Anybody who knows me knows I’m not exactly a touchy-feely, hand-holding, true-love-blah- blah, sappy kind of girl. But secretly, every now and again, I harbor the kinds of meet-cute fantasies that come from watching one too many Katherine Heigl romantic comedies (dear internet readers, remember, this is my deepest, darkest secret. Tell no one!). So when I received a mysterious letter from an even more mysteriously named person whom I had never met, well, you must forgive me for momentarily letting my imagination run a little wild. But let me tell you something – this is so not that kind of rom-com story. At all. We all know that the mail isn’t exciting anymore. It’s all just junk and junk and oh, hello, new Chinese restaurant take-out menu. But on this auspicious spring day not too long ago, hidden amongst the overdue bills, random credit card offers and a catalog for old church lady clothes which I’m pretty sure I never signed up for was a curiously addressed envelope. It was handwritten in a script I didn’t recognize. It was formally addressed to a Ms. Bass, which made me wonder if a classier member of my family had started squatting in my apartment. And then, I saw something that elicited the most heartfelt “What. The. Fuck.” that I have ever uttered in my entire life. My mysterious pen pal/future husband had sent this letter from upstate. And by upstate I mean a prison in upstate New York. According to the return address, the writer had no name other than Inmate #24601. (Confession #2 of this story, I don’t remember his exact number, but I love Les Miz).
I believe that there are two types of people in this world. There is the kind that would throw out a strange letter from a nameless prisoner because you want to avoid whatever trouble that letter might bring. Then there is the kind of person who would tear open a letter from a possibly violent offender who knows her home address, devour the contents, show it to all of her friends, and write about it for an internet website. It should be fairly obvious by now which camp I fall into.
Bob* opened his letter with, “It has been some time since I have left society . . . ,” which made me think it was more than likely that he learned how to write from reading a lot of Dickens while in prison. After a brief introduction, he informed me that he had found my name and address in a legal journal as a result of a court case I had been involved in. He noticed that I lived in the same neighborhood where he had grown up and just wanted to talk about gentrification in the area. After a few rambling pages lamenting the demise of his former stomping grounds, he assured me that I didn’t need to worry, he wouldn’t contact me again and said his good-byes.
I have to admit I was curious. He sounded lonely. After binging on Orange is the New Black, I wouldn’t call myself a prison expert, but it does seem like a horrifically isolating experience. I idly wondered how bored you would have to be to just write to random strangers out of the blue like that. How long had he been ‘out of society?’ What did he do to get sent to prison? And of course, the elephant in the room: was I dealing with a “hot convict” situation like Jeremy Meeks, famed subject of that obscenely attractive viral mugshot (don’t lie, I know you know who I’m talking about - how could anyone forget those big, blue eyes and creepy neck tattoos).
I wasn’t stupid enough to write back to the guy but I wanted to find out more. Just who was this man who now had my home address and felt totally at home writing me a missive about his old childhood home? Fortunately, his real name was unusual enough that I found him fairly quickly with a cursory google search of “Bob”, “New York”, “XYZ Correctional Facility” and “Crime.”
Bob, it turns out, was a drug dealer who had shot and paralyzed a rival and was sentenced to a very, very long prison sentence for attempted murder. Bob, it turns out, seemed to have a violent temper and had attacked a guard while in prison. Bob, it turns out, is not someone you want to know your home address, and is definitely not the kind of guy you become prison pen pals with. Of course, I still didn’t know if he was hot. So I did a little more internet digging.
Which led me to the strangest internet dating website I have come across quite possibly ever.
While all of us on ‘the outside’ can just hop on our smartphones or computers, download Tinder/Grindr or log on to OK Cupid and find a date with just a few clicks of a button and some suggestive text messages, things get a little bit trickier when you are in prison. But even people who are locked up are just looking for connection and romance out on the interwebs. Enter the website “Inmate Connection: Creating Friendships from the Inside Out!”
