of the reason, when you end it, end it. Do it face-to-face and be strong and resolute. He’ll get over it. It may be a struggle for him and he may even resort to begging you to hang on, but once you have made up your mind, stick with it.

For his sake and yours, it must end when you realize there is nothing left. Stop writing letters and do not take his calls, it will only encourage him. If you decide to end it, you must give every signal that it is over. You will not regret your decision.


Girl kicking guy goodbye
Is it time to say it?... "later dude, I need to live my life"

Keeping a relationship strong when two lovers are apart is difficult under normal circumstances, but when one of the two is locked in a jail or prison and he has become completely dependent on his partner for money, mail, phone calls, visits and more, it becomes extremely difficult. If you can find a way to keep both your inmate and you happy during these times, it is unusual, but commendable.


If you found this helpful and want to understand an Inmate’s initial thoughts and fears when first arrested, click here.

To understand what you and your Inmate can expect from your relationship after he’s in jail for a few weeks to a few months, click here.



About Mark Miclette 682 Articles
writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.