Dear Prudence: My husband played pen pal with prisoners for years.

Help! My Husband Secretly Corresponded With Prison Inmates for Years.

Help! My Husband Secretly Corresponded With Prison Inmates for Years.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 21 2013 6:00 AM

Jailhouse Shock

My husband corresponded with inmates for years behind my back—and now they're at our door.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
Years ago, before we were married, my husband suggested we write to prisoners all over the country to get their thoughts about life. I was dismissive of it for all the reasons someone might be wary of writing to prisoners. Over the years, whenever we got in fights about my not paying enough attention to his creative endeavors, I would think back to this idea and recognize that it was interesting. Well, it turns out he’d gone ahead and sent out his survey to prisoners. He rented a post office box and the ensuing correspondence has continued for seven years. I only recently learned of it because some of these men are starting to be released. I am sympathetic to those recently released from prison and the challenges they face. But my husband is not prepared for the role he has come to play in these men’s lives. Several have shown up at our house wanting to speak to my husband. It is unsettling, and I am afraid to disappoint them. My husband can’t say no to these men’s repeated, insistent requests to visit our house, borrow the car, get help finding work. I feel terrible cutting these people off after they evidently know so much about us and have considerable emotional investment in our family, but I do not want them in my life or my young children’s lives. I feel like everything I don't like about my husband is part of this predicament: carelessness with others' feelings and time, inability to finish projects, poor planning, and general lack of awareness about social justice issues. What should I do about these men when they show up or contact me, and what on earth do I do about my idiot husband?


—Not a Prison Wife

Dear Not,
That’s quite a bill of indictment you lay out against your husband—and yourself. For some reason you married this reckless dreamer and had children with him, and now your family is in potential peril because a whole bunch of ex-cons expect him to be their benefactor. The raw material your husband collected could be the basis for an interesting project. But your husband sounds too scattered to transform it. While he was engaging with these inmates—without your knowledge!—he needed to make sure he guarded your family’s privacy. Instead, he has allowed people who have demonstrated a capacity for anti-social behavior to arrive at your doorstep filled with expectations that are destined to be thwarted. That’s a volatile and menacing situation. Start by talking with local law enforcement, explain what’s going on and your concerns, and ask for advice. You may also want to hire a lawyer who can speak to the convicts’ parole officers and say that your family should not be contacted. If your husband has been stupid enough to give your address to lots of prisoners who are now being released, you may have to move. And as long as you’re contacting a lawyer and contemplating packing up, you may as well consider whether your husband possesses redeeming qualities you didn’t bother mentioning here that would make you want to continue your marriage.


Dear Prudence,
I am a sophomore at a prestigious private college. My sister, an alumna of the college, was able to avoid paying rent by living with a very nice family and providing light child care and housework. I was lucky enough to be employed by the same family, making meals and cleaning, but I wasn't sure how much the family would need me now that their youngest is joining the armed forces. The wife travels a lot on business, and there has been tension between the two, but they recently offered me a very interesting proposition: I could stay on as an emotional and sexual companion for the husband when the wife is away! The man is 20 years my senior, and my first initial response was to say no, but now that the shock has worn off, I'm actually intrigued by the idea. I've always been attracted to him, and I'm sure that was clear to them. I know other girls who work at strip clubs, and this is better than having risky sex with college men. It would also be a lot cheaper than paying for a room at college. Is it wrong for me to consider this arrangement?

—Avoiding Student Debt

Dear Debt,
Each college description on the U.S. News website ends with this boilerplate: “Paying for college doesn't have to be difficult or devastating. Go to the Paying for College knowledge center to get advice on raising cash and reducing costs.” I looked at the knowledge center and it lacked any information along the lines of, “To get your living costs covered, hump a sugar daddy a few times a week.” You’re trying to justify a tawdry and demeaning idea by making fallacious arguments. You assert that since you’re more or less attracted to the middle-aged dad, sleeping with him is better than stripping for a bunch of disgusting strangers, and also better than having lousy—and nonremunerative—sex with your classmates. But you know this is not the total of your financial or sexual options. To make a dent in your expenses you could do what your sister did and live with a family that actually needed child care; you could apply for on-campus jobs; you could be a full-time nanny during summer breaks. I’m worried that if you agree, this arrangement will leave a blight on your memories of your college years, a sense of regret that you traded yourself so cheaply. As for the couple, at the height of Bill Clinton’s presidential sex scandal I heard a middle-aged female comic ask, “How do I get an intern to give my husband blow jobs?” Apparently, this wife feels the same way. No stretch of imagination is required to understand why the husband would leap at this deal. But as far as the lonely dad’s need for emotional succor goes, instead of stoking his desire to pay for the attention of a young woman the age of his children, you could suggest he get a dog.