Every time a famous prisoner in the United States gets engaged, married or has a relationship with a woman in the outside world, it becomes national news. Charles Manson, Scott Peterson and the Menendez Brothers all had women swooning over them while in California’s CDCR prisons. Lisa Ling digs deep into the lives of women engaged to and married to prison inmates.
However, that is just we see in the mainstream. There are countless other women all over the country whose story is not as torrid and offers a completely different point of view.
Lisa Ling explores the lives of several women who are engaged in relationships with prisoners all over the United States in her documentary television show This is Life With Lisa Ling.
This episode we’re spotlighting is titled Prison Love.
This is Life With Lisa Ling: Prison Love Stories
Taquita’s fiance Jerome lives in a maximum security prison half way across the country. He told Lisa it was absolutely love at first time when he saw his fiance.
Jerome is serving a sentence for burglary, ten years in but far from release.
Instead of simply investigating Taquita’s life and why she was willing to marry a man in prison, Ling decided to also tell Jerome’s story.
Why does anyone fall for an incarcerated person?
As a troubled child born to a single mother in rural Indiana, Jerome quickly fell prey to drugs which started his downward spiral.
He met Taquita in a mall two decades ago when they were both struggling and quickly fell in love.
Prison Couples: The Modes of Communication
Although they live apart, they are able to share videos with each other through kiosks in the prison. Jerome is able to see Taquita throughout the day in small thirty second clips.
He is also able to record videos for Taquita that she can access anywhere in the world. Despite not having seen each other in person in six years, they are able to see other on camera and keep the spark alive.
The Prison Relationship Comes to a Halt
Taquita describes other men as “young and dumb” and talks about her love for Jerome. When they met she was pregnant with another man’s child. After the father of her child left her, Jerome embraced her with open arms.
It was not until much later that Taquita found out Jerome was a drug addict and often engaged in petty criminal actions. After Jerome was sentenced to prison, Taquita let go of their relationship and moved across the country.
The two got a divorce but never lost contact.
While Taquita was starting a new life away from Jerome in Arizona, Jerome was forced to face his actions. He received his GED and enrolled in substance abuse classes. He now mentors other offenders and is seen as a model inmate.
After seeing this, Taquita decided to ask Jerome to get married once again. She would see Jerome after six years to get married.
Lisa Ling Explores Prison Marriages: Jerome & Taquita
Marriage guidelines for prisons are very strict. At Jerome’s prison, prisoners who want to get married are required to go through four marriage classes. The prisoners are taught how to react to bad situations and keep their relationships healthy. The classes are incredibly helpful as Ling says:
“I think every man should take this class.”
When Taquita and Jerome finally see each other, it is heart wrenching and heartwarming. They go through a class with a counselor to learn how to maintain intimacy. Even he tells the couples:
“This is a very dehumanizing place.”
Incarcerated for first-degree murder Cody calls Shelby many times every day. Like Jerome, Cody got involved with drugs as a teenager. When a drug deal with south, he set fire to a dealer’s home, unaware an elderly man was sleeping inside who later died due to his injuries.
Lisa Ling Explores Prison Marriages: Cody & Shelby
Unlike Jerome and Taquita, Shelby and Cody met after he was incarcerated.
While Shelby was getting her PHD in education, teaching writing to prisoners including Cody, they fell in love. Shelby said she was always drawn to the downtrodden.
Although Cody is in prison, he constantly sends her cards and artwork. After speaking for a few months the two decided to get married. Shelby points out the intellectual intimacy she feels with Cody is so much more important than any sexual intimacy.
Unlike Jerome’s prison, Cody’s prison does not allow prisoners to marry. Shelby says this is a completely wrong philosophy that does not treat prisoners humanely, taking away the rights of prisoners.
Rhode Island is one of two states that basically says life prisoners are civilly dead. This prevents prisoners from:
- Having personal property in prison
- Owning property outside of prison
- Getting married
- Engaging in civil suits
Lisa Ling Speaks with ACLU Attorney About Prison Marriage Issues
Ling then visits a lawyer for the ACLU, a lawyer working with Shelby. Although the state always had this law, it was not enforced until a few years ago. Shelby claimed this new enforcement was specifically targeted at her and Cody because of an event that transpired in 2014.
Why Shelby and Cody Are Not Allowed to Get Married in Prison
When another inmate sent Shelby a letter, she responded to the letter telling him she was not interested. When the prison got wind of this interaction, they sent Shelby a letter telling her she had broken the rules by speaking to an inmate without the prison’s consent.
The situation was worsened because the prisoner was already on the prison’s radar for attempting to escape. However, Shelby claims she was never told this rule before she started working at the prison.
Shelby continued to talk about the prison’s attitude toward her. The first and only time she was able to visit Cody her visit was cut short by a prison guard. They both believe this is due to Shelby’s previous experience.
Shelby Can’t Even Visit Her Love in Prison
Ling and Shelby heads to the prison. Unfortunately Shelby cannot go inside the prison so Ling has to go in alone. He sends Shelby a sweet message through Ling. Unfortunately Shelby is used to this as she has made this trip many times before with her friends and family.
Although Ling does not give any opinions on the matter to Shelby, she does express some concerns. She wonders if Shelby will be able to sustain this relationship when she is only thirty years old.
The prison couple will not be able to have children or ever live with each other. Ling adds that couples all reach a point where they are able to sit together in silence in their home and Shelby and Cody will never have that moment.
Statistics on Prison Marriages in the US
Unfortunately, there are no real statistics on the number of prisoners who marry while incarcerated.
However, it is known that most marriages in prisons end in divorce. A
Most prisoners marry people they knew before they were incarcerated. Others meet women and men on websites such as Love a Prisoner and Meet an Inmate. It is incredibly difficult situation that one cannot understand without going through it themselves.