Dear Prudence: Years ago, before we were married, my husband suggested we write to prisoners all over the country to get their thoughts about life. I was dismissive of it for all the reasons someone might be wary of writing to prisoners.
Over the years, whenever we got in fights about my not paying enough attention to his creative endeavors, I would think back to this idea and recognize that it was interesting. Well, it turns out he’d gone ahead and sent out his survey to prisoners. He rented a post office box and the ensuing correspondence has continued for seven years. I only recently learned of it because some of these men are starting to be released.
I am sympathetic to those recently released from prison and the challenges they face. But my husband is not prepared for the role he has come to play in these men’s lives. Several have shown up at our house wanting to speak to my husband. It is unsettling, and I am afraid to disappoint them. My husband can’t say no to these men’s repeated, insistent requests to visit our house, borrow the car, get help finding work. I feel terrible cutting these people off after they evidently know so much about us and have considerable emotional investment in our family, but I do not want them in my life or my young children’s lives.
I feel like everything I don’t like about my husband is part of this predicament: carelessness with others’ feelings and time, inability to finish projects, poor planning and general lack of awareness about social justice issues. What should I do about these men when they show up or contact me, and what on earth do I do about my idiot husband?
Prudence says: That’s quite a bill of indictment you lay out against your husband — and yourself. For some reason you married this reckless dreamer and had children with him, and now your family is in potential peril because a whole bunch of ex-cons expect him to be their benefactor.
The raw material your husband collected could be the basis for an interesting project. But your husband sounds too scattered to transform it. While he was engaging with these inmates — without your knowledge! — he needed to make sure he guarded your family’s privacy. Instead, he has allowed people who have demonstrated a capacity for antisocial behavior to arrive at your doorstep filled with expectations that are destined to be thwarted. That’s a volatile and menacing situation.
Start by talking with local law enforcement, explain what’s going on and your concerns, and ask for advice. You may also want to hire a lawyer who can speak to the convicts’ parole officers and say that your family should not be contacted. If your husband has been stupid enough to give your address to lots of prisoners who are now being released, you may have to move.
And as long as you’re contacting a lawyer and contemplating packing up, you may as well consider whether your husband possesses redeeming qualities you didn’t bother mentioning here that would make you want to continue your marriage.