My husband and I wrote our own vows for our wedding. In mine, I didn’t say: “I take you for better or for worse,” but instead said: “We will confront challenges head on and we will overcome them as a team — big challenges, little challenges, difficult or easy,” and I meant it. I stood up in front of our friends and family and pledged myself to my husband for life and never allowed myself to believe that divorce was ever an option. When I wrote those vows, I didn’t realize how quickly those big challenges would come or how hard it would really be to face them.
We got married on April 4th and just over a month later, on May 13th, my husband was arrested for armed robbery of two pharmacies. He didn’t take any money — just pills (and he didn’t actually have a weapon). I knew that he had a prescription drug problem but had been clean for over three years (he got clean about six months before we started dating) and I thought he was still clean. I was livid that he broke the law. I was livid that he didn’t come to me for help, but he said he was worried I would leave him because three things I don’t tolerate are abuse, cheating, and drugs.
I was a criminal justice professional (I lost my job because of my husband’s arrest and conviction) and have a Master’s degree in criminal behavior. In four years of working with offenders, I have seen relationships survive prison but I have seen many more fall apart. If I had known that he was going to be arrested a month after our wedding (or at any point), I wouldn’t have married him. I love him, but love isn’t always enough. Less than nine months after he was arrested, and eleven months after we were married, my husband was sentenced to prison.
The nine months between my husband’s arrest and his incarceration created many struggles for us personally and for our relationship. Right away we had to deal with a custody battle with his ex-wife, which was stressful but by far the easiest part. We started counseling individually and together and started an intensive outpatient treatment program. We prepared ourselves and his children for what might happen when he went back to court. When the Judge handed down the sentence, it became reality that our lives had changed forever. My husband was sentenced to five years in prison and 15 years of probation.
It has been more than two years since my husband began his sentence. Many people ask me what it’s like to be married to someone in prison. The most common things people ask me are about visits, phone calls and faithfulness. As far as visits go, it changes from facility to facility. He was originally a six-hour round trip drive away. In his current facility, he is only 45 minutes away and can have four visits weekly for three hours at a time. I go a minimum of once a week to see him. The visiting rooms don’t have glass booths, but instead resemble school cafeterias. There is a hug and kiss allowed at the beginning and end of the visits and we are allowed to hold hands, but that is the extent of our physical contact. To answer a common question: No, we don’t get conjugal visits. And that means what you think it means as far as our (and my) sex life goes.
We can speak as often as we’d like on the phone. He can call as many times a day as he wants for 15 minute calls, but we have settled on a phone call every two days because the calls are very expensive. I put money on an account in order for him to be able to call me. It is approximately $4 for a 15 minute phone call and that adds up very quickly. I can’t call him and he isn’t allowed to have a cell phone or use the internet. Our entire relationship revolves around these short calls and weekly visits as well as the occasional letters and cards. But, to be honest, it’s been something of a blessing for honing our communication skills. When you only have a few hours a week to maintain a relationship, you make the most of it.
The main question I get all of the time is “How do you remain faithful?” I used to take offense to this question, but I realize people are just curious. The answer is simple for me: I meant my vows. Being unfaithful is not an option in our marriage. It’s not easy to be alone when you aren’t really single. I get angry and sad and frustrated and not just because of the lack of sex. It happens when I have to do all of the work around the house, take care of our pets, can’t see my stepkids, and when I’m just having a bad day. It even happens during great times that I think to myself “he should be here to see this,” like when I graduated from graduate school.
Whenever someone mentions that her boyfriend is going to prison, I just want to shake her and tell her it’s so much harder than it seems and it can easily tear people apart. I know my husband and I are the exception to the rule. When we were in counseling we explored why I stayed with him after his arrest. Yes, it’s because I love him and knew I wanted to be with him, but it was mainly influenced by the fact that I had made that lifelong commitment to him. If he had been arrested a month before instead of a month after our wedding, I can’t honestly say if I still would have married him.
I learned a lot about our families and friends during this experience, but I have one friend who has been there for me through everything. She is a true blessing and appointed herself as my stand-in spouse when my husband was sent to prison. We go on “dates,” celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, talk every day and have become extremely close. I don’t think I would have survived without her. She has also acted as a sort of liaison for my husband when he needs to get me a gift or send me flowers. Between her and my wonderful mom, I have managed to maintain a semblance of normalcy in my life.
My husband will be entering an earned release program in the next two or three months, which will last for 6 months. Following the program, he will be released within 30 days. That means he will be home this year. It is weird and exciting and wonderful to think that there is an end in sight. If all goes as planned, I will have my husband back before Thanksgiving.
We think a lot about what will happen when he comes home and where we will go from there. While he’s been gone, I have still continued my life, including vacations, working, and even buying a duplex with my mom. I have included him in the steps of buying the duplex by sending him pictures and describing the ones we looked at. By the time he gets home, we will have closed and moved into it. One of our dreams was to be able to own a home and that is coming true.
Another plan we had for our future was to adopt a child. Because he now has a felony conviction and will be on supervision, it will be nearly impossible to adopt. I am likely unable to have children biologically, or at least will have a very difficult time conceiving naturally, due to a medical condition and my husband had a vasectomy in his first marriage. We have discussed the possibility of using artificial insemination with a donor to get pregnant.
Many of the dreams I had for our future are now impossible. My husband won’t be able to leave the state, much less the country, without permission for the next 18 years. We were supposed to go to Ireland for our one-year anniversary and now we don’t know if that will ever happen. The money earmarked for that trip went to pay for a lawyer after his arrest. But I know we can make do with what we have and the most important thing is for him to come home so we can continue to build our relationship and bring my stepkids back into our lives.
I often wonder what will happen if he relapses or if he is ever sent back to prison. I know — and he knows — what my reaction to any situation like that will be because I’ve been open about it. I won’t stay with him again. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to him, and it’s not good for our marriage. But for now I focus on the positives. He will be back with his family, we will have a new home, his kids will resume their regular visitation and rebuild their relationship with their dad, and we can start our life as a family again.
An update to this essay can be read here.
* Nicki Stapleton (honeybeenicki) is a state civil servant and contributing writer in the new music magazine The Blacktooth and has a music blog called For The Love of Rock and Metal. She lives in Wisconsin with her two dogs, two cats and various other small animals and enjoys live music, reading, writing, and true crime.