Sentenced to a lifetime of true love

How many people these days can truly say they had a strictly, platonic relationship prior to being married? Or kissed for the first time the day they got married.  

“I can remember the thrill of it up until this minute,” says one lady married for four years to a prisoner serving a life sentence at Northward Prison. 

“The first kiss, where toes curl up and back leg comes up. I remember getting other kisses because I was married before. But that kiss with my husband was the ultimate one. He kissed the top lip, then the bottom lip and all I could think of between the swooning was this is a rare extraordinary kiss, now who would label this angel murderous …I found the difference,” says Sunshine Manderson, wife of convicted murderer, Steve Manderson. 

According to Manderson’s story her husband actually knew her from age nine when he saw and fell in love with her when he was looking down from his grandmothers’ ackee tree. Fate, however would take them on different paths. Sunshine Manderson got married twice, had children and made a home. Steve Manderson was convicted of murder, going to prison in 1993. 

Their paths would cross again when Sunshine Manderson was working at the Cayman Islands hospital and Manderson caught a glimpse of her again. 

However it was only after her son went to prison in 1995 that they would finally start writing letters and begin to express their love for each other. “He wrote me a letter but I did not respond because I was curious as to who was writing me a letter from prison and why; but the kind words of the letter struck me and I said this person must be a very good person who knows how to love because this is exactly what I have been longing to hear.” She goes on, “All of my life I had been waiting for someone to tell me this but no one did. I have been married two times and none had express themselves like this person so I concluded that this man must have the best father in the world, is the perfect lover and knows exactly how to treat a woman.” 

Manderson did not write back at this time because she was in a serious relationship with someone else. But the letters continued to whet her curiosity until one day she decided to show it to her children. “After reading the letter they too were smitten by the words, which seemed to come from a person with a good heart. 

As the letters began to accumulate Manderson gave them to her sister to read and her response was positive as well, “That man is really in love with you, try to go for that,” she said, but after she heard we were getting married she was not for it.” 

Getting visitations would prove fruitless for the couple for a while. then when a personal visit was granted for the first time the two spoke face to face. 

“The second time I got to see him I felt marvellous, he was happy and I was happy. It has been a struggle making and keeping the relationship. Not between us because we are in love with each other, but with the prison system,” she says. “Sometimes the visits are a problem. When I arrive officials would sometimes keep me waiting for an entire day and would find lots of reasons why we could not see each other.” 

Prisoners who choose to marry while incarcerated get no special treatment from the prison service. There is no honeymoon period, additional fringe benefits or conjugal visits. Married couples set up appointments just like any other visitor, states prison director Dwight Scott. 

Before getting married prisoners have to go through a process of submitting an application for marriage to the prison director through the prison chaplain. The application certifies the prisoner understands some mandatory requirements. 

After completion of counselling sessions the chaplain evaluates the application and makes recommendations to the prison director. The director reviews the application and makes recommendations of approval or denial to the unit manager for prisoner activities and the chaplain. 

Manderson finds it hard going to bed at night and waking up in the morning by herself, not seeing him there and only getting to see each other a couple of hours on Saturdays and Sundays during visiting days at the prison. “It gets to me sometimes but I do not let it worry me because I have God on my side,” she says. 

“I don’t know when my husband will come home. We talk about our life together in the abstract, because the parole board is unpredictable. I do what I can do from the outside and he works on it from the inside.” 

Manderson says her husband, who she knew 12 years before marriage is kind, loving, understanding, trusts her and loves her more than anyone else. For him it is hard to see her walk away and sometimes she tells him to put her in his pocket and his response is if could he would.  

“Life is a struggle anyway you take it. Throughout my struggles and even when some family members have cast me aside his calls mean a lot. He constantly prays for me and asks how I am dealing with everyday life. That means so much to me,”  

According to Manderson her husband probably helps her more from behind bars than others that are on the outside. “My mother never worried when I told her I was seeing someone in prison and reading her the letters she said he seemed like a good person, so why worry what others think.” 

Does getting married have a positive reaction on inmates who choose to tie the knot? According to Scott, there is no evidence to suggest that is the case. However, the Department does recognise marriages may enhance the emotional stability of a prisoner and may foster or strengthen ties with the family. The prison has no evidence to suggest that married inmates are less troublesome than non-married inmates. In fact the prison can only give statistic on marriages at the prison since the year 2000. According to Scott most of the files on inmates were destroyed during a riot in 1999. 

Was it easy for Manderson tying the knot with her husband while in prison? “We did have some unpleasant experiences dealing with prison officials but it was something we wanted to do and did not let that hinder us,” she says. “My marriage is at a distance but it is one hundred per cent better than my previous two marriages on the outside even with all the obstacles.” 

There have been many articles and books written on why some women choose to marry prisoners but for Sunshine Manderson it is simple: She loves her husband and despite all the obstacles,believes that one day they will be together outside the prison walls. “Today, I hold out hope that one day we will live happily after and my husband tells me his dreams are important for him to hold on to so we wait to see what happens,” concludes Manderson. 

Prison marriage history: 

Since 2000-2011, 11 marriages have been carried out behind prison walls with one marriage application now pending. All applications for marriage were submitted by male inmates. 

When a prisoner submits an application to be married and providing it is approved the prison determines the security requirements for the wedding party. The wedding party can consist of up to 12 people. Visitors are required to carry out any lawful instruction that may be issued to them by any staff member. It is not permissible to give or receive any item from prisoners. Photographs may only be taken in an area to by the prison director. One camera and one spare film/chip are permitted. Prisoners attending the wedding ceremony must notify the prison director that they have no objection to being photographed. 

All expense of the marriage and licenses is to be paid by the prisoner or relatives. 

Requirements also have to be met for where the marriage takes place, attendance, divorce decree, counselling sessions, legal requirements and bonds posted. 

Prior to getting married my husband was filled with anger and would not accept nothing else but just rubbing the time away in prison. Sunshine Manderson 

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