The Prisoner's Wife

The Prisoner's Wife

4.7 59
by Asha Bandele

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As a favor for a friend, a bright and talented young woman volunteered to read her poetry to a group of prisoners during a Black History Month program. It was an encounter that would alter her life forever, because it was there, in the prison, that she would meet Rashid, the man who was to become her friend, her confidant, her husband, her lover, her soul mate. At


As a favor for a friend, a bright and talented young woman volunteered to read her poetry to a group of prisoners during a Black History Month program. It was an encounter that would alter her life forever, because it was there, in the prison, that she would meet Rashid, the man who was to become her friend, her confidant, her husband, her lover, her soul mate. At the time, Rashid was serving a sentence of twenty years to life for his part in a murder. The Prisoner's Wife is a testimony, for wives and mothers, friends and families. It's a tribute to anyone who has ever chosen, against the odds, to love.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Angela Y. Davis A powerful and provocative book — everyone should read it.

Nikki Giovanni It is not easy to trust your heart, but here is a love story. The Prisoner's Wife takes us through not the dungeon of emotions, but the sunshine of hope. If we can continue to find a reason to care, we can all be saved. This book needs to be read by anyone who has...paid a price for love.

Booklist (starred review) asha bandele's writing soars with emotion. And the reader's emotions soar as well, not because of a shared experience but because her highly polished and skillful writing makes one feel her pain and joy. This is a romantic but realistic story, told with a directness and honesty that makes us know that however impossible the problems asha and Rashid face, we can question neither her motives nor sanity.

Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Why does a well-educated, seemingly "normal" young woman fall in love with a convicted-and imprisoned murderer? Poet Asha Bandele's very personal and sometimes painfully lyrical response to that question makes her romance between the bars seem understandable, even logical. Far from seeing her infatuation with twenty years-to-lifer Rashid as self-delusion, we finish this memoir with a realization of how injured humans can heal one another.
Library Journal
This book explains the inexplicable: how a talented young poet from a good family and privileged background could meet, fall in love with, and marry a prisoner serving 20-to-life for murder. As bandele says "I didn't fall in love with a killer. I fell in love with a man committed to the transformation of himself, of the world." They meet when she is among a group of African American activists giving readings at prisons. The prison, she says, "because of its stance against love made me take a stance for love." Her prison visits become personal visits as she and Rashid share stories of their lives and he helps her confront and overcome a history of sexual abuse. Their decision to marry, and thus have conjugal visits, seems offhand but not awry, given their deep emotional intimacy. The author has a poet's fluid skill with language and maintains a lyrical tone throughout, even in the uncertainty following denial of her husband's appeal and bandele's realization that he will be locked up for at least seven more years. For all public libraries.--Janice Dunham, John Jay Coll. Lib., New York Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A haunting, intensely emotional memoir of the middle-class author's relationship with a man jailed for murder. In lyrical, flowing prose, columnist and performance poet Bandele (Absence in the Palms of My Hands, not reviewed) presents piercing portraits of herself, the man she loves, and a prison system designed to stifle all sensibility. Growing up in a black, middle-class world of private schools, summer camps, dance lessons, horseback riding, art classes, and gymnastics, Bandele is groomed to believe that success and independence are her birthrights. At 21 she is married in an expensive, formal June wedding to a highly respected young man. Two years later her marriage unravels, and the writer finds herself ardently drawn to a convicted murderer she meets while giving a poetry reading at an upstate New York prison. While coming to terms with her role in this unorthodox relationship, which eventually leads to marriage, Bandele examines with painful honesty a past riddled with sexual abuse and several suicide attempts following prolonged depressive episodes. Rashid, the inmate, emerges as a spiritual, sensitive soul who is also the victim of childhood brutality. Bandele successfully conveys the callousness of the prison system, where inmates and their visitors are dehumanized through strip searches, scrutinizing glances, and insensitive comments. (Even a passionate conjugal visit is interrupted by a security count.) While much of the writing deals with feelings, the writer also dispassionately reports on the redemptive role that Islam plays in her husband's life as a "code for living, a structure, a set of rituals, a chart directing him through every minute of every day." To Bandele, bycontrast, it is merely a set of stifling rules that smother her spirit. "I do not want to be in a religion where men cannot shake my hand or hug me unless we're married," she tells Rashid in one of their unresolvable debates. Mesmerizing and disconcerting, offering insights into why caged birds sing.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: This Is a Love Story

