Coping With My Boyfriend's Incarceration
My boyfriend was arrested on June 24, 2020 for a non-violent crime. The police cuffed and ripped him out of my home, where we’d been living together for nine months. He didn’t cry and he didn’t need to. His eyes told me exactly how he felt: terrified. I sobbed, begging the police officers to reconsider.
He is now in jail and I am here, with a shattered mirror, a damaged bed, and a heart that constantly aches. Despite my boyfriend’s cooperation during the arrest, the cops had also smashed me on the cement, leaving a lump on my forehead.
I have no control over my boyfriend, Joe*, being incarcerated, nor can I dictate how long he will be in jail. I only know that he will spend two weeks in quarantine due to the novel coronavirus—23 hours in a cell with one hour for showering, phone calls, and recreational time. Oddly enough, it is the same jail that one of our favorite shows, Orange Is The New Black, is based on.
The judge will determine Joe’s sentence on July 13th, and from what his lawyer told me, he is looking at 90 days to six months.
What I Can Do For Him
Being powerless feels foreign to me. I don’t like it, so I am focusing on what I can do for Joe. Since the day he was taken from me, I have written and mailed him a six-page letter every single day, and will continue doing so until his release. The reason for this is plain and simple: it makes me feel closer to him.
I recently learned that correctional facilities hand new inmates clothing made from uncomfortable and itchy canvas-like material, along with two pairs of "tighty whities" and socks. I called and asked what he is allowed to have and bought it all—green sweatshirts, sweatpants, white tee shirts, basketball shorts, money for commissary (so he can buy better food, boxer briefs, shampoo, and more) and books mailed directly from Amazon.
I sent him three books, bought every clothing item he is permitted to have, added funds to the phone system so he can make calls, and left $250 for his commissary account.
Visitation is scarce—twice a week, 30 minutes per session, and no contact. Before COVID-19, inmates were allowed one hour visits, and hugs and kisses were okay. I found out that the jail only began implementing visitation again last week, and visits were prohibited for the past four months in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus. I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like if his arrest had occurred earlier, and I couldn't physically see him.
What I Write To Him
“Many of the world’s greatest love letters were written when the authors had no idea when they’d see each other again, and the only thing that brought them hope was hearing from one another,” my friend Alexandra Stockwell, a Relationship and Intimacy Expert, told me.
I am a professional writer, yet I often find myself stumped when writing to him daily. I feel bad complaining about my own sadness when he is in a situation that is far worse. For a while, the ink on my letters were smudged from my tears falling on the paper like heavy drops of rain. However, Alexandra encouraged me to fill my letters with shared moments of delight. Now, I write about the pain I’m experiencing, but do not send six pages worth of complaints.
My friend Dion Metzger, MD, a Psychiatrist and Co-Host of Mental Wellness Podcast Shrinking the Issues also told me to “ask future-oriented questions to take the focus off the current incarceration.” She encouraged us to discuss travel plans for next year or new date spots I want to try, because this will distract Joe from his current isolation and bring him some joy.
Hearing advice from two professionals in the space of relationships and mental health has been a godsend. I’ve incorporated both of their suggestions in my letters, and I’ve found that I sob less when I focus on the future and our beautiful memories.
How I Cope
Losing Joe, albeit temporarily, is one of the most challenging obstacles life has thrown my way.
I know that wallowing in misery 24/7 is unhealthy for me and for everyone who loves me. I lost five pounds in the past ten days, and I’m already underweight from my anorexia nervosa diagnosis. I understand that learning to cope is vital to my well-being.
Dion recommended that I focus on self-care and lean on my support system. She told me that “when a loved one gets into legal trouble, there are feelings that arise other than loneliness. You can experience anxiety about his safety and also fears about the implications of the arrest in the future.”
Half of my worries are about being alone, without the love of my life, and the other half are in regards to the state of his mental health, his safety, and not knowing his release date—that dreaded fear of the unknown terrifies me.
Dion told me to look forward as much as possible, because when one person becomes hopeless, the other follows. “Focus on what the next chapter will be rather than soaking in despair,” she suggested.
How I Fill My Days
I find myself staring at walls and reminiscing more often than anyone should. I’m in a funk, a valid funk, but a funk nonetheless. I’m drowning underwater and attempting to stay afloat; however, the pain I feel is real and intense. I don’t know how to live without Joe, or even just spend my days without him. However, Alexandra has provided me with useful advice to prioritize self-care, engage in distracting activities, and set aside time each day to fully feel the intensity of the situation.
I was relieved to hear from her that it’s normal to fall on my knees and cry hysterically. Nevertheless, I recognize that I can’t just let my depression creep into every moment, the way it has been recently. I continue to practice yoga and binge-watch my favorite shows, like Alexandra suggested. I promised Joe that I’d wait for him before finishing season four of This is Us, and I will wait, just like I’d wait a lifetime for him.
I wear Joe’s sweatpants most days and spray them with his cologne. I fall asleep in his cozy tee shirts—these things make me feel closer to him. I’m hurting but I will get through this, we both will, and eventually, this horrible situation will be no more than a blurred memory.
*Name has been changed