“We all make mistakes”; a statement that encourages contrition, soothes the soul, and offers a promissory note of forgiveness. It’s an inclusive statement, until the mistake lands a person in prison.
In 2005, I became a prisoner’s wife, literally and spiritually. My previous title of “wife” left me inadequately prepared for my new role. My left ring finger told the world I’d been through a ceremony but there wasn’t a husband around to confirm. I didn’t know how to live this life. I turned to God for answers, but didn’t wait for a response.
I built walls around our life to protect my husband. I did not speak openly of him. I created an environment where he didn’t exist. When asked about him, I lied, within the context of truth. I lied to make others feel “ok”, until I was no longer free, burdened under a wall of shame and suffocating guilt. I promised to love and honor my husband; for better or for worse; being embarrassed by his whereabouts was not in the vows. I believed the lies of the enemy; neither I nor my husband was worthy. My actions perpetuated my shame. When I’d made a mess of things, I finally moved over and let God take the reins. He showed me the devil is in the secrets and that shame and love cannot exist in the same place.
It is natural to feel uneasy about my husband’s mistakes, but harboring shame keeps me from moving forward. Shame distorts relevance. When I finally came clean about my husband, no one pushed me away. Friends and colleagues had questions and understandable concerns but no one “freaked out”. Once the initial shock wore off, people moved on. They did not walk around thinking about me nor my life. I covered myself in false shame, allowing the perception of my life to be greater than its reality; compounding the problem with lies and guilt. Overcoming shame meant coming out of hiding and recognizing my life is as valuable as anyone else’s. It meant standing tall in the power of my truth.
There are many people who disagree with my life and will never forgive my husband’s actions. I can’t keep people from having an opinion or judging. It’s my duty as a prisoner’s wife to stand up, educate, and speak for those who have yet to find their voice. My hope is for people to get to know a prisoner’s wife, not the caricature. I am not my husband’s choices. My choices are to commit, to forgive and to love.
We all make mistakes. My mistake was allowing shame and perceptions to devalue my life. As for my husband’s mistake– as the law of man dictates, he is paying for it. As the law of Christ promises, he is forgiven and there is no shame in that.
Reesy Floyd-Thompson is the director of Prisoners’ Wives, Girlfriends, and Partners, an organization dedicated to helping those with an incarcerated partner. She is working on a book on how to maintain a relationship despite having an incarcerated spouse.