I have struggled a lot while Tom has been gone, 128 days to be exact, but who's counting. The past 128 days have been a whirlwind of getting married, taking on more work, moving and coming to terms that my husband is in prison. Living in such a small town it seems like everyone knows everyone, or at least they know something about them. While a lot of people know I am married, they read it in the newspaper, not many actually know he is in prison. And honestly, sometimes its hard to admit it when they say, "How's married life?" all I can say is, "Okay." They ask what he does, I want to say odd jobs every day. Some even ask if he "takes" care of me, referring to money, ya is $15 a month could get us by. Then replying, "Well he is in prison," the look, the gasp, and then the, "ohhh." Is actually almost priceless.

Sometimes I dread the look others times I just blurt it out, but today - today I realized what this is. After reading an article online from a fellow "prison wife" and the comments proceeding them left me feeling at a loss. While strangers were commenting her story and her article, it hurt me. It hurt me because that's what people say about me, and that's what bonds the "prison wives." A lot of people don't understand why we do it, what would make us want to do it, but it just makes me think what have they given up for love? What extent would they go for their husband or wife? And while I totally understand how some people may think our husband will offend again, what people don't understand it that change happens.

How many times have they lied, their husbands lied to them? Cheated? Stole?

So why can't my husband change when a cheater can, a liar can but my husband can't? Doesn't seem fair does it?

by Annette Lewis

Over 14 million men and women are arrested every year in the United States. Drugs, prostitution, murder, rapes - guilty and not guilty. Inmates soon loose their names and are now known by their state number. High fences, cement walls and steel bars are their scenery, what they now call home. They have traded their king size bed for a bunk, cell phones for hand written letters and now real human contact is scarce.

Many inmates soon receive their fate, months to serve, years or maybe even decades. As they learn to cope with their future and what their life will be like, family members try to come to terms in how their lives have changed. Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters, sometimes seem to be at a loss in such a time of confusion and need.

Parents are at a loss, sometimes blaming themselves of their children's actions, siblings try to understand why their role models chose what they did. Spouses now have to consume the household on their own financially and physically while children sometimes act out to retaliate. Both the inmate and the family members are lost in the path that they are now on, not knowing where to turn, who to trust and what to expect. In a world of critics, support groups for loved ones of inmates seems to be a chore to find.

Stephanie Gonzales, 25, has been married to her husband, John, who is serving a 15-year sentence at a Texas state prison, for four years, three of which he has spent behind bars. Gonzales says the first month is when it really sank in that he was gone, "It was indescribable. I can only compare it to the way a child might feel in a moment in frustration. I wanted to throw myself on the floor and scream and cry until someone came to comfort me." At the time she didn't know anyone else experiencing the same loneliness, feeling of being lost and unsure of the next step. While her family suggested divorce in the beginning Gonzales says it was never an option, "For better or worse, til death do us part, I made a promise to him and I was absolutely not going to break it." Struggling with getting outside support, she relied on her father and brother who were supportive but just don't understand what being labeled a "prison wife" entails that is until she found a page on Facebook.

She stumbled across Free Jail and Prison T-Shirt Giveaway a page liked by over 1,000 people and is much more than its title. Parents, siblings, wives, children, nieces and nephews all meet on one page that has seemed to become a safe haven. "When I came across the page and all the amazing ladies on it, it was refreshing to me," Gonzales says.

While Gonzales found fellow wives that she could relate to Darcy Vargas found other mothers in her situation. Her 25-year-old son has been in prison for 4.5 years with a 15-year sentence. Vargas first questioned herself if she did something wrong in raising him for her son to have ended up in what she calls a "hell hole."

A place where members can share their ups and downs, seek support and offer encouragement everyone finds new friends and soon become family. "Aside from being able to reach out with one wall post and getting 10 responses from women who are going though the same thing, it has opened my eyes and made me appreciate the small things we do have, some of the things I took for granted before. Jails and prisons are different everywhere and there are many women dealing with rules, regulations and situations far more complicated than my own," says Gonzales. Vargas has found support in other groups as well and says she stays supportive by looking at the big picture. "You can't always dwell on all the crap," she says. "No matter what God throws at you good or bad just deal with it and get on the next. Do I have my down days, yep. Do I cry, yep. Then I shake it off and say thank you God now on the next item."

