My review and opinion are only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ for the stories in this collection of prison relationships.
For the inmate — Eleven families, each with one penitentiary inmate, let the reading world look into their life ‘fishbowl’. Very little is pretty. There is intense loyalty and love that will be sustaining to the inmate. Conviction for crime is intended to punish and shame in the isolation of prison. In isolation, the view can become of one having nobody to care. To have a mother, wife, girlfriend, children or extended family who say, “We still love you” is valuable sustenance.
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For the families — having a family member who is a loving inmate, stresses for time, finances, heartache are perpetual pain.
There are too many facets of prison relationships that go far beyond a romance. Mothers, wives, sweethearts and children are all part of relationships with inmates.
Guilty Hearts that aren’t guilty
Most of the people on the outside experience feelings of punishment for the crime along with the inmate. Family responsibilities are no longer shared. Those include companionship, financial needs and perhaps children. The family faces rejection in the community, whether real or perceived. Having an inmate spouse or child can cost the wife or mother a job, increasing the financial burdens. Other family members or acquaintances cruelly try to separate the people on the outside from those who are inside the walls.
Most of the families have, to the time of publication, managed to maintain their stand behind their incarcerated spouse or son. (The inmates are men who are incarcerated in penitentiaries located in Missouri, USA) The families make sacrificial efforts to physically visit the prison. Finances are stressed by the cost of traveling to visit and paying some of the expenses of prison.
Will anyone care and be kind?
Having someone who will be accepting and listen without judgement is a social scarcity. Many of the wives and mothers do not talk about their experience openly in the community. There is a definite stigma surrounding incarceration within the working society on the outside. This can make employment difficult from beginning to end. Family experiences the stigma during and after the term while finding employment after release can be difficult for the former inmate. Not only do released inmates face stigma, they’ve been lost in time and technology while they were isolated from the working world. Employable skills deteriorate deteriorate when they aren’t used or updated through employment.
Painful surprises never end
Yes, they should have thought about that.
Some of the families interviewed were blindsided by ‘criminal events’ that were impulsive. There wasn’t an underlying plan to break the law. So,’ no, they didn’t think about it’ and decide to take the chance. Some were ‘flirting’ with risky behavior, as were peers who didn’t get caught. If they ‘thought about it’, they didn’t think much.
The cost of that situation will fall on them, their families and on society with the loss of productive people because of selfish, risky or impulsive actions.
Clearly, some people were frustrated by the severity of the sentence and its enhanced punishment when prisoners are housed a great distance from family who would visit and care for them. Still in their heartbreak, no one was pressuring or ‘playing’ readers. Nor did I sense an effort to make use of the story to gain tangible support. Seeking support would be tempting, such as asking:
- help me get out
- help me get better conditions
- help my family pay the bills
Respect, Compassion and Civility
What all wanted was a chance at respect. In the penitentiary, there is little to no self-respect tolerated. Prisoners prey on one another, sometimes violently. Too many staff personnel are uncaring, cruel, or corrupt. Too much mismanagement results in unreasonable conditions:
- nasty (worse than low) nutrition
- low amounts of nutrition
- deteriorated facilities.
People in the outside community are inclined to shun the entire ‘convict tribe’ — prisoner and family. Or practice cold, ‘you should have thought of that’ indifference. Inmates and their families, across the board would appreciate some respect.
I am a person ‘out in the community.’ Reading this book as an observer I am not acquainted with these families or any other family in a similar situation. The book and the families moved me; I recommend the book and their bravery in permitting me to learn about them. The hurting people are braver than they even understand. As a reader you will come to the same opinion, I am sure. I hope that you will read and have compassion and respect for others. That you may come to be interested in at least paying attention to the way things DON’T work well in the Missouri Penal System and use your votes wisely.
As you form your own opinions, bear in mind why family and familial caring are important to the inmates and to you! There will come a day when this inmate could be your next door neighbor and will want to have a peaceful life and future. Who will let this happen and will not continue the punishment?
The most hopeful families were those with romance experiences that began after the sentence was delivered to the inmate. Even so, these women had sad challenges that shouldn’t have happened.
Take away on a good book
I would have liked to see some response from women inmates and their families. Perhaps another book is in the works.
Author, Caroline Giammanco, has two other books revolving around the penitentiary system in Missouri. Because of her personal involvement and interest, she was in a position to build trust with the families whose stories are in Guilty Hearts : The World of Prison Romance. In her other books, Bank Notes — Story of the Boonie Hat Bandit and Inside the DEATH FENCES — Memoir of a Whistleblower, Giammanco tells the story of her married life when her spouse is an inmate.
She is a very active woman who manages to juggle several ‘plates.’ The author
- writes these profound books
- is a teacher
- maintains a small acreage home on her own
- keeps an eye on politics regarding conditions in Missouri’s penitentiaries.
- Additionally, she has a beautiful relationship with immediate family; she has two grown sons while her husband brings two adult daughters to this active family dynamic.
My view of Bank Notes — Story of the Boonie Hat Bandit. And my thoughts on Inside the DEATH FENCES — Memoir of a Whistleblower
I purchased a digital copy of Guilty Hearts. While I am a neighbor and friend with the author, I was not required to write a review from either positive or negative view.