This is a love story like every love story I had always known, like no love story I could ever have imagined. It's everything beautiful — bright colors, candle-scented rooms, orange silk, and lavender amethyst. It's everything grotesque, disfigured. It's long twisting wounds, open and unhealed, nerves pricked raw, exposed.

This is a love story, awake and alive. It's a breathing document, a living witness. It's human possibility, hope, and connection. It's a gathering of Spirit, the claiming of dreams. It's an Alvin Ailey dance, a rainbow roun' mah shoulder. It's a freedom song, a 12-string guitar, a Delta blues song. This story is a reprieve.

This is a love story, threadbare and used up, yet sometimes fat, weighty, stretched out of shape. It's polyester, this story, man-made, trying to be pretty, not quite making it. This is a story desperate to hold itself together. This is a story with patches in the knees.

This is a love story, my love story and thousands of other women's love story. It's a story that's known, documented, photographed, videotaped, audiotaped, filed, photocopied, watched over, studied, caricatured, questioned, researched, and noted.

This is a love story. It's the one we keep close, sheltering it from judgment. It's lovers denied at family dinners and at office parties. It's secret glances at Polaroid pictures. It's whispered names. This is a story hidden within midnight bus rides and 5:00 A.M. van rides, behind metal detectors, electronic doors, and steel slamming against steel.

This is a love story, the one not generally discussed in polite or even public conversation. But if there's one thing that I do know about myself, it's that I know I hate secrets, that secrets mean shame, and that I am not now, nor will I ever be, ashamed that I am a woman who has loved someone, and that someone loved me.

And even though so many people have asked me if I have lost my mind, if I am lonely, or desperate. Even though so many people have wondered if I was having a crisis, or determined that I was just going through a phase, I will continue loving the man I am loving. I will love him even though he's got an ugly past, skeletons, and sorrow. Even though he doesn't have a great job or position or power, and even though he's a prisoner at a maximum-security correctional facility, which my husband, Rashid, is, I will continue loving him.

And this is our story.

The first time I ever went into a prison, it was for a class I was taking on the relationship between Black people and incarceration in the United States. Months later, long after final exams had been taken and grades received, my former professor called me and asked if I would come with him and a few other people to a place called Eastern Correctional Facility in upstate New York. It was just about eighty miles from Brooklyn, where I lived. He wanted me, he said, to participate in a Black History Month program.

Don't you write poems? he asked.

You could read your poetry, he said.

I agreed and we all went to do the program, and this was how we met, Rashid and I, convict and student, gangster and poet, resident host and visiting performer.

Rashid is fine as hell, which I tried not to but couldn't help noticing the very first time I saw him. He looks like this beautifully symmetrical collaboration between Africa and India. He isn't huge, not an overwhelming presence, contrary to the usual celluloid interpretation of Black prisoners. Rashid is 5'7", with a brave smile and bright eyes. He is, I remember thinking this then, just the right size, and I could look directly at him, nearly eye to eye. His voice, which was never loud, told a story of a transplanted Afro-Caribbean.

Where are you from? I wanted to know.

The Boogie Down, he responded, meaning the South Bronx.

And before?

Oh, oh, he said, understanding my question. Guyana. South America. It's the most beautiful place in the world. That's a hell of a thing in one life, huh? To have seen the most beautiful place in the world and the most horrible place. And I'm not even thirty yet!

After that, a number of other men came over to me to tell me how much they enjoyed my performance, and would I be willing to read their work, when was I coming back up, could they write to me to discuss poetry, did I know I reminded them of this sister they used to know back in the day? In the midst of these questions, Rashid left me. I watched him as he walked across the huge auditorium where the program was being held. He weaved easily through the nearly one hundred men gathered there, through the orange chairs, across the stage, the back of it, and found another guest to talk to, a poet like me. A very talented poet, I should say, and a very attractive one. I waited for him to come back over to me. I tried to will him to come back over to me, but finally I was left there annoyed because Rashid did not return until it was time to say good-bye.

