Woman of the Week – November 30

For some time now we’ve been doing something called the Woman of the Week on our Facebook Page. It is a way for us to recognize women who play an active role on the page and who are helpful to other prison wives and girlfriends who need help.

Our nomination this week is Jennifer Ilg, who is super sweet and who always has a pleasant thing to say when I see her p15211655_584982221689365_1653394443_nosts.  We asked Jennifer some questions to get some of her thoughts on life as a prison wife.

 

1. What’s your name?
Jennifer Ilg
2. What’s your relationship with the prison system?
As a kid, I had cousins who were locked up for short periods of time so it wasn’t completely foreign to me. Currently, my husband is incarcerated and my relationship with the DOC is on a completely different level!! I have really educated myself as much as I have been able to know the ins-and-outs.
3. How long have you known/been involved with this person? Did you know them previous to incarceration or did you mwi?
I have been involved with him for 5 years. I did not know him before he was incarce15231557_584982175022703_1563838510_orated. I work at a Resort hotel and his mother came to work for me. She would often talk about him and it was clear how close they were. She mentioned that it was getting cold where he was (December). I thought to myself, “I should knit him a hat”. I asked her and she said he couldn’t receive care packages. Upon further thought, I asked her if she would ask him if I wrote to him. I wanted to get mail that wasn’t bills!
4. How often do you see/ talk to your loved one?
I talk to him every single day on the phone. Unfortunately, since he is across state lines, I only get to see him between 4-5 times a year.
5. What would be the #1 hardest thing you have dealt with while your loved one is serving time?
The hardest thing I have dealt with, honestly, has been his Mom. Once he started calling me and writing me all the time, I think there was some form of jealousy there. For a short time, she got into his head and convinced him he needed to back off our relationship for the reasons that I’m a few years older than him and I have 2 children already (he has 1). Our relationship was new and so he all15228090_584982065022714_901170662_nowed himself to entertain those thoughts and pulled back, saying we should just be friends. It was very painful. However, I had made him a promise in one of my earliest letters that I would always be his friend and never abandon him. I wrote him 1-2 times a week faithfully and gave him his space. After about a year, he told me he loved me. My age didn’t matter, and he loved my 2 boys and I had been there more for him than anyone in his life. The rest is history!

 

 

6. How have support networks helped you through this?
Support networks have been a LIFE saver to me. At first I joined about every prison wife group I could find. Lots of them weren’t a good fit. It seems that prison wives can often get caught up in their own misery and opinions, and fights break out all the time when there is a difference of opinion on how a prison wife should live this life, on what she should and shouldn’t accept in her relationship and to just “out-misery” each other with the whole “My husband has x years.” “Well my husband has xx more years, so be happy you don’t have to be in my shoes.” “It always makes me upset when someone says they have 15 months to go and it’s so hard…. I have 15 years!” “Well my husband is a lifer so none of you have it as bad as me.”  After leaving several groups, I found 2-3 that were so helpful in having information on the prison system, who were supportive and encouraging but most of all, the small ideas of how to pick up your husband’s spirits, or gift ideas that will get by the COs… it’s been invaluable and I love these women. I think I’m almost as happy for them when their man comes home as they are. I have also met women who have loved ones in the same prison as my husband and have made connections to have places to stay so my visits are cheaper. The friendships are the best part of this whole situation.
7. What advice would you give to someone else in your position?
I would give the advice that was most helpful to me. DON’T FREAK OUT. This life is hard and you cannot freak out every time he doesn’t call for a day or two. If you have a long sentence to go, then you’re going to burn yourself out real fast putting yourself through that anxiety. Their time is not their own. Don’t worry until you really know there is something to worry about. Also, have patience. These men have nothing but time to sit there and dwell on a situation in which they feel powerless. They often can blow the situation up in their head and overreact. You have to reassure them and love them patiently and learn that fine line between understanding where he is coming from and what is no longer acceptable in his behavior and treatment. Don’t be a doormat!
8. What is your favorite thing about your loved one?
My love can reassure me in such a ‘matter of fact’ way but his words are poetry. He doesn’t realize that there is so much beauty in just speaking what is in your heart without any thought or any hesitation whatsoever. I love that he’s kind, even in a soul-sucking place like prison, he still helps those who have no one on the outside. Also, his smile is gorgeous.
9. What is one thing you do to maintain a closeness in this relationship?
I still write, even though we talk everyday. I think having something tangible to touch that was in my hands or in his is important. We always trace our hand on the front page of our letter so I can put my hand where his was and he of mine. Additionally, I create “vacations” that we have gone on. I pick out destinations that we have traveled to and create a “scrapbook” of pictures of things we did and the gorgeous scenery. I had us scuba diving in Pearl Harbor, Haiwii and found a picture of a scuba diver next to a sunken ship. You couldn’t see who it was so I just put an arrow and said, “That’s you!” He loves reading about our adventures together, what native food dishes we ate, what we did during our day and pictures of the expensive hotels we stayed in. It gives him an escape, even for just a little bit.
10. What has been something positive that your loved one or you have gained from this experience?
He’s gained peace in his heart about our relationship. He was hurt very badly by the woman he was with when he went in. He tells me all the time that he never thought he was capable of loving someone else. He believed love just wasn’t going to be a part of his life. Now he knows differently, and knows that I’m not going to run out on him. Something positive that I have gained is the friendships and connections I’ve made with other women who have husband’s or son’s in the system. I can truly say these ladies are my soul-sisters and will be in my life for a very long time.
11. And is there anything else you would like everyone to know?
It’s ok to be weak. This life is so dang hard…. at times it is dark, lonely and soul-crushing. It’s ok to allow yourself to feel the pain and lonliness as long as you don’t lose yourself to it. We often feel we have to be so strong for our loved ones. That is true, but in order to be strong, you have to be flexible in this situation. In a hurricane, what is left standing are the things that learned to bend tot he wind, not fighting it by being rigid. Allow yourself that 10 minutes to weep, or those 5 minutes to just admit to yourself that this is hard and that you have doubts on how you can make it. But then you have got to pull yourself together, admit that yes all this is true but it is doable. That you are strong enough to make it through because you won’t give up. That you are strong for your loved one… then you go about living your life again. It’s ok to bend to the pain, but don’t set up camp and just live in that dark place.
12. What’s something you like about The Visiting Room? What would you like to see more of?
I love the memes. They are either very humorous because I can totally relate or they give me encouragement to keep going.

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13. What question would you like to ask the other ladies?
What are the little things you do for your loved ones that keep your own relationship going? What traditions do you have?