*Note ~ the next few chapters are especially hard for me to reveal, as they show me at my weakest as a woman, and as a mother.*
In 1982 I moved my little family, which consisted of a divorced me, and my daughters Kristen and Karalyn at ages 4 and 2 years old, into the city of Syracuse. I decided that, after the divorce, I needed to do something to propel my life forward on my own, so I enrolled in business school, attending nights while I took care of the girls during the day. We moved into some low income housing only a block or so down the street from the school, and we relied on public assistance for our rent, meals and utilities… and pretty much everything else. I had a car, and attempted to keep it road-worthy, but it wasn’t working most of the time. Thank God for buses!
But I got a good babysitter for my daughters while I attended school evenings. She was also a business school student, who attended school during the day. We became fast friends. I also made other friends at school, one of which used to share her (what I thought at the time) unusual lifestyle of being married to a prison inmate. Still, I was curious and we often talked of how she visited her husband at Auburn Correctional Facility, and all the various trappings that came with the lifestyle. One evening she asked me if I was interested in being a pen pal (yet again) to a friend of her husband’s in Auburn Correctional. I pressed her for more information, and then agreed and got the address and wrote my first letter that very night. Within a few days, I received an answer back!
BH was a charismatic inmate, 3 years older than me, and with much more worldly experience. He was in his 3rd year at Auburn Correctional of an 8 ¼ to 25 year sentence for the manslaughter of his second wife. He never even bothered to profess his innocence to me, as most inmates do. He accepted the fact that he’d injected her with too much heroin when they had been partying together. She died from the overdose. I don’t know what it was I found so fascinating about this man that I had to meet him… perhaps it was his history riddled with crimes, or his exciting biker lifestyle (he was a member of a gang out of Rochester that was notorious for violence). But I decided I wanted to get to know this person. I was shown the processes involved for visiting an inmate in a state penitentiary, and made arrangements to visit him on the same day my friend was visiting her husband, so she could show me the ropes.
Upon arriving at Auburn Correctional, you are required to wait outside the welcome area until it opens up. A myriad of people wait with you, first come, first serve. Sometimes buses would pull up and dozens of people would disembark from New York City or other distant places, coming to see their husband, father, uncle etc. Once the doors opened and you went inside, there were lockers to place anything you would not be allowed to take inside… which was pretty much everything. You would have to submit to a metal detector, and a pat down once through the metal detector. Then you would pass through double barred doors to get into the visiting area, which contained tables and chairs, a few vending machines, doors to public restrooms, and guards. Lots of guards, who watched your every move. They chose your seat for you, and you would report to the guard desk and they would tell you which alpha-numeric table you would be seated at, then you would go and take your seat to wait for your inmate to be called out from behind locked down doors. After the usual 10-15 minute wait, BH strolled into the visiting room. Having never seen me before, he approached the guard desk to ask which table he was assigned, then he found me at the appropriate assigned table. He was my kind of attractive: blond, muscular from working out daily, although he was rather unassuming and the same height as me. He sat down and introduced himself as he looked around to see what other inmates were coming into the room to visit with their loved ones. There were women with children of all ages, and men visiting their sons perhaps. BH was surveying the room to see if there were any potential confrontational inmates there ~ guys he didn’t get along with on the “inside”. Seeing no rivals, his once guarded disposition easily melted into happy to see me. We would visit for about 6-8 hours before being ushered back out of the visiting room at the end of visiting hours ~ around 4 pm. We’d say our goodbyes and make plans for the next time I could get to see him.
