The Prisoner’s Other Woman

by Shannon C. Smith

The statistics surrounding black men in prison are daunting. Of the 2.3 million people serving time in prisons and jails across our country, 97 % of them are male and 38% are black. So, it’s no mistake that with so many black men incarcerated, there are black women who love and long for them while they are behind bars. But the truth is many of these women are not girlfriends, fiancés, nor are they wives. Most of the women waiting for these men to come home are blood relatives—praying grandmothers, loving sisters, exhausted mothers, and mislead daughters—subtly put, the prisoner’s other woman.

Usually, the women that garner the most attention linked to male prisoners are his romantic interests. There have been books written and movies made about these women, the story line centering on the woman’s life while her significant other does time for a crime. But rarely do we see a focus on those women who may have nurtured these men or were nurtured by them. Often times as a society we do not want to see an inmate as a full human being. We do not want to accept that these men have parents, siblings, and in many cases, children, because humanizing them in any way—even if it’s just giving them the label of son, brother, father, or grandson—could force society/juries to look at the total person and not the crime committed.

Working in the legal arena, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen women crying hysterically over their loved ones during a sentencing hearing or after verdicts are rendered. The humane side of me wants to comfort these women and wrap my arms around them and reassure them that their loved one is surely a victim of the justice system. But the professional side of me knows that many of these men are responsible for their alleged crimes, and while they may not be victims of the justice system, they are indeed victims of their environment and never stood a chance to prevail against a poverty stricken life.

Loving these men during their darkest hour is natural for many women, as these men are their sons, fathers, brothers, and grandsons prior to acquiring the name “prisoner” or “convict.” Possessing love and loyalty for these imprisoned men is often discounted as being weak or naïve when attributed to women, which certainly isn’t true. Most of the women know their loved ones’ shortcomings and vices. But their love for their imprisoned relative transcends all his flaws in the hopes that he will redeem himself one day, which certainly isn’t naivety but mere hope. And considering the majority of inmates are in prison for nonviolent crimes, these men will come home one day and will need the support of their families to break the cycle of recidivism.

So, I say shout out to the praying grandmother for your prayer may be that prisoner’s mainline to God’s ear. Shout out to the exhausted mother, for your strength and tears may be the catalyst that breaks your son’s destiny to becoming a career criminal. Shout out to the loving sister, for your love may transcend your brother’s heart. Finally, shout out to the mislead daughters, for your mistakes may serve as a reason for your father to make positive plans for the future. You are appreciated.

Do you have a close relative in prison? How do you handle it?

  • LAD86

    Do you have a close relative in prison? How do you handle it?

    There are no relatives who I am close to, but I do have an uncle whose second home is a jail cell from time to time. There is nothing to handle.

  • chanela

    I honestly thought this article was gonna be about men who date men in prison and/or prison rape

  • chanela

    I honestly thought this was going to be an article about men dating men in prison and/or prison rape…. thats kinda what the title sounds like

  • Mariah

    Lmao…the title IS misleading. Not what I expected at all.

  • womanistmusings

    I absolutely loved this piece and you make a great point about why these women are ignored. Once one enters a prison, not only is freedom lost, but one’s humanity as well. they are seen as surplus population and that is how society justifies the over crowding, terrible food, and inhumane living conditions.

  • CurlySue

    LMAO!! Me too!

  • overseas_honeybee

    Yeah the title got me too.

  • African Mami

    Kinda disappointed at this article. I’m with chanela, I thought I was goin to find some salacious read. Guess not. Just shout outs to grandma and em!

    Yes, I am one of the many consumers of street lit…..I like the gritty feel. I’ve actually been the girlfriend of a prisoner!!!!!!-LOVED every minute of the ride, until he died-never to resurrect.

  • Bunni

    @chanela: I agree with you. We rarely hear about the women in prisoner’s lives, probably because they rarely – if ever – have time to tell their stories. Between raising the kids some of the prisoners leave behind, working one or more jobs and dealing with the bureaucracy of the court and prison systems, I don’t know how these women do it, but I give them my respect for their tenacity and often positive attitudes.

  • DaINKtellectual

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS. My oldest brother is currently incarcerated and his birthday just passed. He is so much more than an inmate; he is a son, brother, nephew, cousin, and much more. He is also a father to two beautiful children, and I love my niece and nephew very much. This is exactly what we go through and you gave me so much with this article. God bless you.

  • Socially Maladjusted

    Nice piece

    but where are the Thugblamers – why is it that these paragons of “good black man virtue” never show up for anything that doesn’t portray outcast black men as evil incarnate?

    Mind you some of the people who did stop to comment here are just as hostile and malevolent in their feelings towards blacks.

    I mean, what kind of demented creature feels disappointment on discovering that her thirst for negativity isn’t going be satisfied?

    People who end up in jail aren’t the only sick people in this society.

  • Kainlee

    my brother did 10years and didn’t get out til he was 29… he missed the best times of his life.. smh

    …Asian people got jokes for days!…. 5 Reasons You Should Date Outside Your Race –

  • alldawg

    what is it with BW fascination about male homosexuality, that should be the next topic.
    BW love their gay friends, but would hate it, if their love interest turns out to be one…

  • Kay

    This is an interesting topic actually. For a while I worked in the mail room of a prison and we had to read their mail. There was some of EVERYTHING, including heartbreaking letters from left behind family members (especially children). One note that I’ll never forget was written simply in a young child’s hand and said “Hi Daddy, I never met you.” and had a little picture drawn of a kid with a family. What must life be like for them?

  • End Colorism NOW

    Dear Clutch magazine,
    In the fourth paragraph you published ‘Loving these men during their darkest hour is natural for many women, as these men are their sons, fathers, brothers, and grandsons prior to acquiring the name “prisoner” or “convict.” ‘ Please STOP using the word dark/darkest and any variation of to convey something negative. Instead use a different terminology that doesn’t associate ‘dark’ with anything negative.Like you could have used ‘Loving these men during their “hardest time” is natural for many women, as these men are their sons, fathers, brothers, and grandsons prior to acquiring the name “prisoner” or “convict.” See how that expresses the point without associating ‘dark/darkness’ with anything negative. Please PLEASE PLEASE in the efforts to build self esteem within Black children (and adults) one of the things we need to do is change our language small changes like this would help greatly. Thanks.

  • Priceless34

    Not trying to judge, but if he was all those did he end up in jail?

  • QCastle

    Good Grief!

  • JC


    I don’t get that joke. Plus, that seemed kind of random.

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