My Mum Married Her Prison Pen Pal.....

And it changed us forever.

For me, answering the question "Are your parents remarried?" is a delicate matter. My dad is easy: Nope, he's a born-again bachelor since he and my mom divorced after 22 years together. My mother is not currently married, I will say carefully, but she was for several years. I might even add that she moved from California, where I grew up, to New Mexico, in order to be with her second husband. The conversation usually stops there. But sometimes I'll plunge ahead. In 1996, my mother met and later married a man incarcerated in a New Mexico state prison, an inmate who began as her pen pal and ended up as her lover.

At first, I was supportive. Which seems hard to believe. My mother's affair began very soon after my parents split and I moved away to college, and it carried a crazy whiff of romantic adventure. The universe seemed to conspire to bring them together. Joe reached her by randomly tapping a string of numbers together into an out-of-state collect phone call. She accepted the call, thinking it was one of my old boyfriends who shared the same name. He was looking for someone to write to him, since his family didn't often visit—would anybody in the household be interested? (He later admitted that he'd heard from other inmates that the collect-call routine was a good way to find women.) She volunteered for the job, and I thought her daring and fabulously unorthodox.

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