The Prisoner’s Wife : A Memoir by asha bandele
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.
Asha Bandele has written a love story. In fact the title of her first chapter is “this is a love story.” The most important thing I want to convey about this book is that love, true love, is something you can never know until you experience…unless you read this book. The Prisoner’s Wife : A Memoir is an intensely intimate, overwhelmingly emotional and utterly heartbreaking work. I can’t even call it a novel or a book, because the writing flows like poetry and the love seeps out of every word until you are saturated with it, consumed with her pain and confusion. Bandele has filled 219 pages with universal truths so powerful they cross all boundaries: race, gender, religion and yes, even convict status.
The Prisoner’s Wife begins simply enough. A young poet agrees to go read her poetry at a prison as a part of Black History Month. There she meets Rashid who listens to her, values her opinions, takes her seriously and who cannot impose himself on her life. Asha’s story is filled with abuse and disappointment and for the first time she is free to be with someone who can demand nothing of her time or self that she doesn’t give freely and publicly. For the first time in her life she can control the pace and degree of their relationship.
It is counter intuitive to think that falling in love with someone in prison can offer you freedom but in this case that’s exactly what happens. This is the story about two tremendously complicated and damaged individuals, because of their circumstances they are forced to talk and process and really think about what it is they feel and what they are willing to deal with. What’s amazing is that their mutual respect and profound love managed to over come what seem like insurmountable obstacles. Because at its core, this is a love story.
I could go on about the plot of the story, the details, the van rides to and from the prison, the other women she met who shared her isolation and confusion. I could tell you of Rashid’s crime and of his transformation and difficulties due to the prison system. I could rail against the injustices of our penal system and how racism and poverty feed a system that is fundamentally broken. All of that is in here, all of it is explored and will make you think, but no matter how profound these issues may be they pale in comparison to the raw emotions of Bandele’s writing:
By the time we did finally come together, I had found the pieces of myself that had been forgotten, left in corners, swept under rugs. I told Rashid he was the first mad who had all of me, the beautiful and the ugly, the perfect parts and the parts which were help together with tape and a prayer. When we entered each other, we entered and then enjoined two worlds that were previously undiscovered.
And within that moment we found home in ourselves, lush and bountiful, we found a place only we could have envisioned and crystallized, a world which pushed forward new life, pushed down old boundaries, and embraced the new moons of its own black and perfect sky.