I was twenty-one when I (mistakenly) started my career in corrections. I got heckled for being young. I got heckled for being a woman.
Put simply, I got heckled. A lot. For everything.
My first few months on the job went as expected. I busted my ass to prove myself. I was a downright bitch. I did all my security checks, I went through inmate's belongings as expected. I confiscated drugs. Wrote reports. Submitted to the hustle and flow of the job. Did so all alone, because although I was heckled, I was expected to be a bad ass bitch, too. It was me vs. 120 felons with extremely different backgrounds. I followed suit as expected.
Then HE came along and destroyed everything I thought I knew.
I didn't like him at first. I hated him, in fact, just like I hated every other inmate. He was a menace to society, a bad person, an annoyance to me and all of my fellow coworkers. I was programmed to think this way and I proudly did so. You know, mostly...
Anyway, it was a hot day in mid June when this guy came to my unit (we'll call him Anthony). I worked in a dormatory-style housing unit in a level 1-3 prison, meaning that the inmates were everything from repeat traffic offenders to murderers at the end (less than ten years left) of their stay. There's no air conditioning. We wore black uniforms, right down to our boots. Needless to say, I was hot, aggravated, it was toward the end of my shift (an hour left!), and they were moving inmates from dorm to dorm when they weren't supposed to be.
Anthony showed up at the back door of my dorm (with another officer, of course), without the proper paperwork and this look that said he was trouble. I stopped him at the door, made him open his property box, searched him and his property, and when I found nothing, sourly told him where his bunk was, and to get out of my face. I chatted with the officer who escorted Anthony to my dorm for a few minutes, then jumped on the paperwork that came when a new inmate comes to your dorm. Which meant I had to call the inmate to my desk, because the information I received about him was incomplete. He held his wrist out across my desk (they have wristband IDs in the prison system now) and I reached out to turn the band so I could get his information. No, it wasn't love at first sight, there weren't fireworks when I touched him the first time, it just felt weird to touch someone you're not supposed to touch.
A few days later he approached me, asking for help with a typical inmate problem. Something about all his property not making it from the last prison he was at. I had a bad habit of making phone calls for inmates when I should have let them deal with shit on their own, so, of course, I made that call for him. I tried to brush him off, direct him to other people who could better assist him, but for a few days, he was 100% my problem. Until the issue was resolved, he would pop up every so often to ask about the progress of the issue, then he'd strike up a tiny conversation about me, and then, of course, go away. Well, five or so days after he moved in, his little issue was resolved, so he no longer had a reason to speak with me.
He didn't stop though. Every morning, he'd come talk to me. Always a short, pleasant little conversation about this and that. He began telling me little things about himself, his mom, his kids, even his ex. Then the stops at my desk became more frequent. He'd linger longer. At some point, of course, I realized he liked me. At that time, I was convinced I was a lesbian. That's what I told all my coworkers, any nosy inmate that would ask, and of course, I told Anthony that, too. He was never disrespectful about it, but he told me he didn't believe me, and even if I was convinced of it, he wasn't. I took it with a grain of sand (or so I thought) and just let things get flirty. It was amusing, and it seemed to make the 12 hour shifts go faster. I really thought I was going to screw with him, flirt, and then stop working in that dorm when I got bored with him.
That plan didn't really work out. I don't remember at what point I started to fall for him. Our conversations were often about sports, or a woman I thought was pretty, or his kids; sometimes deeper stuff, like the universe, religion, and star signs. Somewhere in there, I guess I fell.
About six weeks, maybe two months into this ridiculous mess, he dropped me a note, which is about one of the absolute most dangerous things an inmate can do. I could have turned him in, brushed him off, pushed everything off onto him, extended his prison stay, just for a scrap of paper with some information on it.
The note was simple. A confession that he really liked me, that he wanted to be sure to stay in touch, a phone number and address I could reach him at if anything happened. That was right before the end of my shift, when I had three days off ahead of me, and all I did on those days was think about him. About walking into those doors and seeing him again soon. That one, stupid note started so much. I wrote a response, for some dumb reason. Confessing that I had feelings for him too. And things took off from there. We started passing notes when there were things we couldn't say out loud, for fear of other inmates hearing. He confessed so much to me in those notes. He talked about wanting to go to college when he got out of prison, his regrets, what its like to be a dad from prison, and when we got really close, he admitted that he loved the person he knew me to be, how he hoped that that was the person I really was.
I was the first to say "I love you." I didn't even mean to. It slipped one day as I was leaving the dorm. I went to leave for the day, and he was passing by me. Our eyes met and I very softly whispered, "I love you." He had no time to respond. I wasn't even sure he heard me. I kind of hoped he hadn't. The twelve hours between the end of that shift and the beginning of the next were some of the longest hours of my life. When I sat down at my desk the next morning, I anxiously waited for him to approach. He eventually made his way over to me, and chatted with me like nothing happened. As he was about to walk away, he turned back to be and chuckled, smiling his perfect smile and told me, "I heard you as you walked out the door yesterday. You didn't give me a chance to say, or process anything. But I want you to know—" *the most dramatic pause of my life here* "I love you too. More than you know. My mom even knows about you."
AND THEN HE CHUCKLED AND JUST WALKED AWAY. JUST LIKE THAT. LIKE NOTHING HAPPENED.
For us being two different people, a thirteen time felon and a correctional officer with not even the slightest record, our relationship seemed so normal. I'll never forget our first kiss. While it was sneaky and "wrong," it was also breathtaking and sweet. There are cameras everywhere, all except the bathrooms, the linen closet, and the cleaning closet. I never went into the bathroom, and rarely went directly into either of the closets for fear of being trapped or hurt. But of course, Anthony asked me to come look at something one morning in the cleaning closet, a broken rack or something. I step into the closet, and and as soon as I'm close enough to him, he grabs my chin, tilts my head back (I'm 5'5", he's 6'), and gently presses his lips to mine. He hesitated a bit, but as soon as I stepped closer, he kissed me harder. You know, one of those kisses that feels like the world stops, and your lips melt together with your partner's. Somehow, no one saw us, no camera caught us, and eventually, this became a routine. He cleaned every morning, as soon as I got into the dorm, just so we could steal a quick, sweet kiss that we otherwise never would have gotten away with.
Months went by like this before I decided that I could officially open my heart to him and call him my partner. We eventually got separated, I got moved to a different dorm, and then I quit so I could be with him without anyone or anything being in the way. A year later, and we're still happily together.