A new online dating service offers to match up male prisoners in the US with women on the outside. But do these women understand the risks?
Google "online dating" and you will be offered hundreds of thousands of sites, including "specialist" hook-up services such as those catering to foot fetishists or facial-hair fanciers. Now there is one for those with a penchant for prisoners.
Prison Inmates Online offers 1,694 men and a few dozen women who are serving time in clink in the United States and wish to form a relationship with an outsider. The site shows photographs of hunks working out topless in the gym, and information on likes and dislikes, but nothing about their crimes. Herein lies the problem. While we should all support any initiative that encourages healthy relationships and contact outside of prison, many of these men will still be a danger to women.
I have met a number of prison personnel who tell me they are concerned about the women who write to male prisoners who have committed serious acts of sexual violence. I once interviewed a woman who was waiting for a man to be released from a life sentence she had met via the prison penpal service. He had killed two women in domestic violence situations. My interviewee was desperate to marry him, and, although she knew of his crimes, was convinced she could change him.
There are currently around 100 British women engaged or married to men on death row in the US, most of whom met through anti-death penalty campaigns. I have spoken to a number of women in the UK who are involved with male prisoners. Most tell me that they had no intention of forming a romantic attachment, but simply wanted to offer support. So how does it happen? Such a relationship is hardly free to blossom at its own pace, and the limitations are endless.
Is it the excitement of dating a dangerous man, but one who cannot do harm while on the inside? Perhaps it is the knowledge that he relies on her totally? Maybe she wants to be the one who tames him? Whatever the reason, let's hope she has a means of escape if she needs it.