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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Out of whack

April 1st, 2007

BY DEAN SUESS

How can one write about marriage when the American model is divorce? What point is there writing about a social institution that is statistically given to failure the majority of the time? The average marriage used to last seven years before ending in an expensive and shattering divorce. Then again, so did the average affair.groszohneresultat.jpgI believe the new average for both is now less than four years. And this demonstrates what? Stability?

It amazes me that a person would marry, risking one’s financial well-being with another person who, when the lust ends, the instant gratification fails, and the petulance sets in, will take the other for all he or she is worth, leaving behind a shell-shocked ex and probably progeny, all of whom become damaged goods. At one time, marriage was the foundation of financial responsibility. Now, however, depending on the judge, divorce can be far more financially lucrative than marriage, if you survive the emotional trauma. And this demonstrates what? Sensitivity?

Given the financial gain divorce makes available to attorneys, who have a terrific lobby in Washington, D.C., it makes me wonder why government agencies advocate, and courts uphold. such silly countermeasures as the Defense of Marriage Act — defending marriage against what? Surely not divorce, a cash cow if there ever was one; or is it perhaps against whom? Oddly, as folksinger Charlie King reminds in “The Defenders of Marriage,” these days it isn’t the heteros who are pushing a marriage agenda. No, the people stumping for deeply committed marriage today are gays and lesbians! It isn’t making any headway, perhaps because without the marriage to begin with, there can be no pricey divorce. Or perhaps that particular ten percent of the population doesn’t have enough money to make a significant dent in the attorney lobby or the American social fabric. Whichever it is, they most certainly don’t have enough clout to bring down the Divorce Cartel. And this demonstrates what? Salability?

Newspaper columnist Susan Paynter recently wrote of the antics of activist Gregory Gadow. The Supreme Court of this state struck down equal marriage benefits for gays and lesbians because (among other tiresome dogma) these couples can’t procreate, at least not without some outside help. In response, Gadow proposes a state initiative that would “limit legal marriage in this state to heterosexual couples willing and able to say, ‘I will’ and then produce offspring within three years after saying, ‘I do.’” I’d propose a further refinement: that failure to procreate annuls the marriage (it worked for Henry VIII), or possibly a breach of contract with felony charges attached! Can you imagine, “What u in 4?” “Failure to get knocked up.” Not nearly funny. And this demonstrates what? Sensibility?

And now, since I’m within the prison perspective (how did I get here?), I offer up some statistics of my own. Of the married men in this state’s prison system (this is different from having someone on the outside who is “de bitch who be de momma of mah baby”), eighty-five percent are divorced while incarcerated. Of the fifteen percent remaining, eighty-five percent again are divorced within a year of release. That runs out, in realistic whole numbers, to a meager two out of a hundred marriages salvaged. I’m not saying there is any reason to remain married to a felon; but then again, considering the sad state of many marriages on the outside, I can attest that the divorce rate for prisoners is supremely high. So much “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, … till death us do part.” And this demonstrates what? Sanctity?

But these aren’t the marriages (or divorces) that make prison interesting. No, not at all. There are others that are far more amusing. There are true prison marriages, and inmate marriages — a distinction with quite a difference. Prison marriages are hetero affairs involving a male inmate of unquestionable motives (none of them good), and a female of questionable motives (none of them comprehensible). Embracing one’s inner felon, as recently described in Black Lamb, has been offered up as a possible raison d’être for at least dating a Bad Man. Viewed from the inside, I can’t quite see it; however, I didn’t write the column, and I don’t know the perspective. And this demonstrates what? Scrutiny?

What I do know is that if you get married while in prison, you are forbidden to consummate it. If you come into the system married, and if the woman remains with you, some institutions allow “trailer visits,” otherwise known as conjugal visitation rights. And don’t be ridiculous; there are no avenues open for gay or lesbian expressions. This is a strictly hetero perq. Excepting the ubiquitous presence of custody staff rapping at the door and peeking in the window (for normal citizens this would qualify as felonious peeping Tom behavior, good for “one to three” in the pokey), all unnecessary because the trailer facility has audio and visual monitoring 24/7; as I say, excepting the prurient peeping, the visits seem satisfactory to the parties involved.
But as I mentioned, if you get married while incarcerated, you do not qualify for conjugal visitation. Nope. Frankly, a guy has an infinitely better chance of getting it on with one of the female officers than with his newlywed bride. It’s no never mind, though, because guys who go for marriage while in the joint are usually looking for a sugar momma to take care of them in high style while they “suffer” through the system. Those men also depend on the “wife” to take care of them in terms of getting out of prison, which can be a real trick. One needs a pre-approved address to get out, and it is far more palatable to shack up with some fat, retarded, gat-toothed woman with carbuncles on her breasts than to move back in with Mommy. And this demonstrates what? Susceptibility?

The other sort of marriage is between inmates, and it is not sanctioned by the state because it is necessarily a homosexual affair, with an emphasis on Affair. Usually performed in the Big Yard, the ceremony is obsequiously presided over by someone who has been deemed a Minister of the Universal Church. For five bucks you get a certificate and any title you choose. A major difficulty of an inmate wedding is that most of the men involved want to be bridesmaids; groomsmen are hard to come by. Notwithstanding the other little problem of not having a marriage license, some inmates nevertheless do make a go of a marriage. This is to be understood as different than the general acting-out of the “situational homosexual” variety. The consummation, though, usually takes place in a bathroom. Depending on the institution, this might be the chapel bathroom, the education bathroom, or the Inmate Kitchen (IK) bathroom. Often other inmates will serve as guardian angels (lookouts) for whatever amount of time can be carved out for the deed. It is never in a cell because Custody isn’t completely blind and usually knows who doesn’t belong in a living unit. They also know who can’t live with whom, and Custody manages to keep prospective partners far apart. They are perfectly happy to allow inmates to be raped by dominating cellies or gangs, but anything resembling a genuine relationship is not tolerated. And this demonstrates what? Spirituality?

Stability, Sensitivity, Salability, Sensibility, Sanctity, Scrutiny, Susceptibility, and Spirituality aside, there still remains something suspicious about marriage, in or out of the prison context. I suspect there is more solidarity among divorcés and divorcées than commonality among married persons. Be not fearful on behalf of the Married; all too soon they become the Divorced, and in that eventuality there is a comforting Simplicity, and an all too depressing Singularity. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Marriage Issue, Suess | Link to this Entry

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