Review by: Carolyn E. Hopkins


The Prisoner’s Wife
By Asha Bandele

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to fall in love with a prisoner? Or do you dare imagine that it could happen to you, especially if you come from a middle-class family who struggled and worked to provide you with as many mainstream American privileges as possible? The non-fiction memoir, The Prisoner’s Wife by Asha Bandele, is exactly that kind of book ---a love story about two people who are opposites and happen to fall in love. However, as their relationship progresses, Bandele soon realizes that, Rashid, her lover who is locked up for murder, is the man that she has needed all her life and declares that he is her soul mate.

Bandele is a poet who was asked to read some of her poetry to a group of prisoners at Eastern Correctional Facility located in upstate New York. The poetry project is a part of a Black History Month program for male prisoners. It is there that her life, as she knew it, changes forever. She recalls when she laid eyes on Rashid, "he was fine as hell." His looks compell her to want to get to know him better, although initially she thinks that he is not interested in her.

In this memoir, Bandele's voice is authentic and raw at times. By getting to know and falling in love with Rashid, she discovers the woman she has always yearned to be--a woman who accepts herself unconditionally. At troubled points in Bandele’s life, prior to meeting her soul mate, there are attempts at suicide. After many failed attempts, she realizes that she really does not want to die, but just wants the pain of self-hatred to disappear from her soul. And through Rashid’s tender words, that often celebrate her physicality and spirituality, she comes to accept the woman she is.

Throughout the book, we witness the transformation of Bandele from a woman seeking meaning in her life to a woman who finds meaning through her intense and devoted relationship to Rashid. Because of Rashid’s presence in her life, Bandele is able to reflect on many aspects of her childhood and a watershed of memories forces her to recall a time when she was molested by a professor at a college where her mother worked. These memories, as Bandele recalls, "burst in at any time they wanted to, wherever I was. They would step right up and stand in front of me…. When they came, those memories they were fast as the water converging into a truculent, unpredictable sea." Through Rashid’s tenderness and compassion for Bandele, she is finally able to liberate herself from feelings of guilt that are often associated with rape and molestation. She remembers him telling her, "You were a child, asha. That’s what made it abusive. You were a child."

Because the setting of the memoir takes place mainly in a state prison, it constantly reminds the reader of the restrictions placed on the couple’s relationship, although there are conjugal visits. In many respects, the limitations are possibly what intensifies Bandele’s love and desire for Rashid. She knows that there is a distance placed between them and ultimately this makes her feel safe. However, eventually, in spite of the prison bars that keep them apart, Bandele and Rashid get married.

This book helps the reader to understand women who fall in love with prisoners and how their lives change drastically afterwards. The long scheduled bus trips that women must take in order to see their loved ones speak of either a woman’s desperate need for love or of her tireless devotion to the one she has chosen to love.

This book met all of my expectations because of the author’s poetic language and style and its ability to make me think about how love can transcend disparities between class and status. In some respects, it romanticizes the love shared between the heroine and her forbidden lover. But most importantly, the author opens her world and wounds for all those who are interested in experiencing her journey to finding unconditional love.

ISBN: 0671021486

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