The Bars That Bind

Eight years for burglary. Eighteen for rape. Life for murder. Five women talk about doing time with their men behind bars.

Jennifer has lived in South Minneapolis all her life. She may have run into the man she has been visiting at Stillwater as a child at her neighborhood playground--he lived just around the block. But it wasn't until 1992 that she met Troy, not long after he'd been released from prison for a series of rapes in suburban North Minneapolis in the early 1980s. She didn't know it then, but Troy would end up back behind bars by the end of 1993, this time for attacking a Brooklyn Park woman in a manner similar to the assaults he'd already done time for. Jennifer believes to this day that Troy didn't commit the crime, even though prosecutors convicted him on the strength of a DNA match. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the conviction in 1996.

Even now that she's reached her mid-30s, Jennifer has a childlike spring to her step that suggests she might bust out into a game of hopscotch at any minute. Her cheeks redden up when she flashes one of her frequent smiles, and her shoulder-length blond hair is baby-fine. She's one of those people who remember everyone's birthday and make sure they get a card. Jennifer has four children, ranging from toddler age to 18, from two past long-term relationships (she has never married), and works full time at a rest home in her neighborhood.

I knew Troy before he was arrested, about three years before he went off to Stillwater in 1994. He was dating a friend of mine. I don't know the story on the first time he was incarcerated. I just hear gossip and stuff--that it had to do with a sex offense. This time around, the story goes that he kidnapped this woman from outside her house--she got out of her car from partying with some friends and he grabbed her and put her back in the car, drove her someplace out in the suburbs, and raped her. This happened a couple of days before Thanksgiving in 1993. I don't think I will ever come right out and say, "Well, did you do it?" I just take him at his word and believe that he's telling me the truth.

I was there the day of his sentencing. His family pretty much stuck beside him through the whole thing. But the girlfriend he had when he went in, he told her he was going to be there awhile and she should just go on with her life. She had a new baby--it wasn't his--and he told her not to put her life on hold. So he doesn't have a lot of people other than his family.

I was his friend. I'm, like, this kindhearted person, you know? I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt. I've been seeing him for four years now. I really believe he didn't do the crime. His attorney brought this big book down that has something to do with his case--because he was convicted on DNA only. It's already gone as far as it can go in appeals, and he didn't get it. If you don't got the money, you don't get anything. His sister still believes that one day she's going to win the lottery and get him the best attorney there is and he's going to get out.

He's got quite a bit longer on his sentence--until 2011. When I first started going up to see him, he was real happy--hardly anybody ever came up. He was just kind of on his own and lost. It was well over a year, then he just got this attitude about the visiting-room stuff. They strip the guys down before they come in and when they come out. He doesn't like to go through all that. So one time I went to visit and he denied the visit. I was just crushed. Once we got over it, I told him if he ever did it again, I would make such a scene in that visiting room they'd send him to seg.

I guess before I was going up there, they had contact visits, and there was an incident where somebody overdosed on drugs. All you can do now is hug them--with the guard right there. Then you can't have any more contact until it's over. If you bump them in the foot, they get hollered at. They do something wrong in the visit room and automatically get locked down in seg and lose their job.

I don't drive, so I've been riding the bus to Stillwater on and off every other Thursday for four years to visit Troy. It's not really bad when I go. It's on the way home--it's hard to leave knowing I would just like him to be out. But it isn't going to happen for a long time. You know, I live across the street from this old bakery, and it's got this big chimney--a kind of smokestacky thing. And out there across from the prison, there's this big, I don't know what it is, but it's got this big smokestacky thing on it too, and this red light that goes on and off. I can sit on my front porch and if I take my hand and block part of the building, I just see that and I think about him.

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