After we were in love, Rashid would tell me that it was me, my fault, that I was hard to approach. He told me that while I was an animated and exciting performer, offstage I was quiet, withdrawn, cool and distant.

Besides, he admits now, through a series of childlike giggles, every dude knows when you really want to talk to a sister, you don't step to her directly. You step to her friend, and that's what I did. I talked to that other sister, the poet who performed before you, because that way I knew I'd get your attention. I mean, what I'd look like trying to talk to you when all of them other dudes were running they game on you? You know what I'm saying?

Rashid is so pleased with himself as he tells me this story five years after our first encounter. After all, in the moment of his confession, we are in a visiting room, and I lie, as fitted as possible, in the crook of his arms. And in that moment, despite every hurting and hell I have had to endure to love this man, there is no other place that I would rather be.

When we began, I was twenty-five, a student and organizer, a wife on the verge of divorce from my first husband, a poet full of secrets and sadness, an emerging woman hampered by insecurities and anger, a human being fighting off loneliness while craving solitude, needing an open love, long honest discussions, a quiet touching at my core.

When we began, he was twenty-nine, inmate number 83*****, a convicted killer doing twenty years with life on the back, a model prisoner, a program coordinator, the father of a nine-year-old boy he had never been able to raise, a lawyer without a law degree, a devoted Muslim, a man on the verge of divorce from his first wife, a human being fighting off loneliness while craving solitude, needing an open love, long honest discussions, a quiet touching at his core.

We were exactly the same and we were completely different.

We were never meant to be together.

We were always meant to save each other.

Copyright © 1999 by asha bandele

What People are saying about this

Junot Diaz
The Prisoner's Wife echoes Edwidge Danticat's Farming of the Bones in the urgency in which it reminds us of the possibility of love even amidst the ruins. This is a terrifying, heart-breaking and, ultimately, important book. While bandele's narrative offers a profound prescription for an entire population in exile, it also serves as a fundamental text for the rest of us living/learning/moving toward (with or without) love. The Prisoner's Wife can be our talisman, our healing potion, how we keep breathing-- as they lock us up in numbers beyond comprehension, The Prisoner's Wife reminds us that we can survive, even if it is only two at a time. -- (Junot Diaz, author of Drowning)
Angela Y. Davis
A powerful and provocative book—everyone should read it.
Nikki Giovanni
It is not easy to trust your heart, but here is a love story. The Prisoner's Wife takes us through not the dungeon of emotions, but the sunshine of hope. If we can continue to find a reason to care, we can all be saved. This book needs to be read by anyone who has...paid a price for love.

Meet the Author

Asha Bandele served as features editor and writer for Essence magazine, and is currently a Revson Fellow at Columbia University. She is the author of the memoir The Prisoner's Wife and a collection of poetry. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her daughter.

