It could have been any “girls’ night out.” Over calorie-laden plates of chicken Alfredo and whipped brownie cheesecake at a Perkins in central Pennsylvania in December 2019, Rita, Sue, Nancy* and I unwound, gossiped and giggled, and shared intimate details of our lives.
The one thing we didn’t talk about was sex. That’s because our boyfriends were in federal prison, and thus our romances were sexless.
In my late 30s, I was the youngest in the group; the others were in their 40s and early 50s. Sue was a bookkeeper in Philadelphia; Rita worked as a nurse in an Indiana hospital; Donna worked as a corporate trainer.
Our romances with incarcerated men had all begun in different ways, too. Sue had been a business associate of her now-boyfriend, Matt, when he was prosecuted over his ties to a fraudster who bilked people of millions.
Rita met Charles, a former professional boxer sentenced to life for buying cocaine, while visiting another friend of hers in prison. Nancy had known her boyfriend John* before he went to prison, but drew closer to him while he was incarcerated as they bonded over their strong Catholic faith. (Nancy’s and John’s names have been changed here to protect their identity.)
And me, well… after my marriage fell apart, I’d fallen for a then-former source.
At the Pennsylvania Perkins, which was close to the prison where Martin had been transferred earlier that year, it didn’t matter who he was, who I was, or what his crimes were. I was just one of the girls — nibbling on bites of cheesecake, speculating over which prison visiting room guards had crushes on us, and cooing over pictures of Rita’s “grand-babies.”