Q: CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE OF LOSING A LOVED ONE THROUGH INCARCERATION?
I was just nineteen years old living in Rochester when the father of my ninemonth-old son was arrested for drug possession and sent to prison. His arrest came just two days after moving into a new apartment together. The police took all his money as well as our car, so I had to go to court and legally assert his rights to “win” his car back. At that time, we sold the vehicle since we were not able to get any of the money back that they took, but the financial gain was short-lived.
My financial predicament caused a need for me to move back in with my parents who owned a triplex in northwest Rochester. Where I lived semi-independently with my son at a very reasonable rate and with their familial support and loving presence. This was an amazing blessing and my son grew up about as close to brothers with my younger brother as someone with different parents could be. He also had the benefit of learning from my father who is one of the best examples for a young child as you could ever find (he basically doesn’t speak “baby-talk” and treats our little people as individuals worthy of the same respect as adults). The court process was an exhaustingand emotionally draining experience for me. I traveled back and forth to the federal courthouse in Saint Paul with my infant son for every possible glimpse of our beloved without having a glass divider between us. I remember simply not accepting or believing the verdict when he was sentenced to 144 months. I knew his actions were wrong; they were heartbreaking for me too. But I could not believe that he would actually end up serving the nine-and-a-half years that he did. But, I was determined not to leave his side no matter what. At first, he tried to convince me to move on with my life. He expressed remorse for putting us in the situation and did not want to see me “waste my life” waiting for him. He also later admitted that he just didn’t think I was capable of waiting and wanted to spare himself that future heartbreak. But his feeble attempts at convincing me to move on were soothed and silenced by my fierce determination and action. The way I saw it, I had made a commitment when I bore his child, and now that commitment was between more than just him and me. It was a commitment to my son and my Creator. For nine-and-a-half years, I was on the highway between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan, with my growing son, and sometimes his older brother. Traveling to visit their father and make the most of the few hours we had together. We would pass the time by playing cards whenever there was a full deck, or making imaginary weapons out of the raggedy old donated toys in the visiting room toy box for the kids. After his first five years of incarceration, we were married in Sandstone, Minnesota. Contrary to popular speculation, there are not conjugal visits or special privileges for wives that we ever knew of other than issues surrounding confidentiality or a few various family-related, highly monitored events.
Q: WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DID IT HAVE ON YOUR FAMILY?
As far as my parents, I have to say they were probably more supportive than anyone’s parents I have ever heard of. I think they realized that as the father of their grandchild, they were connected to this person whether they liked it or not. So they reasoned that it would be in everyone’s best interests to accept and support the situation. They also probably knew me well enough to realize how stubborn I am, and if they tried to give me an ultimatum, I would go at it alone. From the standpoint of kids, there are a lot of varying opinions on whether it’s appropriate to expose them to the prison environment. While I’m not an expert in child psychology, I do have a firsthand account on how my older son turned out. He spent nearly half his weekends from age 1 to 11 in a prison visiting room. I chose to bring my son to see his father every chance we had for most of his childhood. Although I cannot speak directly to his experience of how that directly impacted him, I am proud to report that he graduated from John Marshall high school via RCTC’s PSEO program; he will have an Associate of Arts degree before he turns 19 years old; he has had a six-year distinguished boxing career, and during that time he’s been ranked as high as second in the world for his age and weight class. In his “spare time” he dabbles in educating himself about multimedia production, light and sound and wants to go to college for mass communications. My son has a very clear idea of the career
he wants in life, but more importantly he exhibits leadership skills that even I learn and benefit from every day. Of course, the formula for his success cannot be attributed entirely to the fact that he spent a lot of weekends in prison visiting rooms as a child, but I suspect that helping to facilitate a close
and open relationship with his father had a lot to do with it.
Q: WHAT IMPACT DID OTHERS PERCEPTIONS HAVE ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
Other than a few closes friends and relatives, I told very few people about the specifics of my family situation. About 80 percent of the time I was open about it, I would get a lot of unsolicited advice and judgment. People would try to be nice by glorifying my virtues and belittling my husband, having no clue that was hurtful to me. Not telling others, or saying he was away at school (which he was; he took a lot of college and trade school programs) became a defense mechanism for me. Another result was, that although we didn’t end up together, he was better enabled to pull himself above his circumstances and to create his own new beginning building his future. I could never take credit for his perseverance and determination, but I like to think that his success today could be traced partly back to that act of loyalty as an expression of love that helped enabled him to keep the faith. He saw me accomplish the “impossible” task of remaining devoted and faithful to an inmate for his entire incarceration. And when we as humans see things happen before our eyes that we thought to be impossible, it tends to give us faith.
Q: WHAT WAS THE PHYSICAL SEPARATION LIKE?
It wasn’t about every day making a choice to be faithful and having to struggle with temptation or loneliness. It was more like making a lifestyle choice to avoid temptation rather than resist it. Most of my friends from high school who still live here could probablyattest that they didn’t even know I lived in Rochester anymore for about a decade after high school. Our love mixed with societal pressures against us really fueled the determination to make it work. The end result was that we grew, sustained and nurtured a very loving, committed relationship despite nearly 10 years of physical separation. That’s something that I’ll always be proud of and grateful for. I worked on my formal and informal education, making productive choices and sacrificing what most young people call fun for closeness of family.
Q: WHAT WOULD YOUR MESSAGE BE TO OTHERS LOVING SOMEONE BEHIND BARS?
My advice is specifically for women who love and care about someone who is incarcerated: just love them in whatever capacity you can, and begin by loving yourself enough to follow your own inner voice. By doing this, you can create a space for healing and love to come in and help not only your loved one, but yourself as well. Even those who have our best interests at heart and want the best for our situations cannot step inside our hearts and bodies and feel our conscience, see our vision, or hear the words the Creator speaks to us directly. A devoted act of love could actually change the entire trajectory of someone’s life, as well as the lives of their current and future descendants! Mette Greising is a lifelong resident and active member of the Rochester, MN community. She is passionate about issues such as social justice, inclusion and diversity, and creating safe spaces for the authentic human voices to be heard.