The encouragement and support seems to be key in a situation no one ever wishes to be in, and the amazing part is how supportive members are. Like Gonzales a wife that hasn't seen her husband in over a month and has no idea when the next time she will be able to and phone calls don't exist she continues to offer her kind words to other wives, mothers and members seeking support. "I love getting up everyday and seeing what everyone is doing and what's going on with everyone," says Vargas. "Since all of my kids have moved out I have been kinda lost, I have a purpose now. That feels good again!"

Free Jail and Prison T-Shirt Giveaway is a part of JailExchange.com, a site where people can search facilities, inmates, read current news on the issues, a one stop shop for every detail of incarceration. The Facebook page also does exactly what it's title explains, gives away free jail and prison t-shirts. Active members of the page are eligible to win a shirt, which at least two are given away daily, each personal and customized to whatever the winner wants. The shirts are worn by many showing support for their loved one who is currently incarcerated. The shirts have united these women and yet their experiences have made them family.

to just show you care

He sends me decorated envelopes all the time and I am more than capable to Exchange the favor
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"I do want you to know that a major part of me changing is you! You make me want to be a better man and grow up to make you happy. You make me realize that I can have fun and be able to be an adult at the same time. I want to make you proud to call me your husband and not just another man. that is the major part of why I read these books, why I want to go back to school and why I am trying to make myself a better person inside and out! I love you with all my heart and I am proud to call you my wife and I will continue to try to better myself everyday to make you feel proud of me and continue to be proud of me!"

What he doesn't realize is I was proud of him from the start. It started the day he "confessed" to me about his past, maybe days into knowing each other he laid everything out, setting the foundation of our relationship. I was proud of him the day he was arrested, March 23 when he made his one free call, his first words were, "I am so sorry babe," he was calm, collected. I was proud of him the day he broke down in front of him, with glass separating our touch, he finally told me how he really felt. I continue to be proud of him, how amazingly strong he has been and even though I know he has bad days he stands strong with his head up high. I was proud of him the day he shared he wanted to be a counselor to try and help someone like what he used to be.

This man, named Thomas Lewis, continues to amaze me every single day. Every day I am proud of him. He is not and will never be just "another man" he is my best friend, in every sense of the word. We have friendship and love which is so grand in this hectic world.

This pulls at my heartstrings, having such a great man wanting to better himself for us, for our future and our future family is an irreplaceable gift. In return I am making changes as well, maybe thats what love really does to you. Maybe love is suppose to bring the best of you out to better someone else, whatever it is 'suppose' to do, I feel lucky to have it in my life.

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100 Days

100 days times XXX days divided by Love equals 4-Life

July 21 will be 100 days since I have seen his smile, our loves surpasses all the miles

"Babe, I tell you here some nights after the lights go out and i just stare at the ceiling and think about you! I remember all the times we have even the stupid times. Just dropping you off at work and screaming out the window that I love you and to have a great day! Or when I was working at the call center and I came out to go to lunch there was balloons in there and how I felt inside to see that! Or just the times when you had to work for your dad and I came up there early and helped you close up and me and your sister would race to see who can put the chairs up faster. Damn I miss being home. I'm so sorry to put you through all this and like I said before I promise to never leave you again!"
As much as he misses home, I miss him 100 times more. Tom has always been so supportive in everything, willing to try anything and always just there. When Tom and I went on our first date, he was surprised that my nights and weekends didn't include alcohol and drugs. "Really?" I remember him asking. I was the "goody goody" while Tom, the "bad boy." As time went on we soon found out that our pasts didn't defy us, that even though we were raised completely different, we had similarities, and to amazement got along great.

I cannot even begin to express how lucky I am to have such a great husband, who cares about being locked up, sent away or even his record, none of that matters when you know the core of that person. I know people look at me funny, think of me differently but ya know what, I really don't care. Don't pass judgement on someone before you know them because when it comes down to it they may just be like you.

