My Story: Danielle W.

Danielle’s husband Keith is currently serving a 270-month mandatory minimum sentence. Danielle has written a book about her experiences as a “prison wife” and an accompanying blog, https://forthelivesofprisonwives.com/.

I wouldn’t have thought that the day my then-fiancé left home for the morning and hollered to me, “Baby, I’m gone,” that he would be gone for 12 years—literally—and he’s still gone. I often reflect back on his last words as a free man as he walked out the door.

Keith was arrested that day in 2005 and charged with drug conspiracy, money laundering, and gun possession. I was pregnant with our son, and our daughter was three years old at the time of his arrest. Our children are now in middle school and high school. We’ve done the best we can to maintain our family bond through the wall via visits, letters, emails, and phone calls. When my husband was first sentenced, we talked every day, but that eventually had to be lessened to once a week because the calls got too expensive. We then turned to more letter writing and eventually email. Out of all these years, we probably have visited only about 20 times due to the cost to travel so far to see him.

When we see each other, my husband is literally seeing the results of the stages of life that our children have gone through that he hasn’t been a part of. He has watched our children grow from infancy to childhood, to adolescence. I’m hoping and praying he doesn’t have to just watch them grow into young adulthood, and that he’ll be able to experience that growth with them. We have even watched each other change over the years from young adults to middle-aged. Keith entered prison in his twenties and will be 40 this year. When I was visiting last time, he saw a gray strand of hair on my head for the first time! I think that gray strand of hair shocked us both into reality and reminded us of how long we’ve been at this prison thing and how we still have a while to go. I couldn’t help but imagine how long the couple seated near us had been visiting each other. He had come out gray-haired, wrinkled, and on a walker to visit with his wife, who was just as gray and wrinkled as he was.

With fewer visits and the children being caught up in their young teenage years, there are times that the kids don’t communicate with their dad as much as he’d like them to. It’s left up to me to keep the lines of communication open. So in addition to the stress of not having his freedom, he is also struggling with the fact that he sometimes feels like he’s not important to his children. The children also struggle with why their dad made some of the choices he made that put him where he is today. I try to explain to them that everyone’s lives go in stages. And people do make mistakes. However, some mistakes are more costly than others. I do believe that my husband made a mistake and is now paying the consequences for his mistake. He has served 12 years of his 22-½-year sentence, which is more than enough time to pay for his mistake.

Just as Keith has been made to come forward and admit his mistake, at what point will something be done about the mistakes that are made with harsh sentencing laws? How long must someone suffer for a nonviolent mistake of their youth?

My husband was raised by his father, who believed in a tough-love approach to parenting. Keith had to fend for himself at an early age. What he sought in life more than anything was his father’s approval. His father was able to visit with Keith and see the man he was praying for him to one day be. Unfortunately, he passed and they won’t be able to spend time together. Though he will not be able to spend time with his father, he still would like the opportunity to make new memories with his mother.  He is looking forward to the day they can be together again.

Before prison, though my husband appeared to have himself together to others, he was dying inside, from a young age. During his teenage years, he began to live a rebellious lifestyle. He graduated from high school and attended college, where he became even more rebellious. It was during those years that his life really began to spiral out of control as he began an addictive lifestyle of selling and using drugs. The streets made him a different person. Even through that rebellious stage, my husband still managed to graduate from college with a B.S. in Business.

Keith has realized the impact that his bad choices have made upon his family. It pains him daily to know that his actions have caused his children to grow up without him. He can’t wait for the day to experience life as a free father to his children, teaching them life lessons, becoming a productive member of society, and advocating for justice reform. It pains us daily to know that my husband has made the necessary efforts through rededicating his life to Christ, self-rehabilitation, attending classes, and good behavior, yet he still continues to serve time for a decade-old crime—as is the case with many incarcerated women and men.