06 July 2017

Hybristophilia, or How Erik Menendez Got A Girl in Prison

by Eve Fisher

A while back, I was sitting in the chow hall at the pen, talking with a young (early 20s) prisoner who was having relationship problems.  You see, he'd gotten involved with a woman through the mail.  A literal pen-pal.  Nice woman.  Little older than him, but still hot.  And she really liked him.  A month after their first face-to-face visit, she moved to the area so she could see him every week.  Two months later, and she wanted to get married.  Like in a couple of weeks.  He was really flattered, but he was also really kind of freaked out, because things were happening so fast, and what did I think?  I told him "DON'T DO IT!"  Then I brought in another of our outside volunteers, a father-figure to the guys, who heard the story and also said, "DON'T DO IT!"

Hybristophilia is defined as a sexual fixation on "a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery." All right, Wikipedia says its a sexual perversion, but you tell that to the people who are into it.  Plus, there's not a lot of actual sex involved.

(Maximum-security prisons don't allow conjugal visits.  Nor do federal prisons of any level.  And only four states - California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington allow conjugal visits in lesser-security prisons.)

And God knows there's not a lot of money involved, either.  If anything, money is generally going to flow from the outsider to the prisoner.  Money to help pay for the prisoner's phone time, stamps, commissary, odds and ends...  In fact, and forgive me for bursting anyone's bubble out there, but one of the main reasons that a lot of prisoners write to outsiders in a friendly to ever-increasing romantic vein is specifically to get money.  And they're often very successful.
BTW, prisoners also write attorneys, of course, to get help, and they send judges either bogus lawsuits or outright threats.  I remember at the courthouse, whenever something from the pen arrived for the judge, we'd all gather around - judge, court reporter, myself (circuit administrator), state's attorney, bailiff, etc. - and read the latest idiocy.  My favorite was a lawsuit demanding that the sheriff depose each and every officer of the court for high crimes and misdemeanors, listing everyone by name.  Except the judge. Finally, at the very end, there was a little handwritten note saying, "____, sorry I forgot you, asshole!"  You've got to be fairly stupid to send out stuff like that, not to mention "I'm going to take a shotgun to your head" to a judge, when your full name, prisoner number, and cell number is on the envelope...  
So, no sex, no money - why would someone get involved with a prisoner?  Why would someone write love letters to a total stranger?  Want to date them, through a glass/mesh screen?  Want to marry them in the visitors' room?  ???

Well, in some cases, there's the fame factor.  For those who write/wrote to Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, the Menendez brothers, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, part of the charm, apparently, is getting in on the modern obsession with celebrity.  No, it doesn't matter how horrendous the person is, or how heinous their acts, by God if they're famous, they're a celebrity, and by becoming their girlfriend/boyfriend, you become a celebrity, too!  You might get in on the media spotlight, get a book deal, a movie deal, or the body!

CharlesManson2014.jpg
Charles Manson in 2014
  • NOTE:  Not kidding about the body.  Did you know that, in 2015, at 80 years old, Charles Manson cancelled his upcoming penitentiary wedding to 27-year old Afton Elaine Burton, now known as Star, because he found out she was hoping that, after he died, she'd get his corpse, put it on display in a glass case in LA, and charge people to see it?  (Charles Manson has always been a little smarter and saner than he looks.)
  • DOUBLE NOTE:  With regard to my last blog-post, Bullying 101, where I talked about Rush Limbaugh (and others) objecting to Michelle Carter being convicted of manslaughter for texting her boyfriend to suicide, saying that it's a violation of the First Amendment to "start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do":  Let's all remember that Charles Manson got life in prison without parole, for exactly what he said, and nothing that he did.  He was nowhere near either of the murder scenes.  So far, I haven't heard anyone objecting to his sentencing...

