Thursday, February 14, 2013

More than Flowers & Chocolates: How Significant Others and Confined Youth 'Celebrate' Valentine's Day

By Tosin Oyekoya

“It’s hard to explain,” says Maria. “My husband has been in prison for so long, but in a way it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. When you make the decision to stay together, you learn to live this way.”

Every year, millions of people arrange special dates and purchase heartfelt gifts for their loved ones for Valentine’s Day. While that is going on, there are millions who are miserable around this time of the year. Not particularly because they are single or feel lonely, but because their significant other is incarcerated.

While the average person may not think about how people “on the inside” celebrate – or don’t celebrate – holidays like Valentine’s Day or Christmas, several advocacy organizations are quite aware and make efforts for families to reach out to their loved ones during special times. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a nonprofit membership organization working for fair and proportionate sentencing laws, is one of them. Four Massachusetts FAMM members shared special messages that help remind society of the power of love and family. Maria was one of the members, and so is Perla. Perla’s husband is serving the first year of a 10-year sentence.

“There was never any question that we’d stay married,” wrote Perla. “We’ve been together for eight years and he is a good husband and father.” Read the full length articles on FAMM’s

Another organization, Campaign for Youth Justice, has a special advocacy campaign right now calling for donations for kids in adult prisons. More than 10,000 kids will spend this Valentine’s Day in an adult jail or prison, often in solitary confinement where they cannot communicate with others, let alone their loved ones. The Campaign for Youth Justice wants people to show support for these young people by making a donation to their “prisoner correspondence project.” This project works to ensure that no child is forgotten this Valentine’s Day. The donation will go directly towards supporting their correspondence with incarcerated youth. Donations will provide several items for youth such as stamps for Valentine’s Day cards, greeting cards and envelopes. A $100 donation will allow for all three items to be provided, in addition to allowing a youth to send a card in return.

Prison Talk is one of a few groups that talk about gift exchanging with incarcerated significant others on holidays.

Sylvia Payne, an independent writer for Helium, says “Valentines Day is the perfect occasion to get creative. No matter how tough your loved one is, they will appreciate one or more of the following ideas while they are in jail or prison.” On the website Helium, Payne gives some Valentine’s Day tips and ideas.

Numerous people are curious as to why these significant others stay in these relationships and marriages knowing there will be difficulties. Renae, who shared her story with FAMM sums it up perfectly. “There’s something special about him. He lets me in to a place that no one else has seen before. When you communicate like we do, it goes beyond a physical relationship. It’s so much deeper than that. I realized that my life didn’t feel complete without him.” Renae also reminds us that those who are committed to their marriages under such circumstances are remarkable. “Not everyone is cut out for this.  It’s a very personal decision. But for those of us who do the time with the men we love, we’re a special group.”

The Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, PA is giving an all day Valentine’s Day Love Stories tour today through Sunday, February 17. This tour will incorporate the true stories of love behind the walls of Eastern State Penitentiary. This one-hour tour consists of showing visitors the cells of inmate Elizabeth Velora Elwell who had secret meetings in a cold cellar and wrote love letters to inmate Albert Green Jackson in 1862. This tour will also shed light into the cell of inmate Sydney Ware, who served life in prison for murder, and married Ella M. Hershey, a society woman who helped secure his pardon in 1913. The tickets are available for purchase. The tour is not recommended for children under the age of seven.

Click here for more Prison News Blog testimonies.Click here for more stories on being married while incarcerated.

Tosin Oyekoya is JPI's communications intern.

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