I am Annette Lewis, aka Mrs. 342259C, me and my husband are always strong and never broken 4-Life

"I fell asleep and got to dream of you! I had a dream that I was home with you laying in bed just watching TV. There was nothing great about it except that we were together again. It felt good and I slept good! I woke up in a great mood but realized how much time it is till that day will come and got instantly into my attitude that has been as of lately. Its not a bad mood or anything like that but more of "what the fuck" mood. Like what the fuck another day, what the fuck I can't believe I'm back here, or what the fuck I still have money away till we are together. Even though this time is easier than any other time, I have had this time be one of the hardest. Its been the hardest cause this time I have a wife that is waiting for me. Its hard cause this time I've gotten married and have yet been able to spend one night with her, hell even just kiss or touch her. Even though this will all be over and done with soon enough and we will be able to live our lives together this time is hard for me. I laid here last night after the lights went out for about a half an hour or so and just thought about you and the times we did spend together. Like the time on our way to Missoula and you sucked all the helium out of the balloon and started talking with that high pitched voice, how much fun we had. And even that big fight that we got into over really nothing and how glad I am by not making one of the dumbest decisions I could have made by not saying, "I don't want to lose you!" How dumb would I have been to let you go? I am so happy to have you in my life as my wife and best best friend! I love you so much baby! Even though you are not with me right now you are still with me everyday, you are here when I write my letters, when I wake up everyday and when I go to sleep every night. God, I don't know where would be at mentally without you. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have you waiting for me. And even though I say it a lot babe these are a few of the reasons why I say thank you! Thank you! Thank you! thank you for everything baby, you have done so much for me since this started but the main thing you have done is the moral support! Fuck the money and the calls, the best thing for me is these letters! The ones I get from you everyday cheer me up and the letters I write everyday keep me there cause they allow me to get stuff off my chest that are bothering me! I love you baby!"

I can't even begin to express how lucky I feel to have such a great man. I miss Tom so much every single day and while we aren't able to see eachother we both stay strong in our relationship. Some days are better than others but all we can do is remember the good times the laughs we shared and all the fun we had and will soon have. While Tom thanks me for the support I give him, in reality he gives me all the support too. He is the one locked up, he is the one not able to have his freedom and yet he is still able to give me everything I need while he is locked up.

Reading about our "big fight" kind of makes me giggle, neither one of us remember what it was about and it was the only fight we have experienced. Our "big fight" had us both emotionally unraveled, waiting for the other, and when Tom walked into the room while I was packing and he muttered the six words, "I don't want to lose you," the rest is history.

Tom and I are husband and wife, a team and best friends. We never judge one another, get mad for nothing, argue or even bicker, we accept each other for one another's faults and we look past the what ifs and what could have been because this is us.

While Tom has an assigned bed through New Jersey Department of Corrections, they are apart of us until February 26, 2012. And I am okay with that.

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My heart has been locked down since March 23, 2011, a day my life changed,
While my body resides in Idaho, my heart is 2,500 miles away,
My heart now has a number, 342259C, a number forever etched within,
It no longer skips beats from hugs and kisses,
It looks forward to letters and 15 minute calls,
See even though there has been a shift, the shift shall only be temporary,
For my love, 342259c will be home, and then and only then,
Will my heart be back to reunite with my soul.

Since my hubby gets the paper every week, I thought I'd add something special this week :)
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I can not say enough about how special of a woman I have
it takes a lot to endure the worst of time and still stay grounded during the best of times
You have been able to do so far for as long as I can remember for all that and more
I just adore you in every way
I love you spirit, your heart, your integrity and your loyalty
you are the love of my life and the girl of my dreams
I have heard so much about it being hard for true love to exist in the fast lanes
Although how you made it change, and we have been through our share of problems
a man like me could not ask for a better match
When the world has turned on me and there is darkness all around
You find a way to bring light in my life and provide positive energy in the face of some of the most extreme circumstances
As long as we have is, FUCK THE WORLD . . . nothing else matters
I would lay my life down for you and would not think twice
In my eyes you are the most beautiful woman inside and out
I would not trade you for all the sun at the beach
As much as I have done wrong in my life, I am convinced that I must have done something right to deserve a woman as great as you.
And I will forever do all I can to continue to show my undying love and appreciation for you 4-Life!
Your Husband
(Dated July 1, 2011)
Reading things like this is really what keeps my going. I am such a lucky woman to have such an amazing man in my life, and for him to be my husband..... god damn!