Anyway, back to reasons why people want to write to, date, have sex (or not) with, and/or marry prisoners.  According to Katherine Ramsland, professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University,
  • "Some believe they can change a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer."
  • "Others 'see' the little boy that the killer once was and seek to nurture him."
  • "Then there's the notion of the 'perfect boyfriend'. She knows where he is at all times and she knows he's thinking about her. While she can claim that someone loves her, she does not have to endure the day-to-day issues involved in most relationships. There’s no laundry to do, no cooking for him, and no accountability to him. She can keep the fantasy charged up for a long time."   (Wikipedia)
Image result for goldfinger novelBTW, men also write to female prisoners.  I think many of them are also looking for the perfect girlfriend, who requires nothing (but a little money).  I also think that some of them are looking for a future drug mule or sex slave, and a female prison is a good place to recruit:  many female prisoners have already been so abandoned, abused, in every sense of the word, and so many of them have father issues, self-image issues, etc., that they are willing to do just about anything for anyone who seems to care for them.

Of course, there's also the occasional female serial killer, like Aileen Wuornos, who would be perfect for the man who wanted to tell himself that he can nurture the little girl she once was, and/or wants to see if he can change the serial killer the way James Bond changed Pussy Galore on the last page of "Goldfinger". (Even at twelve years old, I knew that was nothing but Ian Fleming's fantasy...)

Meanwhile, I talk to guys up here in South Dakota who are in their 20s and already have anywhere from two to nine children by two or three or four different women, and now have a girlfriend they met while in the pen.  They don't even begin to grasp how much trouble they're in even before they get out.  I understand why they keep having sex whenever they can - it's fun, free, and so far isn't illegal - but why won't they use condoms?  How are they going to support all those children?  How are they going to pay child support, make court-ordered restitution, and pay bills when they'll be lucky to get a minimum-wage job?  Sigh...

Not that our hybristophiliacs necessarily have any idea of the prior commitments their new prison romance has.  After all, it's the rare prisoner who's going to cough up things like ex-wives, current wives, children, and any other financial obligations or debts.  Or their personality flaws.  Or the truth about their crime(s)...   Hybristophilia is somewhere between kinky romance and lion-taming.  Either way, it's dangerous.  Either way, it's unreal.  (You don't really know someone until you've actually lived with them, and even then it helps if you've been together through a bad vacation complete with rain, food poisoning, broken-down car, and a fleabag motel with no heat.)  Yes, there are exceptions, where two people genuinely connect through letters and visits; where the prisoner eventually gets out, and they do marry/live together and it all works out.  Two points:  (1) These are very rare.  (2) None of these have been with serial killers.

But the fantasy lives on.



17 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, I’m glad you posted about this topic, unusual as it is to outsiders. I not familiar with the male-outside, female-inside variation, so that was appreciated. It’s never clear how many of these prisoners have multiple ‘relationships’ going on.

I’ve met two women involved in prisoner relationships. One I came to know in my early writing classes. She was writing a tome, part ponderous novel, part ‘biography’ about a guy half her age she met while volunteering in a local jail. Personally, I doubted the veracity of his claimed background, much which sounded manipulative.

The other was an attractive woman with a PhD who twice married prisoners. One she had conjugal visits with, the other not. She thought she knew what she was getting into, but eventually the reality sank in.

Hybristophilia is a complex topic. I’m glad someone with first-hand observation could help explain it. Thanks, Eve.

Paul D. Marks said...

Eve, I've never understood why people would want to date a prisoner. And it reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George "dates" a female prisoner, for some of the same reasons that you mention. And then is horrified when she actually gets out of jail...

Robert Lopresti said...

Good piece, Eve. I remember Mark Twain writing about people's fascination with prisoners, although I don't think they were interested in dating.

I wrote a story about a jailbird-dater called "The Accessory." To my astonishment it made it to EQMM.

janice Law said...

terrific blog!
I hope the young fellow took your advice.

Eve Fisher said...

Janice, amazingly the kid did, and did not marry his girlfriend.
Paul, On the old show "Rescue Me", Uncle Teddy got put in prison, met a woman on line, dated and married her (and had conjugal visits, which was completely ridiculous, because, of like, rules...), and when he got out left her ASAP.
Rob, I would love to read that piece! Anywhere I can get a copy?
Leigh, I'm always amazed at the people who do date prisoners. You can't help but just shake your head...