The point of this particular website is actually pretty noble. Because many prisoners spend their days isolated from the rest of the world and may not have friends or relatives to write them often, this website aims to match prisoners with pen pals to ease the burden of loneliness. It feels cruel to make fun of this. But flipping through some of the profiles, you can tell that some of these guys wouldn’t mind a little bit of romance – or at least a steamy letter - as well. Take Bob, for instance.
Yes, Bob also has a profile on Inmate Connection. He lists his age, height and weight and has posted a profile picture, wearing what I imagine to be his nicest green sweatshirt. You can choose to be looking for ‘friends’, ‘males’, or ‘females’, depending on what sort of companionship you are looking for. Bob is ‘In Search of Females’ but to be honest, after reading his profile, I felt really sad for Bob and it seemed mean-spirited to make fun of him. But I knew there had to be gold somewhere on this site, men being men and all.
I spent a lazy afternoon poking around the profiles of other men seeking ‘females’ to see what they were looking for in a woman, what ‘smooth’ lines they used, and how they compared to men on other internet dating sites, and let me say, they did not disappoint. Alex, making a rare claim for a young, single man in New York, says that he “doesn’t need a Beyonce.” See ladies, there ARE men with reasonable standards in NYC. I momentarily wish there were more guys like him because I know I certainly cannot compete with a Beyonce-like hot chick out here. On second thought, I wish there were more dudes like him, minus the whole being in prison for assault thing. Minor detail, you say? I don’t think so, but ask me again when I’m still single at 40. And if you are lamenting the fact that you can’t find a man who is ready to settle down, look no further than George, who states, “If you are finished being a little girl and are ready to pursue a serious relationship as a mature, grown woman, then write me.” I do feel my biological clock ticking, so sign me up. If only the men I meet in bars were as serious about our future as George.
Many of the men reiterate the fact that they don’t care too much about looks, age, or race. Without a trace of snark, I can say that it is nice to see men being attracted to a variety of body types and ethnicities. Or maybe it’s just a case of beggars can’t be choosers. Whatever the reason, young or old, skinny or voluptuous, you can probably find someone who is looking for whatever it is that you bring to the table. For example, Justin declares, “thick is the new sexy” and then mentions how much he would enjoy it if you had any ‘pictures’ to share. He declines to mention what kind of pictures.
Other men like to comment on how hot they are, or how often they work out. One gentleman described the tattoos spread across his “chiseled physique” but made sure to let any potential ‘pen pals’ know he only wanted to hear from women who were over 18. I guess it would be bad form to commit some type of sketchy-ness while behind bars. Another man mentioned that “this is for the grown and sexy; no little girls allowed” because “I’m a real bad boy that loves to get it poppin’ and makin’ it a rain.” I’m grown, but I’m a bit more like a clutzy, drunken mess rather than sexy and seductive, so I guess he wouldn’t be into me. This does not do wonders for my self-esteem . . . and no, I don’t want to talk about it.
I notice that many of the profiles turn toward the philosophical. However, while Derek from Illinois may have just been trying to be symbolic, I’m pretty sure he meant straight up casual sex when he wrote, “Nature admits no permanence in this need between man and woman but I would like to meet you if your walls are not impossible to surmount.” There is a large portion of New York who can attest to the fact that my walls are most definitely not even a little bit difficult to surmount after a margarita or two, so who knows what the future will hold for us two crazy kids. I guess what I’m trying to say is, Derek, boo, call me!
While I am pretty sure I haven’t found my true love with Bob, or with any of the men whose profiles I viewed on Inmate Connection, I do believe that there is someone out there for everyone. And if these guys are still fighting the good internet dating fight from freaking prison then maybe I should reconsider my online dating ban, dust off my Match.com profile, and start practicing my right-swiping skills for all the late night, drunken Tinder-ing I plan to do. And if all else fails, I know where to look for some desperate dudes who are seeking not-as-hot-as Beyonce, grown-ass women with a thing for bad, bad boys.
*Names have been changed because it’s the kind thing to do, and because I don’t want anyone to track me down and kill me in my sleep.
-Anonymous BDGS contributor