Loving a man in prison, is not always easy to do It's being young, yet feeling old, It's loving him with nothing to hold. It's his writing of his love for you, It's writing him back saying "I love you too." A kiss each visit, and the promise to wait, Knowing the parole board holds his fate. It's reluctantly, painfully letting him go, Loving a man in prison has a high price to pay, Cause you're loving him more with every passing day. You're alone with only your hopes, dreams and fears, Loving a man in prison, sheds many tears. But there will be real love in your life, when his time is done, But only through faith in your heart will his battle be won!

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In prison, those things withheld from and denied to the
prisoner become precisely what he wants most of all.

The more connections you and your lover make, not just between your bodies, but between your minds, your hearts, and your souls, the more you will strengthen the fabric of your relationship, and the more real moments you will experience together.

The fireworks burn bright illuminating the night's sky, I sit here listening to them boom and crack, wishing I could be with you tonight, but my love you are so far away, so far out of sight
To be away from you on this night it just doesn't seem right
I sit here on this dark and lonely night, accompanied by only one dim light, wishing you could hold me tight, The fireworks burst open and grow bigger, like our love every single day,
I need to be in your arms to smile as you work your charms
On this lonely 4th of July, I wish I was with you, on a love high

"So I was just outside talking to this guy Matt and he was telling me how he was down today cause its his niece's graduation and his whole family was together and it hurt him that he couldn't be there. So I kind of explained our situation about getting married in jail and how you're so far away and that meant no visits and shit. Then I told him that instead of the hurt that you feel think about how much our actions hurt the ones who really care about us. Think about how much it hurts his niece to not have him there on her big day and imagine how much you hurt to not have me there the night of our marriage. That we have to learn from our mistakes or we will surely repeat them. For me I didn't learn the first time, if I had I could of saved a lot of heartache and pain for me, my daughter, you and my family. But this time I have learned and I will not repeat my past cause the next time (in my case) I could be dead or locked up for a lot longer time than I have now and next time I may not have the moral support that i have now!" (Dated June 26, 2011)

Some people wonder why or how I married a man behind bars, how I continue to write him every night, encourage him while keeping me "alive." His letters especially containing things like this makes it so much easier. If you have read Tom and I's "Love Story" (below) then you know we married after just months of knowing each other, we married while he was in county jail. The day he was arrested, our lives changed forever, for the worst and yet for the better. While our marriage, which was official April 7, isn't perfect, in fact its far from it but what matters is that we are happily married. Really. And it has to do with the change we are both making.

Tom has made several mistakes in his past, drugs, alcohol and bad influences swarmed around him living in a life of the never ending high. When I met him it wasn't long after when he "confessed" to me the situation he was in and with dating him I accepted the possibility of him being arrested at any time.

Over the past few months Tom has made so many wonderful changes but what the point is, is that he has made them on his own. He had realized what he past has lead him to, how his decisions effect everyone around him not just him and what amazes me is that he really does realize the toll this takes on me. Reading "imagine how much you hurt to not have me there the night of our marriage" to me, is quite extraordinary because while some days I feel like he may not take into consideration what this is, he does. The day we got married I went to work, went to the Courthouse got married to love of my life and went back to work, then to my second job and went home. That night I slept alone. That night I didn't have my husband.

Some may say its not worth it, but to have this love, this kind of love of someone who is so supportive, amazing and who is constantly becoming a "better" him. The changes he has made is so great, because honestly sometimes it can be scary, nerve wrecking married or even dating someone behind bars, the men change by the time they get home and my man is changing for the better. Reading how he takes into how other people's feelings and concerns, makes me fall in love all over again.

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis "4-Life" as he says, till death due us part.

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