Robert Lopresti said...

Eve, I will email it to you. I would tell you to look in Otto Penzler's Year's Best American Stories but, he said modestly, it only made the Other Distinguished Stories list in the back.

B.K. Stevens said...

Fascinating post, Eve. I've read about these sorts of relationships from time to time and have never been able to understand them. You've provided some helpful insights.

Eve Fisher said...

Thanks, Rob. "Other Distinguished Stories"... A great honor, too, she said, having once (ahem, modestly) copped one herself.

Fran Rizer said...

Eve, thanks for a very informative post. You brought a lot of interesting facts. I never even considered the celebrity angle, probably because I don't equate notoriety with star qualities.
I should have thought of that considering the people who buy memorabilia of murders. My opinion was that women who seek relationships with prisoners doing life is that the females have been so damaged or are so shy that they want not safe sex, but a safe relationship. It's worth sending the prisoner money in exchange for being able to claim to be in love without expecting to be beaten or cheated on though I don't think imprisonment prevents cheating. We also know that some folks love "being in love." An article I wrote about a killer resulted in his contacting me, wanting to start a "relationship." Pardon my non-cozy expression, but I ran like hell.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, in the mid-80's, one of my meth chemists was represented by a female attorney from a very prestigious law firm in Rapid. By the time the known violent meth chemist (oh, the stories I could tell you) was sentenced, a relationship between the two had raised its ugly head. From what others told me, no other male had ever paid attention to her, so she was easily drawn in. She gave up her job at the law firm (or was asked to) and moved to the city where he was in federal prison. They eventually married. When the meth chemist finally got out on parole, she had her dad get him a job on a ranch in South Dakota. However, the meth chemist considered his ranch job to be too much like work. I later heard that he thumped the puppy dog eyed ex-lawyer a couple of times. It did not end well.

Elizabeth said...

A woman who married or possibly only dated John Wayne Gacy, the man who killed 30+ young boys, was told of the charges against him & said, "Huh. I don't believe hardly any of it."

I used to know a lady who dated a prisoner locked up on drug charges, & spent hours writing him cards & letters, which he also did for (to) her. She thought the number of written declarations of love she received, proved that he really loved her. When his release date finally arrived she rented a car & drove about 60 miles out to the country to pick him up. She spent her last dime renting them a motel room & finally they had sex. Whereupon, the next afternoon, when they reached the town his baby mama lived in, he announced that he had only been using her, but he wanted to thank her for the ride.

Eve Fisher said...

Elizabeth, it's amazing the number of people who can convince themselves (with the prisoner's help, of course), that the prisoner is innocent. And I believe they all start off with the idea that the prisoner will recognize their sincerity, and fall in love with them...

Fran, I'm so glad you ran like hell.

R.T., I wish your friend had run like hell. But then, I also wish she hadn't bought his line (once again, repeat after me, children, "Never have sex with prisoners.")

Melodie Campbell said...

Fascinating, Eve. The 'perfect boyfriend' is stunning. Explains a lot. Creepy as hell.

Larry W. Chavis said...

Extremely interesting, Eve. Thanks for writing about it. As I was reading, I wondered if any male outside-female inside situations occurred, then got to your coverage of it. Going to do some more reading.

Barb Goffman said...

Sorry I didn't get to reply yesterday, Eve. Your post reminded me of a scene from When Harry Met Sally. Sally's friends were trying to persuade her to get out in the dating scene before the man she was destined to be with became unavailable. Here's the exchange:

Sally: What are you saying? I should get married to someone right away in case he's about to die?
Alice: At least you could say you were married.

For some people, the idea of having found someone (anyone) willing to marry them can apparently be quite intoxicating.

Eve Fisher said...

Barb, it's what I call the Dream of the White Dress. Some women become absolutely obsessed with it - if they're not married, their life is a failure, no matter what else they've accomplished.
Thanks, Melodie, Larry!

Leigh Lundin said...

Barb and Eve, speaking of (some) non-incarcerated women, it can be very unsettling and belittling when a guy realizes that marriage to that certain betrothed is more important than who she marries.