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The Prisoner's Wife 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a part-time college professor, teaching courses in Criminal Justice. My full-time job is as a prosecutor for the State of California. I found this book on a lark, and it gripped me from page one. In my nearly a decade of being a prosecutor, I have continuously seen and dealt with the families of the accused, most times with little or no sympathy or understanding. The journey of asha and Rashid touched my heart, and really made me think. I decided to teach this book as a part of my recent course on Corrections. It definitely opened the minds of my conservative students, and gave us all pause about how we have, traditionally, seen the women who love 'bad men'. Their journey is really no different than any two people in love, but for the tremendous obstacles they had to overcome to succeed. I can't say enough good things about this book, and I know that I will be reading it again and again. Interestingly, asha bendele was recently featured on The WE Channel's 'Secret LIves of Women' series. What a great coincidence for myself and my students! We learned even more about what has happened since the book ended, which gave us even more insight and perspective on her struggles.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book spoke for a lot of woman that have incarcerated loved ones in jail and how it is on the other side. I related with so many things in this book and it helped me get through my lonely days away from my husband. I highly recommend this book to everyone !!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I too, am a prisoner's wife. Yet, I knew my husband before he entered the system. The situation is yet very similar. I truly enjoyed this book! It was definitely a page turner. I have never read something so powerful.It was very emotional for me. I could hardly finish it without getting teary eyed. Thank You Ms. Bandele for this wonderful love story. Women that have husbands incarcerated, this is a must read. Excellent book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was selected for my April book club meeting by one of the other members. My first thought was this will make for an interesting reading experience. I started reading this book with the mind set of "No way could I ever imagine becoming involved with a convicted felon." It was easy enough to get into but I really started to enjoy the book at the mid way point...the earlier chapters did not really pull me in but as the main characters begin to open up, the story becomes very compelling, very sad at points, but enlightening at others. I still would not become involved with a convicted criminal but this book did open my mind up to lives of the prisoners and the spouses/family members who are drawn into their way of life in order to maintain some manner of contact under a different, restrictive way of life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Bureau of Prisons staff member, this book really opened my eyes to how the wives, girlfriends and significant others deal with prison life. I really felt Asha's pain. She gave until she just couldn't give anymore. And I fell in love with Rashid. He was so mentally strong, and so supportive of Asha. The ending of this book really hurt my heart. However, it is a must read for anyone, especially someone who is in love with a man in prison. Asha, you did your thing with this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really appreciate Asha sharing her story.After reading her story I know that I am not alone in my everyday struggle in loving a man who has time on his hands. She helps to know that I can make it in my relationship.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read this book twice! I loved it, since I am also experiencing my husband in prison made me see that there is hope and I am not the only one going through it! I loved the book and I reccomend it to anyone who has a loved one in the system cause you feel one with her!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this boo from start to finish. I've never dated a man in prison but the love she has for her husband is felt in every word of this book.
Sandy_Okeevis More than 1 year ago
I personally know what it is like to love a person behind bars. I do not judge. I am a highly educated woman who is in love with a man who is incarcerated. I thank Asha for her beautifully well written book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read for any woman who finds herself in love with a man who is incarcerated.
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keepinitreal More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book ,it should be given to all female before marry a dude in prism .Sort of like marriage counseling .This woman told the story just like it is ,it hurts when you have to leave them they hurt when we leave and the ride home is lonely I'm trying to think ahead and tell myself that I am the older person in this relationship plus I have been married twice he has never been married before he is ii years under me, me being 43 there are so many factors like am i taking his youth away his chances of having babies with some young girl am I being fair to him period, but I'm glad I read Asha Book Thanks Girl.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was real. It let you know that yes, love happens in strange places. It let you know that you can be upset by your situation but it really didn't show a sense of overcoming the situation. asha seemed to use Rashid for her own healing and drew back when he needed healing the most, just to be loved and believed in. It mad me as a prisoner's wife b/c I believe she gave up, which is alright if she just had enough but she persused the relationship which allowed him to take it to its highest form as it became. But read it for yourself b/c it was good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I haven't read the book yet but I was about to be a prisoner's wife. My babyfather is doing time and we been back and forward with getting married while he's in there. I plan to read this book for some deep imput,before I make 'that' move......
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a beautifully written and powerful memoir. I, too, met and became involved with an inmate. It was like deja vu reading about Asha and her love's romance and it's ups and downs. More importantly, the story behind the woman that love's the inmate could not have been written better. I feel Asha when she speaks about the mile high phone bills and the stares/treatments of the correctional officers. No one knows what this life is like unless you go through it. Prison really is a loveless place and to find love there, yes even there, is a blessing. She has inspired me to write my own memoirs. You REALLY have never been loved until you have been loved by a prisoner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I read this book I felt like I was reading my own life and own emotions because I too met a man while he was incarcerated and we fell in love deeply. Her book was so well expressed. Asha go girl! You are a woman of strength and that is definitely what it takes to get through and you will. Always keep faith and hope and Believe b/c this kind of love is priceless. I will keep all the women and men out there going through this in my prayers. God Bless.
Guest More than 1 year ago