Why would someone choose to marry a felon – much less a convicted murderer? Many women who marry inmates or felons are deemed ‘crazy’ but people who’ve been incarcerated are – of course – still people. This is the story of ‘Nancy,’ her husband, and their marriage.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in California, in very normal (almost boring), middle class family. I am in my 40’s now, have two very active teenagers and a pretty boring life, living in the Pacific Northwest.
During the day I am an auditor for a large company. On the weekends, I have a small hobby business to feed my creative side. We camp, hike, mountain bike, attend local events. Kids are active in school and we are just trying to create the fullest life we possibly can.
What’s your husband like?
He grew up with a single mother who turned 20 two days before he was born. His dad left when he was 13 months old, the day before his younger brother was born. A man he never met.
His grandparents primarily raised him, as his mother was young and also trying to figure her life out.
His Grandfather was very old school as many of us in our 40s know from our grandfathers. You work hard, take care of your responsibilities and family is everything. All his core values he learned from his Grandfather and his love to build things.
At the age of 13 he got involved with drugs and the law. He was arrested several times in his youth, at 22 he was sentenced to life in prison for murder.
Today, he is the most loving, loyal person you will ever find. He will do anything for anyone. He is strong, yet vulnerable. Very funny, has such a strong faith and knowledge of God. He calls his mother every day. Is the hardest working man I have ever met. He cannot figure out how to turn a computer on for is life, but he can make me any piece of furniture I find on Pinterest. He loves fast cars, extreme sports and coffee.
How did you meet your husband?
Its funny, I skirt around this question a lot and most the time don’t answer it. We met online. You always hear horror stories from online dating, and everyone tells you to be careful. And here I go, marrying a felon I met online.
At what point did he tell you that he’d been convicted of murder?
The first time we met, he told me. Everything. Not a lot of detail at that point, it came later. He was released two months prior from prison, serving 24 years and 9 months of a life sentence for murder. After these words I remember my heart dropping and just holding back the tears. And in all honesty, I was in shock.
Even after two years there still are a lot of questions. I am still asking and trying to understand. He is always been very upfront and honest. Even knowing that what he is going to tell me I probably do not want to hear. Most of the time he is right. I struggle with just accepting his past. I probably always will.
For many of us, a murder conviction would be a deal breaker. Why wasn’t it a deal breaker for you?
To this day I am not really sure why I did not walk away.
When he finished, all I could say was “I can’t do this, my dad’s a cop, and my entire family and ex are cops.” I remember laughing and holding back the tears at the same time. I found this incredible man that I had such a strong connection with and he turns out to be the polar opposite of how I have lived my entire life. He was the opposite of what I believed in.
He asked one thing “just give me a chance.” It was not an easy decision, I spent weeks really searching for the right direction. I am so glad that I decided to.
Your dad worked in law enforcement and your first husband was a cop. Do you think that affected how you reacted when your husband told you about his conviction?
Absolutely. I grew up and lived a very law abiding life. I have never done drugs. Attended a Christian college. My dad and ex arrested people like him. My cousin worked undercover with the drug gangs. My other cousin works in the prisons. Other than a few friends with DUIs, all my friends were straight as could be.
Your husband was in prison for almost 25 years. How does this affect him on a day to day basis?
In the beginning it was hard and there were days I did not think I had the strength to make this relationship work. Emotionally it was draining. You have to have a lot of patience – A LOT – and also realize that most of the issues have nothing to do with you. He was starting from nothing and was always confused and frustrated.
He was sentenced in 1992, there were no cell phones, lap tops or DVR’s. Social media did not exist. Computers were barely in schools, not homes. Kids did not wear helmets, spanking was a form of discipline, skinny jeans did not exist. If you wanted something you worked hard for it, nothing was given to you.
Now, you cannot do anything that is not driven by a computer. Learning how to operate a cell phone, especially texting. He finally has figured out the TV, but has yet to try to figure out how to work a computer.
For almost 25 years, he basically did not exist. He had no credit, no work history, no savings, and no job experience. He struggled to find a job. Slowly, we are working through these issues and in another six months we will be at that two year mark where you don’t have to explain why on paper you’ve been a ghost for 25 years.
I think we have hit a point now, where present life has taken over his past life. He is still on parole for another three years. He cannot leave the state without permission, has to report in once a month. We are subjected to random house visits and he cannot get a passport. To him this is just normal, I struggle with this, not having the complete freedom to do what you want and when.
Very few people in your life know about your husband’s past. Why have you chosen not to tell them? And how do you work around that 25 year gap in his history?
When we first started dating, I was so afraid of people finding out. I have children and his past coming out could have put us in a custody battle.
And, how do you start a conversation? “I would like you to meet my husband, he spent 25 years in prison for murder……”?
When people ask about his past, they ask where he grew up, where he went to school – those are easy questions to answer. It actually has been very easy to work around those 25 years.
Do you have a plan for what you’ll say if/when people eventually find out?
Our only plan was that if it comes up, we are honest about it. The first night I met him, I called my girlfriend and told her everything. She had a husband that was abusive, into drugs, in and out of jail, so this was a lifestyle she knew something about. She has been great in helping shed perspective on situations as they come up and supporting both of us in our struggles.
I have one other friend that I have told. She was visiting me with her husband and the parole officers showed up. Never a good time for a random house visit. I remember being so scared, more that they would reject me and our friendship, but they were great. They had questions that I tried to answer best I could. In my circle, someone like my husband is not easily accepted. It was uncomfortable, but it was such a relief to have finally been able to tell someone.
In being completely honest, I know my dad knows he spent time in prison. It is very evident just by looking at him. I have had friends hint around for information, but no one has come out and asked and I don’t offer.
The only plan we do have is to tell the children when they are of age. Right now, they are young and love him for who he is. They would not fully understand and it is not the right time, but it will come out. They deserve to know and his story needs to be heard.
What have you learned from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?
Don’t discount someone making an impact on your life because you do not understand them or their past. I have learned so much from my husband. And even though I honestly don’t understand how he could have done what he did or his past. I also know this is his past. He spent 16 years in prison getting clean, finding God, working programs. He spent that time changing his life so he could be the man I fell in love with.
Three years ago I would have never even talked to a man like him, now half the people I know have been in prison for life and they are some of the most amazing men I have ever met.
People can change, sometimes we have to be willing to give them a chance.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Nancy. Do you guys have any questions for her? I realize that Nancy’s choice isn’t one that a lot of people would make. Respectful, articulate disagreement is always welcome here, incendiary comments will be deleted.
P.S. Two other sides to this story: True Story: I was in federal prison and True Story: My father’s in prison on child pornography charges.
P.P.S. If you’re interested in helping give inmates access to life-changing books, considering donating money or used books to Books Through Bars.