It didn’t take long, maybe 5 or 6 visits, before BH began to pressure me to bring him “things” into the prison. Sometimes it would be a simple “care package” of foods that he liked but couldn’t get inside. But he was not shy about telling me his penchant for alcohol and drugs. He explained that he regularly made his own “alcohol” behind bars using potatoes and bread ~ the fascinating process has been long-forgotten. And he was not without his marijuana as well, but now, he explained, he wouldn’t have to buy it on the inside, I could bring it to him. Of course, everything was at my expense. Me, depending on public assistance to support myself and two daughters, and now an inmate. I was dutiful. He seemed to really like me, and I wanted to keep it that way. This person was the only prospect I had for male companionship at the time. So I learned from my business school friend, and from BH, how to introduce illegal contraband into a state prison for consumption and resale. What an adrenalin rush! It even sounded cool. About once every couple of weeks I would come to Auburn Correctional with a “package” for my new boyfriend, and I learned the in’s and out’s of how to bring it in internally, and how he would take it back to his cell internally (if you get my drift). After a couple of months of operating this way, now he had me believing that I “owed it to him” to help him out in this manner. I was his girlfriend, and potentially soon to be his wife, so it was my duty to bring him whatever he asked for. Eventually, this included prescription Valium.
I never knew that there were physicians in Syracuse that would see a patient for the sole purpose of collecting the money involved in the visit, plus give that patient pretty much whatever prescription they requested. I was connected with two such physicians for the purpose of getting Valium for my inmate friend. Boy was I scared in the beginning, but the docs made it easy. No questions asked. In fact, I was prescribed Valium (a downer for BH) and amphetamines (for me) from the same physician! All meds available on Medicaid at no cost to me. (thank you tax payers!)
The one day I was scheduled to bring in some pot during a visit, I wasn’t feeling well and could not internalize the contraband… so I just stuck it up under my bra and hoped for the best. I also brought my two daughters with me to visit BH (they’d been there before). I had no idea that the guards were actually anticipating my arrival and would be taking me aside and into the “inner workings” of the prison to be detained on suspicion of having contraband. Oh yes! I was found out and arrested that day. I was taken from the prison to the state police barracks nearby where I was processed, my daughters in tow. Was it fortunate that I had them with me? The troopers said I would’ve been sent straight to jail but for them. I was absolutely terrified. I eventually found out that my own friend had been the cause of my demise, as he’d bragged to someone on the inside about having a reliable source of “stuff”, and word got around. It only takes ONE rival to snitch to a guard that you’re coming and they’ve got you. How naïve was I?! A friend helped me get and pay for an attorney, and the charges were pled down and I got probation, plus I was banned from visiting BH (at any prison) for a period of one year. I felt I could breathe easy for awhile, since I wouldn’t be pressured to bring him anything again for at least a year. But, I soon found out there are other ways that inmates can have things on the inside. “How about sending me some homemade Christmas cookies” he told me in a letter. The letter included all the instructions on how to crush up the Valium pills into a fine powder and make blue icing (Valium pills are blue) for the Christmas cookies. I was of such low self esteem that I was allowing this person to control my life from inside a state prison, pressuring me to do things that I really didn’t want to do, but chanced it anyway.
Auburn Correctional Facility, NYS DOC, Auburn, NY
The next year was spent like this, letters and phone calls from Auburn Correctional, and I continued on with business school and raising my daughters. Within 4 or 5 months, I got word that they were transferring BH to Attica State prison near Rochester/Buffalo. The state doesn’t need to give a reason or have any rhyme to what they do, inmates can be transferred without notice to any state prison in the NYS system. And so BH was gone from being local to me. We continued to write, and he’d call when he could, and we’d decided that, once the year long ban was lifted, he and I would get married. In the Spring of 1983 he was transferred back to Auburn, the ban was lifted in August, and in September 1983 we got married inside Auburn Correctional Facility. Two of my friends from high school attended (best man & maid of honor). The honeymoon, however, would have to be put off for a little while. Conjugal visits were not easy to come by, but the day after our wedding, BH put in the appropriate “application” to be with me. By Christmas he was transferred back to Attica, where he would have to re-apply. I think it was around April or May before the application for a conjugal visit was approved by NYS Department of Corrections.
This milestone in my new life involving the Department of Corrections would set the stage for a scary ride into my second marriage. My life was already a train wreck waiting to happen. Soon enough, soon enough.