Prison Girlfriends and Wives - Pacific Standard

Prison Girlfriends and Wives

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.
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Journey "Jo" Reed, 41, stay-at-home mom, prison reform activist, and media community chair of Strong Prison Wives & Families. (Photo: Christopher Leaman)

Journey "Jo" Reed, 41, stay-at-home mom, prison reform activist, and media community chair of Strong Prison Wives & Families. (Photo: Christopher Leaman)

The vast majority of the roughly 2.3 million incarcerated Americans are male. For the inmates' girlfriends and wives, this creates complications—romantic and otherwise. Women bear nearly 90 percent of the costs of calls and visits with inmates, according to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; worse, two in three families of inmates report difficulty affording housing and food as a result of their loved one's incarceration. Many women find support through online groups like Strong Prison Wives & Families. It has around 20,000 members, and is adding 1,000 members to its Facebook page every six months.

  • In Strong Prison Wives & Families, we don't ask about people's loved ones and we don't ask about charges. We don't ask about sentencing, and we don't ask about criminal background. That's not what we're there for.
  • Sometimes, the most challenging aspect is wanting to be supportive of the other women without ever condoning behavior from their partners that's just not helping, or is anxiety-producing. You always want to be supportive of the member, but you can't always be supportive of the situation.
  • My friends were pretty skeptical of my relationship, but only initially. It's been harder for my family. They do know that I'm in a [prison] relationship. They have chosen to just not acknowledge it. In order to keep the peace, it's just kind of something we don't discuss.
  • I really feel like my relationship is stronger and more solid than other ones I've had. Because we fell in love with each other first—hearts and minds. Obviously there's a physical attraction there that we can't wait to, you know, happen! But it's not the be-all, end-all of our relationship.
  • My partner and I do workshops together— communication workshops and couples workbooks. I'll ship a book to him, and on our phone calls we'll answer these questions and go through these problem-solving scenarios.
  • No matter what people's loved ones have done, that doesn't remove the need for support those loved ones have. All those 2.3 million inmates have family members that love them. Strong Prison Wives' purpose is that those people don't feel alone.

—Journey "Jo" Reed, 41, stay-at-home mom, prison reform activist, and media community chair of Strong Prison Wives & Families (as told to Julie Morse)

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